Next up in our series on “mom-and-pop” diabetes shops is Jessica Floeh, who knows a thing or two about good design. As a type 1 diabetic and a student at Parsons The New School of Design, Jessica is mixing her love of design with her personal connection with diabetes. She’s recently concocted Hanky Pancreas, a line of insulin pump accessories designed to make that unseemly bump a little more flattering and tasteful. Hanky Pancreas is still in the process of getting off the ground, but Jessica took the time to answer some questions about her creative options for pumpers.
DBMine) To start with, what’s your personal D-story?
JF) I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at four years old and no one has been able to agree upon a reason why. I actually never asked, but through the years other people have and I tell them the different scientific theories but ultimately say that there isn’t really an answer, it just happens.
I went to a free clinic last year, because my previous health insurance did not cover me in New York, and was called into a room by one of the oldest men I’ve seen still practicing medicine. He was a fossil, as my mother would say. He sat me down, opened up my chart, and slowly asked me my medical history, current medications, and conditions. I went down the slew of things I have plaguing my body, looked at him, smiled and rhetorically asked: ‘You can’t just have one thing, can you?’ He set the clipboard down in front of him, looked at me carefully with his kind eyes and said: ‘There is a reason you were given what you were given. There is a reason you have this and you can help a lot of people because of it.’
OK, but what got you interested in designing accessories for insulin pump users?
After 17 years of injections I started using an insulin pump to gain better metabolic control. While my medical health improved, I struggled with body image anxiety being ‘part machine.’ I came to Parsons The New School for Design after experiencing the insulin pump as something I felt urgently needed the attention of a designer who understood people as social beings, not diseases or problems to solve.
As a result of my cyborg anxiety, I began conceptualizing design solutions that could transform medical technology into something psychologically reaffirming and socially dynamic. During my thesis work, I wanted to explore ways to alleviate or address the social and psychological issues faced by type 1 diabetics wearing insulin pumps. My current designs are geared toward women because it is more difficult for us to conceal the pump the way women’s clothing is made.
Where did you get the idea for Hanky Pancreas?
I came up with the name “Hanky Pancreas” in the middle of the night early on in my process. I loved it and immediately bought the domain name. I think it’s a wonderfully playful term, and some of my later designs happen to actually look like a hanky coming off the insulin pump! The designs originate from a very conceptual place; I wanted to create objects that referenced and embodied transformation. I envisioned an insulin pump that would externally transform to instigate internal transformation. From this I started sketching insulin pump accessories that would be too extravagant and beautiful to remain hidden, growing out of the pump and adorning clothing.
The current collection consists of an external casing that has snaps for a series of interchangeable attachments. The external casing clips into the bra, allowing the attachments come out and accessorize whatever top you are already wearing. Additionally, it can be clipped on the pants, slipped into the front or back pocket, and add a fun accessory to your pants or skirt. I also have simpler accessories that consist of a simple elastic band or ribbon that wraps around the pump with simple fabric flowers and other materials attached.
You’ll graduate soon from Parsons The New School for Design with your MFA. What are your immediate plans for Hanky Pancreas?
I graduate at the end of this month! I’m currently looking for investors to help jump start Hanky Pancreas™ and make it a reality. In the meantime, I’m going to look for one of those “real jobs,” hopefully in an area of creative health design, and have Hanky Pancreas be my side project.
What can people at home do to support Hanky Pancreas?
If you support Hanky Pancreas, show me some love through email. The more testimonials I receive about how these designs could improve your quality of life, the better.
Any immediate fans out there? Jessica adds that you can stayed tuned to her work through Twitter and become a fan on Facebook, too.