Safe cycling is suddenly compatible with bouffant hairstyles with the launch of the impossible - an invisible helmet. Hövding cofounder Terese Alstin talks to us about her pioneering invention.
If someone told you that you can ride your bicycle in style while wearing a fully protective invisible helmet, would you believe them? At first, neither did we. But then we heard of the revolutionary Hövding helmet, which not only proves that the invisible helmet really does exist but it is also safer than the traditional plastic turtle shell you put on your head.
If there is one thing that the 21st century has made possible, it is the fusion of beauty and practicality. Add to that a pinch of genius and originality and you have the formula for some of the most innovative devices of our time. Yet it has been a while since we could declare a new gadget as definitively life changing – a radical new idea. But that is exactly what Hövding founders Teresa Alstin and Anna Haupt have achieved with their pioneering invention.
We won’t spoil the surprise. Watch the Hövding video to discover how they created the impossible – an invisible helmet.
What is your definition of luxury?
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A blank canvas or a piece of raw material waiting to become art. Endless possibilities!
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
A secret place I found by the sea. The most beautiful place I've ever seen. Surreal.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Waking up early and realising that it's Saturday and you can go back to sleep - for as long as you please.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
Björk. Because she doesn't care what anyone what anyone else thinks. Always surprising, always inspirational.
The airbag for cyclists is a brilliant idea – how did it come about?
It started in 2005 as a Masters thesis that me and Anna Haupt, my cofounder, decided to do. We wanted to see if it was possible to come up with alternative head protection for cyclists because there are so many people who are not using any protection at all. In Sweden it’s around 20 per cent of cyclists who wear the conventional helmets. We were part of those people who don’t wear conventional helmets because we don’t think they’re good enough. At the same time, a law was introduced in Sweden that made it mandatory for everyone up to the age of 15 to wear a helmet while cycling. We were quite intimidated that we might be forced by law to wear a helmet and so we began to think that this was our responsibility as industrial designers to try to think of something new.
The reason people don’t wear helmets is because they don’t like the look of them – is it a fashion issue?
We talked to a lot of people about why they don’t use cycle helmets and what would make them use an alternative. People were asking for something more discreet, something that wouldn’t interfere with their personal style or their hairstyle. That is something you can either dismiss as stupid or choose to accept as a factor. One person said that it would have to be invisible for them to want to wear it. We thought that was actually the best idea.
Since gaining approval for your product, how many airbags for cyclists have you sold?
The sales figures are confidential but there are thousands of cyclists on the streets wearing the product.
Who is the customer?
It’s a very democratic product that attracts a lot of different users. Obviously it’s more expensive than a conventional helmet because of the airbag technology so it’s people who can afford the device. It’s all ages, from teenagers who want to look cool to elderly people who want to be really safe in traffic. We’ve also seen that a lot of people want to give it away as a gift as it’s a nice way of showing that you care and want to keep someone safe.
Are your customers mostly female?
It’s different in different markets. In Sweden it’s actually 50/50. In Germany, which is also a big market for us, it’s more popular with women.
You and co-founder Anna Haupt studied Industrial Design but Hövding almost seems like an innovation in fashion. Did you take any fashion advice?
Our CEO, who was employed by us one year ago, comes form the fashion industry. He was previously a director at Diesel Europe.
The airbag collar is very discreet. Given that Hövding is a response to how people are comfortable looking, do you think that in the future you can make it into a fashion object?
It was obvious from the very beginning that this had to be a very discreet product. A lot of people wanted the ability to change how it looks from one day to the next. So the fashion aspect of the product is something we thought of at a very early stage with the different shells that you can take off and change how it looks. We’re thinking of collaborating with fashion designers to make labeled ones.
When the airbag is inflated it appears like a piece of avant garde millinery. Was any fashion consideration given to that or was it all about safety?
It was pure function! We had to have the best possible shock absorption that we could make. It needed to cover as much of the head as possible and keep your vision free. It just turned out that it looks rather cool and avant garde! We had a stylist that did some product photos with us in a studio and she thought it was so cool when it was inflated that we should shoot it like that. We hadn’t thought about that and of course that’s the image that has spread across the media.
The idea is the opposite of form following function. In fact, the functional form is hidden until the last minute. Doesn’t this go against everything they teach you at design school?
An industrial designer is all about figuring out who the customer is and what they want. The research told us that people want something discreet and something to go with their everyday clothes. So we needed to make it look like a scarf. It’s high tech on the inside but we have worked hard to make it look low tech on the outside.
Do you see any opportunities in fashion where clothes can be fused with another functionality?
I know there are a lot of innovations in smart textiles where different electronics are being integrated into fabrics. Also in clothing, things like integrating a cell phone into your jacket would be great. Of course, now I’m a safety nerd so I just think about how to make new body protection! Our product only protects the head but our technology could be developed further to make other body protection – for example, for the back. The elderly fall a lot and break their hips. There are many other body parts that need to be protected and airbags could be adapted to that.
What’s next for Hövding?
Right now the airbag for cyclists is only available in Europe but it’s soon to be launched in Japan. There are markets that are screaming for this product. We get calls from customers and retailers in the US everyday. And from Australia, which has had a mandatory bike helmet law for the whole population for fifteen years. The effect there has been that people have stopped cycling because they have lost the sense of freedom.