April 17, 2020: Posted by Mohamed Kahna
It is undoubtedly the most famous mask for beach holidays. The Easybreath, literally “respiration facile” in French, is normally used by those who love to go for a palm tree hike at sea. But for the past few weeks, this mask (marketed by Decathlon) has been used in several European hospitals. Here is a look back at the history of an object like no other.
It is the summer of 2007, in Hendaye, France. The season is in full swing on the Basque coast. The sun is shining and beach packed with bathers and swimmers too. The Tribord design centre, a brand of nautical equipment sold at Décathlon, is taking advantage of the occasion to launch a major study on beaches around the world.
The question they were asking was “Do you enjoy snorkeling?”
This is not scuba diving, but a surface water leisure activity also called PMT (palmes-masque-tuba) in French.
According to Erwann Loret, product manager at Tribord, the answer became clear: “Between 30 and 40 percent of those surveyed told us they could not snorkel because the snorkel was in the way or they had difficulty breathing,” he explains in a video published on the brand’s design center website.
A competition at a design school
Tribord felt that the market for snorkeling was booming. It wanted to innovate in order to take its competitors by storm. The brand then took the gamble of launching a competition with a design school, challenging designers to “invent a product with which you can breathe underwater as you do on land”.
As a result, the students proposed about 30 projects, with all of them have one thing in common: their masks cover the nose, eyes and mouth at the same time. The design centre at Tribord therefore started working on the idea. It took advantage of its “garage”, a large workshop where it was possible to tinker and test the first purely functional pre-prototypes.
The first mask made in the “garage”
“This allows you to test an idea or concept very quickly and imperfectly to see if it works or can work. Before, we simply didn’t know how to do that” said Stéphane Saigre, director of Tribord at the business magazine La Tribune. And so it was here that the Easybreath mask was born out of a rather basic DIY project.
“There was a real challenge to be taken up on the waterproofness of the mask, especially on the skirt“, explains the product manager on the brand’s website. Then came the product design phase. “From a “monster” to something that people would want to wear on the beach,” continues Erwann Loret. In other words, making the prototype attractive.
The Easybreath patent filed in 2016
To do this, Décathlon has relied on another partner, Oxylane Research, which specializes in sports engineering. A stage that nevertheless required three years of work for the company.
We always wanted this mask to be very transparent” explains Cédric Caprice, designer at Tribord, on the website. “In the beginning, all the solutions we found hid the mouth and nose. It was our subcontractor who found the solution.”
It was finally only in 2016 that the patent of the famous Easybreath snorkeling mask was registered. Its commercialization started in 2017 but it was in 2020 that this equipment for beach holidaymakers experienced an unexpected boom, due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Italian start-up makes respirators out of masks
Italy now has more coronavirus deaths than China. And most European countries have overcrowded hospitals.
In northern Italy, the situation is particularly alarming. In particular, there is a shortage of ventilators to treat the sick.
It was then that a doctor had the idea of adapting the famous Decathlon masks into respirators. An Italian start-up worked on the project and a few days later, the first patients were equipped with this hybrid mask. The innovation was then patented by the Italian company, but left free to use.
On March 30, everything sped up. Decathlon made the decision to withdraw its masks from sale and make the 30,000 snorkeling equipment available to doctors to help them fight the Covid-19.
This mask, which was a small revolution in the world of aquatic leisure, is becoming a key piece of equipment in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and truly enough to put the object, one day, in the history books.
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