Current Students and Staff

// University News

13 Jun 2019

Design student creates new product which aims to transform the lives of transgender people

Image of the back of Breathe, showing the battery on the garment

A Loughborough University student has created a potentially life-changing product for the transgender community as part of his final-year project for the Design Degree Show.

Miles Kilburn, who studies Industrial Design and Technology, has produced a chest binder for transgender men and non-binary people that is both safer and smarter than existing products.

Chest binding is the act of flattening one’s breasts using a tight garment to make the chest appear more masculine.

This can have immense mental health benefits for the user; however, some chest binding methods can have serious physical health implications.

This is particularly the case for DIY binding – where the user has created a binder themselves due to not having access to commercial binders, which have been regulated and provide an even compression.

Examples of homemade methods include using household objects such as duct tape, plastic wrap, bandages, or sewing their own garment.

The physical impacts of this – particularly if worn over long periods of time – include back and chest pain and even rib fractures.

Over-binding is also a risk; users may wear a chest binder that is too small or wear one for too long due to the difficulties to discreetly remove it during the day.

This is where Miles’ product, Breathe, provides a safer option for the community.

The chest binder he has created is a garment made with smart materials woven through the fabric that enables the user to take breaks throughout the day without removing their clothing and needing to go to a private space.

Two photos of Breathe being worn, showing before and after compression

The binder includes a smart alloy called Nitonel, which when electrified, decompresses the garment and loosens the binder.

It is battery-operated and controlled using a small remote, allowing the user to take discreet breaks as and when they choose.

The binder is machine washable, has flat seaming and includes mesh panels to make the product breathable and keep the user cool.

Breathe is also designed to be movement-sensitive, so should the user wish to participate in sport, the garment will automatically loosen for them if the user enables this setting.

Speaking about the future of Breathe, Miles said: “My long-term vision for Breathe is to see it as an alternative form of treatment for transgender people through the NHS.

“A lot of transgender people who are wearing chest binders are often experiencing a lot of pain while binding, so much so that they can feel pressured into having top surgery – which is the removal of your breasts – so that they have a permanently flat chest.

“Top surgery is very much an expensive and permanent decision, so for many transgender people having a product like Breathe could be an alternate option which gives them more time to consider whether they want surgery whilst experiencing much less pain from binding.”

Throughout the design process, Miles spoke with members of Transform – the transgender community at Loughborough University.

Transform is a sub-group of Loughborough’s LGBT+ Association, and Miles invited them to a co-design workshop to understand aspects he may have not previously considered. He also utilised feedback gathered from online forum groups.

Their contributions have been immensely beneficial to Miles throughout the creation of Breathe, and he credits their feedback as an essential component of the success of the final product.

One of Transform’s members, Jamie, commented: “Chest binding is a way for me to feel more masculine when I’m going outside because it flattens out my chest and it means I feel more comfortable presenting as male.

“The problems that I face is more to do with discomfort – it gets very hot. I think Breathe could definitely help because it reduces discomfort and means that people can use their binder for more situations; they don’t need to take it off for sport, for example.”

The Design Degree Show takes place each year to showcase the innovative products created by finalists at Loughborough University.

This year’s show features a wide variety of products created by over 100 students, and the exhibition is available to visit 13-15 June.

More information about the Degree Show can be found here.