New lifejacket design more fit for purpose for flood events in India

Wednesday 31 May 2023

Doctor of Philosophy graduate Dr Areef Shaik saw a real need for a more fit for purpose lifejacket for emergency responders in India, where flood events occur every year due to the tropical monsoon climate.

Dr Areef Shaik.

Last updated: Wednesday 31 May 2023

Dr Shaik, who has a Bachelor in Fashion from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India and a Master’s in Fashion Innovation from Manchester Metropolitan University, undertook research with emergency responders in India and discovered that the currently used lifejackets negatively impacted wearer’s comfort and protection, and couldn’t be easily stored.

This led to the development of a series of lifejacket prototypes that were evaluated in aquatic environments, ultimately resulting in a culturally responsive and flood-specific ‘slot n slide’ lifejacket inspired by the Indian sari.

Dr Shaik says the design accommodates a diverse range of body types in a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Having a one-sized lifejacket eliminates the need to carry multiple sizes. The design also provides better fit and comfort while performing sitting, bending, rowing, swimming and lifting activities, compared to existing designs. The design was tested in both dry land and aquatic environments, providing a high level of buoyancy that can stay afloat for more than 24 hours,” he explains.

Dr Shaik's prototype being tested by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) emergency responders in the Krishna River in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Dr Shaik says he wanted to create a unique design and represent his country internationally.

“My interest in fashion led me to pursue my bachelors in fashion. During my coursework I realised that the fashion and apparel industry could open a world of new opportunities for me in designing for disaster scenarios.”

The 29-year-old grew up in the village of Kalidindi in India. A desire to live in a city with an ocean around it led to him to move to Wellington to pursue his PhD at Massey’s Ngā Pae Māhutonga School of Design.

Since completing his PhD oral exam, Dr Shaik returned to India to meet flood rescue personnel to obtain their feedback on his product, which led to an updated version. A small batch of this version was recently delivered to the National Disaster Response Force headquarters in New Delhi.

He has also filed a patent application for the design as he wants to proceed with large scale manufacturing of the lifejacket in India.

“I dedicate the outcome of my PhD research to the millions of people affected by floods in India and around the world, and to the brave rescuers who risk their lives in flood rescue activities.”

Now back in New Zealand, Dr Shaik is working as a Teaching Fellow at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. He teaches fashion design to first year students and also tutors other design courses.

He graduated alongside his partner Dr Chang Xu who he met in his first year of PhD study.

Dr Shaik with partner Dr Chang Xu.

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