Wearing Your Needs – A Travel T-Shirt Review

Ain’t globalization wonderful? We now have international signs for restaurants, handicapped accessibility, pedestrian crossings, and more.

We can travel almost anywhere and find a restroom, a subway, a phone, and a hospital. This international signage has certainly made it a bit easier on travelers who do not know the local language.

But what if you want to find someplace to have a beer or maybe rent a motorcycle? There is not likely to be signage anytime soon for this. You will probably have to draw a picture or try gestures to make your wishes known. These communication problems hit international travelers every day.

So, three Swiss designers, wanting only to be known as George, Steven and Florian, agreed upon 40 icons that would be known anywhere, thanks to the Internet, and that could be placed on a T-shirt and worn while traveling, to show to the “natives” what was needed.

The Birth of the Idea

The idea for the T-shirt was born from an incident as two of these Swiss fellows were traveling through the back country of Vietnam on their motorcycles. One motorcycle, named Claudine by her faithful owner, died on the road, literally in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get to a location for repair was to tie the very ill bike to the good one and have it towed.

When the duo arrived at a small village, they were, of course, an unusual sight, and, as the villagers gathered around them, they tried to explain that they needed a mechanic. It took gestures and drawing in the dirt before a local smiled in understanding, took the bike completely apart and then re-assembled it, leaving two wires exposed which would have to be put together to start the bike – a hot-wired motorcycle in the middle of Vietnam. Some things are just universal.

Musing about their day in the small village over drinks in Nha Trang, their destination that night, the idea was born. There are certain icons that everyone understands or can figure out. Why not make a t-shirt, filled with these icons, which can be worn? This way, a traveler only has to point to what s/he needs. And so, over their drinks, they came up with 40 of the most important icons a traveler might need.

This was in 2015. The original t-shirt is this:

And it can be found on the young men’s website, iconspeak.world.

Since the creation of the shirt and the website, things have grown a bit. Now the shirt comes in several styles and colors, so that travelers can purchase several, if necessary, for every day of a trip. And, as so often happens with a single clothing idea, there are now bags, hats, and more, some sporting the full set of icons, others just sporting a few newly created icons that depict where a traveler might be going (sea, mountains, etc.). All of this has happened within just a year.

The Icon Speak website was launched in January of this year and features an “About Us” page that speaks to the product and it usefulness to travelers. There is also a blog with, to date, a single post describing the incident in Vietnam and the birth of the idea.

While the icon world T-shirt will certainly not solve every traveler’s communication problems, it is a novel idea, a fact that should make it a good seller. Perhaps some of the gear will make its way under a number of Christmas trees next December.

One can see on the t-shirt an icon of tools that clearly signifies the need for repairs. The next time Claudine is in trouble, this icon may help her owner get help without drawing in the dirt.


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