Social startup creates mozzie-repellent tees
What if you could ditch personal insect repellents to keep the mozzies at bay over the summer and at the same time help eradicate mosquito-borne disease across the globe? Well, maybe you can. Borne Clothing is a new social enterprise that has come out with a line of mosquito-repellent clothing, with half the profits donated to fund bednets and medications for those most affected by mosquitoes.
The startup is the brainchild of Tim Keys, a junior doctor; Dan Robson, a graphic designer; Pat Prell, a mechatronic engineer; and Bal Dhital, a final-year medical student — all of whom met at Australia’s University of Newcastle. The four had taken on the university’s 2019 Grand Challenge to find possible solutions to the mosquito problem, both locally and globally. Locally, the university campus can be infested with mosquitoes during summer. And globally, 700 million people are affected by mosquito-borne diseases; every year 400,000 die from malaria alone, more than half of whom are children. That means malaria, just one disease borne by mosquitoes, claims the life of a child every two minutes.
In fact, mosquitoes have killed more humans than any other living creature. In Australia, a mozzie bite is usually little more than annoyance for most, but for hundreds of millions of people, that bite could lead to serious illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever and the Zika virus.
“Our idea was to tackle both of those — everyone has been bitten by a mozzie. So we thought we could address a global issue by acting locally, and by connecting people through the shared experience of a mosquito bite,” says Dhital.
After a “few whacky ideas”, the four decided on organic clothing that also repels mosquitoes. The company’s motto is “make human-borne clothing to tackle mosquito-borne disease,” Dhital told Newy With Kids.
Two years on and they’ve sold more than 500 T-shirts and received more than AU$25,000 in grants.
“People seem to really resonate with the mission,” Dhital notes. “I think people want to find some way of connecting with a global issue that is more than just throwing a gold coin into a donation bucket.”
Robson adds, “I think people have been really excited about the mozzie repellent side of the shirts — the technology that it takes to make the shirts mozzie-repellent. And the fact that we live in an area that has a lot of mozzies has meant the uptake has been really good.”
Dhital says it’s important the company is a social enterprise. “We’ve been inspired by the idea of the one-for-one model — a product that serves two people. That’s why our mozzie-free tees provide enough funds to purchase one bednet to serve two people for up to three years. We think you should be able to make the world a better place with every choice you make, because we fundamentally believe our choices matter, and they reflect the world we want to see growing around us.”
He argues what clothing we buy should be no different. “When we buy a new piece of clothing, we’re engaging with the whole supply chain that has brought it from the harvest of raw materials to the delivery to our front door. Our social enterprise model is based on the transparency of that process — so customers can see how their shirt came to them, and how the profit from their shirt will go on to help other people around the world at risk of mosquito-borne disease,” Dhital says.
The shirts are impregnated with permethrin, a non-toxic and skin-safe product, which is also used in the bednets Borne helps fund. It’s designed not to wash off in water; the company claims the shirts will repel mosquitoes for up to 70 washes.
And true to the spirit of a social enterprise, Borne Clothing, actively encourages community feedback on future t-shirt designs. Dhital believes consumers have the power to make socially relevant choices — “an opportunity for you to wear your heart, quite literally, on your sleeve.”
As Australian consumers become increasingly conscious about their choices, businesses are shifting gears to meet that interest. There are an estimated 20,000 social enterprises across the country, employing about 300,000 people. “It’s a clear trend driven by young people who are much more conscious about their buying power, and making their employers more accountable,” says Nick Verginis, CEO of Social Enterprise Network Victoria.
Social Traders, which certifies social enterprises, says government investment in the past decade had also contributed to the sector’s growth. Last year, the NSW government signed a deal with Social Traders to make it easier for government departments to secure goods and services from certified social enterprises.
TOP Borne founders Bal Dhital, Tim Keys, Dan Robson and Pat Prell
PHOTO Peter Stoop