A designer from FA CTU designed a chest binder for trans people. "I wanted to help mainly young people," says Robin Doleček

Transgender people can reduce the discomfort of the mismatch between their body and their gender by tightening their chest. At the same time, however, breathing problems occur. Binder Snugy, designed by Robin Dolecek as a bachelor project at the Faculty of Architecture of the CTU, comes with a groundbreaking fastening system. The user can enable the device even in public. Why does the work mainly target teenagers? Is velcro discreet? And how did Robin push the topic on the faculty?
Binder navrhl Robin Doleček z Fakulty architektury ČVUT. | © Robin Doleček

Trans and non-binary people often desire to suppress their chest shape and achieve a more masculine appearance. But what all can happen with unprofessional tailoring?

The idea to deal with the topic of aids for trans people came from my own experience. As a user, I experience the same problems that other trans people are trying to deal with. However, I have not found much scholarly work on aids for the trans community. The immediate response of over 400 respondents to my questionnaire speaks to the seriousness of the problem.

Binder is one of the tools that people who have a female body anatomy can use to achieve a more masculine look. However, wearing it is not very comfortable and there are health problems. Users cannot easily loosen and tighten the common types of binders in public. At work or school, they spend longer than it is safe to wear the binder. Personally, I find that I have to run to catch a tram and cannot catch my breath with my chest tightened. Blocked ribs, bruises or skin problems are no exception.

Why does your proposal mainly target young trans people under 20?

Teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria (anxiety about having a biological sex different from the gender they identify with) often do not have the support of family or the ability to purchase expensive equipment from abroad. They then resort to drastic methods such as bandages and carpet tape. The price of the final product was therefore also crucial for me.

What makes your binder revolutionary?

My Snugy binder differs from other products in that the user has the option to loosen and tighten it directly on the body, even over clothing. If they get out of breath, get sick, or simply feel that their chest has been tightened for too long and they need a break. They can feel the hook even over his t-shirt and simply loosen the binder, but it still stays on their body and they don't have to change. They can also adjust the fastening or tightening to suit their anatomy as they have several options of where to insert the hook.

Binder Snugy se zapíná pomocí háčků vyvíjených na 3D tiskárně.  | © Robin Doleček

How did the fastening method develop?

I have tried a number of classic methods such as corset lacing or metal zipper. But none met all my requirements for comfortable handling. Velcro, like on sandals, might be ideal, as it's quick and you can adjust it exactly as you need it. It has one flaw though, the velcro handling is very loud. So it does not fulfil the essential condition of discretion. When you loosen the binder, for example, during a class at school, you don't want to attract the attention of everyone around you. However, I have retained the principle of the push-through buckle, which you can also find on summer shoes. And for the actual fastening, I took inspiration from the hook that is often used to attach the chest strap of backpacks.

However, I have not been able to find a suitable type on the market that would allow the easiest possible hooking even with closed eyes. So I started experimenting with 3D printing and created a few prototypes of my own.

However, the hook on the final product is made of metal?

I would like to use the plastic material of 3D printing in production as well. But the forces acting on the hook won't allow me to do that, it would break. Therefore I had to have the result made from metal according to the 3D prototype. I also spent a long time looking for the actual placement of the fastening. In the front it was always visible under other clothes. And probably everyone knows what an ordeal it is to fasten a dress in the back, where you can't even reach. That's why you'll find the hooks placed on the sides where they are hidden under the arms. When you're wearing a T-shirt, that's where the fabric is loosest. Fastening in two places also allows for a better symmetrical tightening of the fabric.

The possibility of tighting (or, on the contrary, releasing) binder was also addressed by a foreign student project. But it uses a clever fabric, pulling metal cables under electric power. I struggled to find an affordable solution for my target group.

What fabric did you use to make the binder?

You often find binders made entirely of elastic knit, only the front part is doubled. Some people may find this solution more comfortable, but especially in larger sizes it does not serve its purpose. It works just like a sports bra, it rather accentuates the curves. My binder is made of two types of fabric. The front is solid cotton and the stretch polyamide knit is just the back.

Did you pay much attention to the packaging itself?

The box is very inconspicuous from the outside. Binder is also bought by really young people, often living with parents who may not be very accepting and open. The unmarked packaging thus serves as a safety feature to ensure that the product actually reaches the user and that discretion is maintained.

I placed the colour print on the inside of the flap lid. Trans people often experience strong emotions after purchasing their first binder, so I wanted to make the first time they open the package a pleasant surprise.

Vlevo v tričku bez Snugy, binder pod oblečením dokáže výrazně zploštit hrudník (vpravo).  | © Robin Doleček

Foreign products are sold in neutral colours such as grey or nude. Why did you choose a bolder color combination?

If I manage to put the Snugy into production, it is definitely necessary to have neutral colours on offer. It's partly underwear, after all. But I think it's important to add colour options to the range as well. In the questionnaire it turned out that many people wear the binder as a visible part of their outfit in summer, for example with an unbuttoned shirt.

The trans community also uses the term passing. The pressure society puts on trans people to become perfect men or women and not be seen as trans at all. Is the use of aids always based on their own need, or is there sometimes a desire to please an intolerant environment?

It's individual and each person experiences this completely differently. But it's true that most of the time it's in contact with other people that the feelings are most unpleasant. When a person feels a certain way, has a certain gender identity and is not perceived as such by those around them. A trans person might alert the surroundings to address them in some way, but there is still the uncomfortable feeling that others perceive them differently. Some users wear these aids mainly when meeting other people. This does not mean that the person does not feel uncomfortable when alone. They are just more at the forefront of one's mind when one has feedback from the surroundings. But people can also experience euphoria in private thanks to the binder.

Návrh barevných variant Snugy.  | © Robin Doleček

Your leaders Filip Streit and Tomáš Polák openly admit that the issue of aids for trans people was not a topic they had previously addressed. Was it difficult to get the assignment through?

The hardest thing was to get the courage to come up with this idea in the beginning. As I said, it's a subject that concerns me personally. I also had to isolate myself because I hadn't talked openly about my gender at school before. Both of my supervisors were great right from the start. As a first step, we did a little lecture (laughs) and explained all the terminology, for example. The best thing about working with them for six months was that after I described the topic enough, they really only dealt with the technical side and the design.


The interview was led by Pavel Fuchs

Robin Doleček (vpravo) s autorem rozhovoru Pavlem Fuchsem. | © Pavel Fuchs

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