Tired of the dirty, grossed-out looks people give when somebody coughs in public, and the instant exclusion-factor provided by wearing a surgical mask, Andrew Kessler knew there had to be a better way. He and business partners deconstructed the ages-old "just cover your mouth" ideology and came up with an answer better than any we've seen since, well, ever.
Scough, a germ-fighting scarf embedded with technology called Filterwear, doesn’t look anything like the dystopian accessory one might expect, provided today's air and health quality standards. Instead, coming in Blue Ivy tartan (a subtle Beyoncé nod) and checkered flannel colorways, Scough is literally the (anti-)Viral Style we've been waiting for, and a perfect accessory to check out, alongside our Make It Wearable series.
We spoke with Andrew Kessler about the science behind the Scough and the importance of wearability.
The Creators Project: First off, how did you get the idea for Scough?
Andrew Kessler: I hate it when people cough on you on the subway, and I think it’s so much more polite in places like China, when people are sick and they wear a mask to prevent others from getting sick. Here, people feel very weird about wearing masks, so I thought, ‘What if you concealed the mask in something you would wear over your face anyways, like a masked mask?’
When I started thinking about it more, I thought about all these interesting materials that you can start to incorporate with a scarf that actually make the mask more effective than a regular surgical mask. We had this idea of starting to incorporate other materials like active carbon impregnated with silver. We looked at what’s in gas masks and these other things that adsorb different nasty things. Similar to how a Brita [filter] would pull in things from your water, active carbon is this amazingly porous substance that can really pull all the bad stuff in. When you impregnate it with silver, it can actually kill the microbes, like viruses and things. That’s where things start getting really interesting.
Where, and how are the Scoughs manufactured?
They’re manufactured by hand in Brooklyn by my partners in the business, Ari Klaristenfeld and Alexa Nigro.
Presumably you wore Scoughs all winter. Did you notice that you got less sick?
I didn’t get sick once. I have a pretty stressful job, and it became extra stressful when I added another company into the mix; I didn’t get sick this winter, which is pretty amazing.
How have sales been so far?
We’re just able to keep up with demand. Obviously we’re considering expanding. We’ve gotten really interesting inquiries from Asia. The other thing about the active carbon that we use is that it’s also really good for filtering out pollution, so you can imagine people in Beijing would be very interested in something with function that’s also cool to wear.
How are you and your partners looking to expand at the moment?
I think there are a few interesting avenues to pursue. One, we’re continuing to develop this, launching different lines, making a lightweight version for spring and summer, making a kids' line. We think the message of the Scough is really important, and aligning it with preventative healthcare. We’d like to partner with people doing education. We already make a donation to Shotalife.org when you buy one, but we’d really like to partner closer with those folks and use Scough as a way to change culturally how we interact with each other when we’re sick.
In order to do that, we have to be really responsible about design and how we prioritize wearability and the end user. A big part of our focus is bringing together really great design and tech on the materials side, and putting it into a form factor that’s really desirable. First and foremost, it’s a scarf that looks cool and it’s soft and you want to wear it; If you don’t want to wear it everyday, it doesn’t matter. We think we can change people’s social habits by making really cool, well-designed things that are hand-made in Brooklyn, paying fair wage.
This hasn’t been done before, right?
No. There’s this design collective that was making concept designs for how to protect yourself on the subway, and they came up with a jacket and gloves that had antiviral properties. They were looking at similar ideas, but there’s nothing else in production that does what we do.
Think of the healthcare cost implications if everyone is wearing one of these masks on the subway. Something like the flu takes a really damaging toll. Every year I get a flu shot, but it isn't really for me-- it doesn’t matter that much if I get the flu-- but if I go to visit my grandmother at her assisted living facility, it’s really bad news if I bring that flu with me. It’s bad news if you’re at school and you’re bringing it with you. There are these at-risk populations that we can protect by being healthy people who do a little bit more to take care of ourselves. That brings the burden of the emergency room, of health care costs, down tremendously.
Obviously these are big ideas in society today: how do we get this massive, massive drain on GDP and our economic situation to change? I think it’s a lot of little design things like this that can help in terms of making preventative medicine part of our daily lives.
We're glad the Scough is doing something about it. Thank you!
For more examples of wearable tech in everyday life, check out our Wearable Tech series.
And see our Viral Style series for emerging innovations in fashion and tech.