In 2008 Beau Wangtrakuldee, then a doctoral student studying chemistry at Northern Illinois University, was working alone in the lab on a Friday night when she spilled a small stream of chemicals. They burned through her protective lab coat and her jeans in seconds, burning her leg. She quickly removed her clothes, avoided a serious burn, and realized that the personal protective equipment (PPE) she was wearing—that is, a regular lab coat—was not protective at all.
PPE is an $80 billion market worldwide. But when Wangtrakuldee tried to track down a better lab coat, she found that more resilient PPE was hard to find, and virtually none of it was made with women in mind. “At the time, PPEs were designed almost exclusively for tall Caucasian men, even though 80 to 90% of jobs in health care are held by women,” she says.
Wangtrakuldee saw a market opportunity. After taking an entrepreneurship class at the University of Pennsylvania, she started crowdfunding and launched a protective clothing company in 2018 AmorSui. She teamed up with a group of female scientists and designers to create technically advanced protective clothing that is antimicrobial, chemical-resistant, fire-resistant—and the right size for women. She even created the first fire-resistant hijab. Her woman-friendly company also named all the items in its collection after famous female scientists and produced them in female-owned factories.
When the pandemic hit, demand for protective gowns, gloves and face masks skyrocketed — as did the tons of waste from these single-use products. Wangtrakuldee was determined to make AmorSui’s line washable and recyclable. “I made a choice to take care of the planet we live on,” she says. AmorSui’s medical gowns and lab coats are reusable for 100 washes, and the company offers an app to help clinics and hospitals track their use.
Wangtrakuldee believes change is coming in the healthcare industry, with hospitals increasingly buying products that are better quality and sustainable, which is why AmorSui is joining partners who can do textile and plastic recycling. “I want us to be a one-stop shop for recyclable and reusable medical supplies,” she said.
This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.