To counter the breathing problems and rib injuries associated with existing chest compression garments, queer wellness company For Them has launched The Binder, designed to be safe and comfortable for transgender and non-binary people.
The Binder was created by For Them founder Chloe Freeman, a non-binary actor and entrepreneur, in collaboration with technical designer Rada Shadick, who has worked for Polo Ralph Lauren and Gap and who came to Freeman's attention after creating a bra for ballet dancer Misty Copeland.
Freeman's brief to Shadick was that the chest binder should compress maximally without sacrificing "fluidity of movement" or breath.
Binder wearers use the garment to flatten their chests but the practice can be harmful, with a 2016 study finding 97.2 per cent of wearers reported at least one negative outcome, such as back pain, chest pain, poor posture, shoulder pain, shortness of breath and tissue changes.
To avoid these side effects, Freeman and Shadick designed their binder in close consultation with the queer community, in particular through the chat platform Discord, where For Them now has close to 4,000 members.
"During the initial design process, we used Discord to work directly with 500-plus trans and non-binary folx to research, fit test, fine-tune and co-design the binder," Freeman told Dezeen.
"It's is such an intimate product, we had many one-to-one interviews with community members to understand their previous binding experiences and how we could improve it."
When the prototype was ready, Freeman sent multiple different samples out to their community to test.
"We weren't interested in working with traditional fit models in a studio," said Freeman. "We wanted folx to wear the prototype in real life, for multiple days at a time and give us real feedback on what worked and what didn't."
Originally, Freeman had imagined making two binders – one with less compression for indoor wear and one with more compression, created by an extra layer of medical mesh, for outdoors.
After hearing that the mesh binder was causing pain and breathing difficulties during extended wear, Freeman and Shadick planned to go back to the drawing board, but measurements showed that their indoor binder was actually achieving as much compression.
This is the design that the duo ended up finessing. Length proved to be particularly important, as the binder has to sit above the rib cage and below the chest to optimise breath capacity.
Another key element is the placement of "notches", which are like anchor points that manipulate the fabric and enforce the pattern. Placed correctly, they compress across the chest but release around the upper rib cage, creating a maximum bind but allowing space for movement.
As a bonus, The Binder is 180-degrees rotatable, because the compression on both sides is the same, giving two neckline options. It is made from a fabric that For Them describes as a "buttery soft but supremely compressing recycled nylon".
The design template is different for varying sizes, to serve different body types, and numerical sizes are not used on the site due to the "toxicity around sizing" Freeman says the fashion industry has created.
Instead, customers provide their chest measurements and For Them maps them to a size with a bespoke name. They have sizes to suit chest apex measurements of 28 to 60 inches.
After The Binder launches in April, For Them will embark on designing further products, with input once again coming from their Discord chat. Some of the ideas the community has suggested are inclusive beachwear, gender-affirming bottoms and period health products.
A previous attempt at a more comfortable binder has come from design student Miles Kilburn, who created a smart garment that could be loosened at the push of a button.