All members of the Woelab (Togo first makerspace) who came to visit us in Kokrobitey were proudly wearing their African print Woelab shirt… It’s because “we are a community!” they proudly said. This is when I realized that the spacesuit that we were designing was more than a utility shirt to carry things around, gas mask, electronic add-ons (such as the speakers that Daniel from the KNUST Creativity Group salvaged from a dead laptop) or tools to disassemble e-waste. Seeing the youth happily wearing early prototypes (version designed by Dk Osseo-Asare for his Low Design Office crew of builders) confirmed the fact that the spacesuit was a tool to bring together people of the AMP maker community.
Emmanuel wearing the first prototype
Kuukuwa and I tweaked the original design, thinking about how to optimize its production process and improve usability. For example we used 1 inch straps in lieu of the hand-made ribbons structure running across. This allowed for the sewing to be faster and more precise. We opened the sides of the utility shirt to ease movement—it now unfolds “like an apron” and eventually could be hanged in the spacecraft and used as soft storage. We also reallocated some of the pockets and minimized cuts in the pattern. Inspired by the way kimonos are cut, we used a folded rectangular piece of fabric to create a back pocket that would nicely fold around the side and close the utility shirt, hence minimizing the number of cuts. We added to a hood to the original design, prospecting for a way to integrate a gas mask eventually developed by the AMP Poly-Science team—the Poly-Science team who also experimented with weather proofing fabric using plastic, which can become handy for the utility wear.
With Emmanuel (AMP maker and model =) and Martine (Woelab), we produced a first prototype using African fabric. While I was getting my head around designing the hood, Kuukuwa drew the overall pattern to pass on to Master Chamil who is the production manager of the Kokrobitey Institute. Million thanks to him and his magic abilities, the second prototype he produced helped further develop the design. A third (final?) prototype is now in the making. We found that collaborating with skilled and open-minded people as Chamil, master maker at heart, was extremely important to advance our own skills as “fashion designer apprentice”. Making is about trans-disciplinary and peer-to-peer learning. It particularly expands your ability as a designer.
Chamil working on the second prototype
There is much more to do for the space suit—a number of electronic add-ons made of e-waste, speakers, solar charging station for mobile phones and finally detailing the cost of the suit, yards of fabric (could this eventually be recycled advertizing material?) needed to finally go into production of a number of them.