An informal survey of 1000 chemists and life scientists has shown that most dislike their lab coats – not enough pockets, no choice of colour, inconvenient open cuffs and, most of all, terrible fit. Respondents to the survey conducted by Genius Lab Gear were unhappy about the length of their coats’ sleeves, the shoulders being too wide or too narrow and the overall shape too boxy to fit anyone who isn’t a perfect cylinder. The company is now working to address these complaints with their lab coat, which will likely be available for purchase in August 2023.
The project was born out of Genius Lab Gear founder Derek Miller’s frustration with his own lab coat. The former materials scientist remembers the coat’s pockets being too big to securely hold a phone or tweezers, the sleeves being so wide that they knocked over glassware and the collar too low to feel protected from spills. He recently put out a survey on social media that was answered by around 1000 undergraduates, PhD and postdoctoral researchers, technicians and research assistants working mostly in chemistry or biology.
‘People were really fired up about [the topic],’ Miller says. ‘I was not prepared for how emotional people got about the problem. [It] gets down to mental health, self-esteem, not feeling safe, not feeling good, not even wanting to go into the lab at all because they have to wear [this lab coat] and it’s just uncomfortable for them the whole day.’
The results showed that 96% of women and 87% of men had a problem with their lab coat’s fit, with petite women having the hardest time finding a well-fitted coat. While Miller’s own complaints were mostly about the functionality, he was surprised by how many people felt the coat was big – a particular problem for people with hips wider than the shoulders. Because lab coats are cut for an ‘average’ cylinder-shaped body, they have to choose a size that fits around the hips, leaving the upper body swimming in fabric.
While there are some small brands offering better fitting lab coats, Miller notes that they are usually very expensive and aimed at medical doctors rather than scientists working in wet labs. They aren’t made out of flame-resistant material, they have wide cuffs and their open collar does little to protect the upper chest and neck.
Genius Lab Gear hopes to address all of these issues. They will start by offering a ‘men’s’ coat with more room in the shoulders and a ‘women’s’ cut that flares more at the hips. The lab coat will feature an internal waist belt, knit cuffs, a back pleat and a collar that can be worn both down as well as buttoned all the way up to the neckline. Miller’s prototype also features a plethora of pockets and loops, including internal pockets, left and right utensil chest pockets, lower pockets that are angled and moved further back so any items don’t get in the way when sitting down, a pipette holder loop at the hip and a zippered side vent that won’t catch on door handles.
The 100% cotton coat will likely be available by August 2023 and cost no more than $50 (£44). While Genius Lab Gear is selling directly to individuals, Miller hopes to eventually secure wholesale contracts as most researchers get their coats through their institution. In time, Miller wants to create coats for different specialities – like life scientists work with biological materials – in more colours and different fits, including a maternity coat.
Better-fitting coats will not only make people more likely to actually wear this crucial piece of protective equipment, Miller says, it also may make working in the lab slightly more enjoyable. ‘It’s not that one lab coat that’s uncomfortable is going to kick someone out of science altogether. But there’s so many of these little frustrations, these little friction points that happen along the way, I think it can be that the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’