Fashion Designer: Jessica Floeh
Hand-sewn accessories boost insulin pumps' "cool" quotient
Jessica Floeh was never really comfortable with her insulin pump. “Getting an insulin pump was sort of a traumatic experience for me in a way,” says Floeh, 28, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4 and started pumping at 21. “I found it to be difficult to integrate into my life as a social being.” Always private about her diabetes, Floeh was faced with advertising her disease by using a device attached to her body if she wanted the blood glucose benefits it provided.
That’s when she got the idea to meld fashion and medical technology. As a graduate student at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, Floeh studied the intersection between design and technology, writing her thesis on the idea that better-designed diabetes devices would erase the social stigma attached to wearing a medical device—much as the fashion industry has turned nerdy glasses into an accessory that even those with 20/20 vision wear.
Floeh had her lightbulb moment in 2010, imagining accessories that integrated insulin pumps and their tubing. “I didn’t know how to sew when I thought of the idea,” she says. “I had no business background.” After a year of learning from others and teaching herself, Floeh launched Hanky Pancreas, an online shop for scarves with integrated pump pockets and colorful bands that transform insulin pumps into floral accessories.
Pieces are all hand-sewn by Floeh and shipped from her home in Baltimore. She currently makes about 15 items per month in addition to working full-time for a medical software company. And while Floeh says her shop, HankyPancreas.com, is successful, the most gratifying aspect of founding it has been meeting others with diabetes. “One of the most rewarding parts has been talking with other type 1 diabetic women and girls who have had new positive experiences because of my designs,” she says. “I’ve had the privilege to meet wonderful, passionate people in the world of health care design.” (Insulin pump manufacturer Medtronic met with her to hear her ideas on the role of design in diabetes devices.)
“I wanted to be able to inspire a conversation where maybe there wasn’t one before,” Floeh says. “I wanted someone to be wearing one of these [Hanky Pancreas] pieces and [people to] say, ‘Oh cool, what is that?’ instead of seeing a pump and not knowing what it is or thinking it’s … a pager.”