The Lab Coat Project - Designed By 1000 Researchers
I think we can create the best lab coat in the world, together.
Why should we accept ill-fitting, boring, non-functional and potentially unsafe lab coats as the norm when we're spending a large fraction of our lives in them doing invaluable research for the world?
The Lab Coat Project is using a data-driven approach, crowdsourced from over 1000 STEM researchers like YOU, to design a lab coat at an affordable price that you can look and feel great in.
Why we need this - from the founder
When I started in my lab for grad school, I was told “grab a lab coat out of that pile that you like best”. I found an XL (I’m a M) and later upgraded to a L when someone graduated the next year. I was swimming in a chemical-stained white-ish lab coat designed for no specific purpose other than to loosely look like a scientist.
The wide drooping cuffs caused me to knock over and shatter glass graduated cylinders in the cramped fume hood on multiple occasions, costing me hours of lab time in clean-up. My pens and tweezers didn’t have a good home in the coat so in my 3-room lab they were rarely within arm’s reach. My phone would swing around wildly in the lower front pocket, so I left it on the counter and relied on Bluetooth to listen to music which cut out if I ventured too far to the equipment on the other side of the wall.
Worst of all, I just never felt “good” wearing it, so most of the time I just didn’t. It was a self-imposed safety hazard caused by poor design. I honestly never even looked for a new lab coat online because I didn’t know better options were available and didn’t want to “waste” my lab’s money on what seemed like a luxury. But if it costs less than a jar of common lab chemicals, is it really “expensive” for something that protects you daily for years and influences your happiness and productivity?
You deserve better. Your happiness, productivity and safety depend on it. I don't want anyone else to have the experience I had, but I know a lot of you are living that right now. The outpouring of support has been enormous and the personal comments in the data have nearly brought me to tears. I will put in the work to fix this, put up the money to develop it, and with your help we can set a new standard for looking and feeling great in your laboratory.
The Lab Coat project will use data-driven design crowdsourced from real researchers to create a lab coat that rivals “designer” coats for physicians but is tailored toward the needs of scientists - and for less than $50.
Popular designer lab coats and scrubs sell for over $100 but cost less than $10 to make (we know their suppliers). You’re paying for a lot of advertising, modeling photos and a luxury brand.
The Lab Coat Project will publish all pricing and margin so you can see the value you're getting. By replacing the big advertising budget with word-of-mouth, we can keep the costs to less than half the premium clinical lab coats without sacrificing quality.
Why are lab coats white?
A quick Google search will come up with all kinds of answers ranging from cleanliness to status symbols. They are easier to bleach and cheaper to make, but they also limit self-expression and contribute to the perception of inaccessibility of certain professions.
Doctors and others in clinical settings overwhelmingly wear white lab coats out of tradition. Some clinical professions have abandoned white coats altogether because studies have shown they can cause anxiety in patients.
But if you’re a chemist, microbiologist, engineer, or anything non-clinical, you can choose any color you want! Unfortunately, only a few colors like blue and black are easy to find (for now). If you could design your own lab coat, what color would you choose? Let us know below!
Most of our respondents come from academia: 33% graduate students, 22% undergraduates, and 8% post-docs. This group often has the hardest time with lab coats because funding is tight and safety is not well-regulated. This is the segment we’re most likely to impact with an affordable, direct-sale lab coat.
We also had a sizeable response from industrial professionals and lab technicians. They had a lot of great feedback since they are often forced to wear incredibly standardized lab coats purchased with supply/laundering contracts. Their needs are specialized and harder for us to serve because of those existing wholesale contracts. We hope the initial success will help us get into wholesale business to serve these industry professionals in the future.
We had slightly more responses from females than males, and also were happy to have some representation from non-binary researchers. The fit data we show will be grouped into two “body types”, representing traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine builds. We plan for our “men’s” cut to have more room in the shoulders, while our “women’s” cut will flare more at the hips.
Chemists and Biologists are well-represented
The most important segregation of the data is in the type of work the individual does. Instead of separating by field, which can range widely in type of work, we focused on the lab environment in which they use lab coats. The two biggest categories are what we’ll call “Wet Bio” and “Wet Chem”, followed by “Medical” and then several other varied types of work generally not involving hazardous liquid chemicals.
Our data is heavily skewed toward wet chemistry and wet bio/life science work. These are the fields we originally had in mind and are happy to start our journey there. We aren’t trying to create a lab coat for physicians, but hope that it can be used for some clinical research where appropriate.
How They chose their lab coats
“Go pick a lab coat out of that box” tends to be a common phrase on the first day in the lab. It leads to all kinds of problems and frustrations in fit and function. Half of our respondents didn’t really get a choice, or were never encouraged to go out and find the best lab coat for them. 30% were at least able to choose a size through their lab’s pre-established sourcing channels, and only 10% went out and found one they would love.
We want that 10% to turn into that 50%. To do that, we need The Lab Coat Project to grow by word-of-mouth. Let your colleagues know they do have a choice, and we are keeping that choice affordable for an individual to buy if necessary.
How their lab coats were purchased
Starting this effort, we were concerned individuals may not even be able to purchase our new lab coat due to rules restricting them to their existing wholesale contracts. It would be nearly impossible for a small company like ours to get into any of those contracts without a track record of success in lab coats (kind of like when all your entry-level job options require “5 years’ experience”).
Thankfully, only 43% of our respondents are forced to use their institutional suppliers. This gives us hope that we can perfect the lab coat and build up testimonials with individuals before approaching these wholesale distributors later on.
The survey comments were littered with scientists who have recently converted from buttons to snaps and are never going back. Buttons look a little more professional but are a safety hazard when working with dangerous chemicals. If you get acid on your coat or it catches fire, how quickly can you take it off? Zippers are even worse. The plastic can melt and trap you inside! This lab coat is for scientists, not doctors, so we can confidently choose safety and function over looking like a TV doctor.
One drawback of snaps is they can pop open when you bend over and stretch them. We hope to solve this problem with a better fit at the hips, especially for women. We'll test several snaps to find ones that don’t hurt your fingers but also don’t pop open at the slightest tug!
I’ve personally used all four. The straight cuffs look nicer and are normally preferred for physicians because they don't work with hazardous materials. In a research setting with chemicals, knit cuffs give you the best protection. They keep your wrist covered when you reach and are less likely to knock over expensive glassware like straight cuffs that can hang down several inches from your wrist.
The other advantage for knit cuffs is that they give more room for error in sleeve length and wrist size for researchers who have more varied body sizes.
Long knit cuffs come out as the heavy favorite in every field. We knew that chemists would want the knit cuffs, but were surprised that it was still the favorite in the Life Sciences and Medical fields. We’re considering this decision made. All LCP coats will have knit cuffs.
This one is polarizing! Those who wear closed collars (“Howie-style”) are usually not allowed to wear open collars in their labs for safety. Most European and Russian researchers also use Howie style collars. It’s just safer. I’ve met chemists who had chemical bottles explode onto their chest and neck. An open collar would leave you with scars for life.
In the USA, the research culture has a strong preference to what’s viewed as more traditional and professional - the open collar with a lapel - because the men in science of the 50’s-70’s wore dress shirts and ties underneath as they worked. These would not fit under a Howie-style collar, and protected their skin where the open collar did not.
But now this same lab coat is worn by scientists working with hazardous materials with only a t-shirt underneath, exposing a lot of skin to permanent damage.
If we make an open collar, we alienate 100% of those laboratories that need a closed collar. If it's closed, no labs will reject it for safety reasons, only for personal preference.
So, what do we do?
We think we can do BOTH. Experimenting with existing lab coats, it seems possible to make a convertible collar that looks good in both modes: Up for safety, down for casual work. It’ll just require one button showing on each lapel. Let’s have our cake and eat it too.
Bonus Features You'll Love on a lab coat
This is where the fun really starts. We can make literally any crazy feature if enough people support it and would buy it. It’s not driven by corporate profits, it’s a simple question to the scientists: Is it worth adding this feature if it increases the cost of the lab coat by $X? Every pocket, loop, and extra stitching line will translate to an end user cost increase of $0.50 to $3.00 each. We will try to set out line item costs of these features and put them to votes.
Loops, holes, belts, pockets
Pockets come out as the #1 need for new lab coats! More on that next.
I’ve tried a lot of lab coats with belts. Almost all of them are useless. Many lab coats even have non-functional belts designed in! Why?? We have some ideas we’re actively working on to let you tighten the waist without having annoying belt flaps flopping behind you as you walk.
Over 40% of respondents also want better skin protection from chemicals. By using a knit cuff and a convertible closed collar, we should accomplishing this.
It looks like at least 20% are still using wired headphones. I used these every day in my lab and I know the struggle. If it’s cheap enough, we’ll add a small slit near the phone pocket to run your headphones inside the lab coat to keep them from catching on things as you move.
Trends from the “other” responses include side-access zippered pockets, hanging loops at the neck, pen holders on both sides (for lefties), and knit cuffs.
Pockets, Pockets, Pockets!
Everyone loves pockets. Why don’t we have more of them? The pocket design also matters. We need varied sizes and shapes, rather that two giant squares, to hold phones, notebooks, tablets, jewelry and even PCR tubes.
More specific data on pocket choices show the biggest needs. Phones are pretty obvious. It’s nice to have a loop to hang safety glasses on. If you store them in an inner pocket while you wear the coat, you end up looking quite lumpy.
Pipettes should normally be always kept in the fume hood work space, but the reality in many labs is that one expensive pipette set needs used in multiple locations so they must be carried around. We’re working on a hip loop that would hold a pipette at an angle and off to the side where it won’t bump around as you walk. If it makes you feel a little ninja, we did a good job.
Surprisingly tablets didn’t get much love. In the medical field, many of the high-end coats include dedicated tablet pockets that physicians use to check records and record notes. Most scientists just don’t use them. We’ll make sure at least one outer pocket is wide enough to hold an A5 notebook, which should also accept a standard iPad.
We were a little surprised at how content most people were with white coats, and that the next best choice was black! This idea really started with making blue and pink coats more accessible just for fun. The reality at the manufacturing level is that most factories require a minimum of 500 per color per gender. So if 15% of women want pink, and we have about 100 pink coats per size, we would need to be selling about 4000 white coats over the same period to sell through the minimum run of pink coats.
I definitely plan to have a full range of these colors available if the first launch goes well enough to support those volumes. So, we need your help to spread the word! The bigger this grass-roots effort gets, the more likely that we can add more colors and specialty sizes to be inclusive to everyone.
When we launched, we aimed at a $50 price point. This seemed like a good number that would let us use high-quality materials and add tons of pockets, but still be affordable for an individual grad student if they had to use their own money.
The data show a large drop-off above $50, which we expected. We also expected that those working with more hazardous materials (i.e. chemists) would be willing to spend more to protect themselves, and that also is confirmed by these data.
Our goal is now set at the highest quality lab coat we can make while keeping the price at $50 or less.
What happens next?
We'll be making prototypes through a local seamstress who works for a major fashion brand. This will help us nail the placement of the features like pockets, loops, and the belt.
We should get our first manufacturing samples in the summer of 2022. It might take several rounds for the factory to get it just right. These will be used for our Beta testing program to ensure the sizing is correct and our new features work as intended.
The first run of lab coats will be about 2000 total. This might cost us up to $40,000 up front. So, we'll want to run a pre-order campaign to cover as much of that cost as possible. Stay tuned to our email list and social media for updates!
FAQs about the launch
YES! We love data, and more of it will help nail the sizing and give us ideas for new versions to make in the future.
Prototyping is starting in May 2022. We won't launch it until we really believe in it. That could be around the end of 2022 if things go smoothly!
Sure! Leave your email and check the box for updates in the survey, or sign up for our monthly resource email below. We'll also post small updates on our social media accounts (@geniuslabgear).
You're amazing! For this project to succeed, we need to grow support without advertising costs. The two best things you can do are:
1) Link to this page from your website or tell your favorite blogger or university newspaper to get in touch about running a story. These help the page show up in Google when others are searching for lab coats.
2) Share this page on your social media pages, with a link if possible, or else with tagging us @geniuslabgear!
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