Reusable PPE is here — and it's designed specifically for women in STEM

Three images. Left: A woman in a blue, reusable isolation gown, tying strings around her waist. Center: A female doctor wearing a lab coat and fire-resistant hijab. Right: A close-up of an AmorSui lab coat, with a pull-cord on the waist to tighten the fit of the garment.

PPE, or personal protective equipment, is an acronym we all found ourselves familiar with in March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic had us all reevaluating our relationship with safety. 

While many of us first turned to reusable cloth face masks to maintain some level of sustainability, it wasn’t long before the general public learned that the safest equipment was the kind that would be easily discarded; surgical masks like K95 and N95’s chief among them.

But the challenge of finding eco-friendly PPE goes beyond masks. As of 2021, over 57 million pounds of single-use plastic from the pandemic has found its way into the ocean, with nearly three-quarters coming from hospitals. 

Beau Wangtrakuldee stands in a white lab coat in a research setting
Beau Wangtrakuldee, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of AmorSui

Between the use of lab coats or isolation gowns made with plastic, liquid-resistant materials and an array of other lab materials, it is estimated that scientists create approximately 5.5 million tons of plastic waste annually. 

Most medical PPE is designed for a single use, and is either made of or lined with plastics that are not recyclable. The plastic in PPE can take up to 400 years to decompose

Plus, sometimes the traditional means of protection aren’t as reliable as they should be. Beau Wangtrakuldee, Ph.D. learned this the hard way, after experiencing a preventable chemical spill in the lab that burned straight through her commonly supplied lab coat and onto her thigh.

Since then, she has dedicated her life to making sure both people and the planet were protected.

This work led Wangtrakuldee to found AmorSui, a modern PPE brand that makes sustainable options for all types of STEM professionals. 

(And, as she told Good Good Good, one in four people in the workforce, including people who work in manufacturing plants, refineries, militaries, mining, food processing plants, and more).

Creating sustainable PPE

AmorSui’s new product line — debuting today — features a 100% recyclable lab coat with both men’s and women’s sizing, fire-resistant clothing (including a first-of-its-kind fire-resistant hijab), and reusable isolation gowns.

The isolation gowns are made with recyclable polyester and are built to last for at least 100 washes, meaning they can effectively repel fluids after 100 laundering cycles. 

According to a press release from the company, just 100 AmorSui isolation gowns can replace 10,000 disposable isolation gowns, resulting in a 3,750-pound reduction in waste.

A blue, reusable isolation gown by AmorSui
Reusable isolation gown. Photo courtesy of AmorSui

The recyclable lab coats are made with a blend of poly, rayon, and spandex fibers, and feature 10 pockets, hidden snaps, have an adjustable fit, and secure cuffs. They’re also certified anti-odor and fluid-resistant. 

The fire-resistant collection utilizes a blend of cotton, modacrylic, aramid, and lyocell fabrics, with NFPA 2112 and ASTM F1506 fire-resistant and electric arc protection certifications.

While some plastic or synthetic fibers are still required to ensure the safety of PPE, the durability of AmorSui’s items keep them in rotation much longer than their single-use alternatives.

“AmorSui’s lab coat fabric is a blend of polyester, rayon, and spandex. The isolation gown is made from polyester that is recyclable,” Will McGinn, COO of AmorSui, said in a press release. 

A Black man wears a tan button-up shirt and a white lab coat
Men's lab coat. Photo courtesy of AmorSui

“At the end of their life, our products can be shredded or turned into a pulp to produce car interiors, airplane seats, artificial joints, and tarp fabrics, among other various use cases. We believe that circularity is the future.” 

AmorSui will also employ a subscription service that includes professional laundering, as well as a take-back program to fully enforce that circularity.

But the task of creating safe and reliable PPE is not just about finding — and recycling — the right materials. It’s also about making products with actual STEM professionals in mind. 

Prioritizing the safety of women in STEM

In 2020, it was quickly discovered that there was another type of gender gap in STEM; 77% of women in the UK’s NHS were wearing PPE that did not fit them

Why? Because even though these items are labeled as ‘unisex,’ standard PPE was designed to fit caucasian male bodies and does not properly protect women — or any other people with different body shapes. 

Not only does this mean that more PPE is getting wasted, but it’s costing women their safety. Wangtrakuldee’s first-hand experience was a testament to this — and she knew she wasn’t the only one who deserved better. 

A woman wears a white lab coat by AmorSui
Women's lab coat. Photo courtesy of AmorSui

“From the very beginning of the brand and product conception, designing gender-inclusive products for different body types was central to everything we do. Going above and beyond the one-size-fits-all approach is non-negotiable for us,” Wangtrakuldee said. 

“An ill-fitting, low-quality lab coat caused me a near-death experience during a chemical spill. Many of our early conversations with potential female customers also clearly pointed toward the need for products designed especially for women.”

In the design process for each product, she said, insights were collected from users of diverse genders, backgrounds, and cultural practices. A big product feature that came out of these conversations was the adjustable waist drawcord in AmorSui’s lab coats, for instance.

A woman wears a gray hijab and white lab coat from AmorSuir
Fire-resistant hijab. Photo courtesy of AmorSui

This also led to the development of a first-of-its-kind fire-resistant hijab, so women in STEM do not have to compromise their beliefs and identities with their safety. 

“The development of our fire-resistant hijab was driven by a deep understanding of the unique safety needs of Muslim women working in various settings, including the lab,” Wangtrakuldee said. 

“By prioritizing inclusivity in our product design, we aim to empower all frontline workers to feel safe and supported while doing their vital work.”

Changing the industry — one lab coat at a time

Obviously, the initial cost of a more thoughtfully designed and long-lasting stash of PPE is steeper than what many hospitals might be used to. 

So, instead of directly selling to health and science enterprises, AmorSui (which is derived from Latin, meaning “self-love”), plans to “create a groundswell of awareness among all PPE users to eventually drive the implementation of better quality, size-inclusive, and sustainable options for the organizations they work for,” Wangtrakuldee told us.

That means, yes, it’s first up to individuals to buy these alternatives — but Wangtrakuldee is confident that seeing the difference in quality and safety will quickly influence decision-makers.

Plus, with initiatives like the Health Sector Climate Pledge calling on the industry to cut its emissions, AmorSui is hopeful that enterprises are eager to adapt to new technologies.

A white lab coat is draped over a wooden chair
Photo courtesy of AmorSui

“From the enterprise perspective, AmorSui is the only net-zero PPE option that will reduce carbon emissions by up to 50% while providing 22% cost savings and better employee protection,” she said. “Hospitals and research facilities should invest in sustainable PPE like AmorSui, not only because it’s a responsible decision but it’s a smart business decision.”

So far, Wangtrakuldee’s leadership has led to AmorSui’s service for over 20,000 global customers, including leading research and development institutions like Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dupont, and Amgen.

Plus, beyond PPE, her team is working to create a life-cycle analysis tool and a full-service network of cleaning and recycling vendors to better serve AmorSui’s customers.

She’s optimistic. 

“Our team has a big vision of what AmorSui can be. We are building a brand and company that will change how everyone buys medical supplies by creating circular commerce of the world's most essential and frequently used consumables,” she said. 

“PPE is just one category of medical supplies that we are focusing on right now as a jumping-off point. We’re excited for what is to come.”

Header images courtesy of AmorSui

Article Details

May 7, 2024 9:18 AM
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