Specialized Gear For Transit Commuters Protects You From Other People’s Germs

The Germinator jacket will protect you from getting sick on the subway. Is this just for germaphobes or is the best commuting outfit a hazmat suit?

“Commuting by public transit is convenient, responsible, and gross.” So say designers at the San Francisco branch of gravitytank, who spent last flu season sketching ideas for clothing that could secretly protect subway and bus riders from the sick (or smelly) people squeezed next to them on each commute.


Now one of their ideas is about to go into production. The “Germinator Transit Jacket” looks like an ordinary jacket, but includes a high collar with an antimicrobial lining, so you can pull it over your mouth when your neighbor starts coughing. Fold-out cuffs allows you to hold onto a pole without ever touching it. A removable hood lets you lean on a window if you need to take a nap on the way home.

“We got such visceral responses to the Straphanger concept–people either loved it or hated it, but pretty much everyone agreed that trains and buses are full of germs,” says gravitytank designer Amy Seng. “We started digging around to see if there was enough demand for a jacket and quickly realized that commuters are grossed out every single day. Just check the Muni Diaries twitter handle.”

While most of the jacket’s features are tailored for a germaphobe, others are just meant to make commuting by mass transit a little easier–like a transit pass holder that zips into the sleeve, so you don’t have to struggle to find a pass.

“It seems like every week where I hear a train coming and I’m fishing out my wallet as fast as I can, only for the turnstile to deny me as it read the wrong card in my wallet,” says Nadeem Haidery, another designer who worked on the project. “Then finally getting it to work, racing down the stairs only to see the doors close in front of me and the train slowly pull away.”

Unlike bike commuters, who have a range of gear targeted at their specific needs, transit commuters haven’t had many choices in the past. Gravitytank hopes to continue designing new solutions for that market.

“Commuting on public transit is something that millions of people do every day and there’s little out there to support them,” says Seng. “How can we help commuters deal with cramped spaces? Working while commuting? Jerky rides? Hour-long commutes?”


“We’ve also been joking about shoes that perfectly match the grooves in the floor of the train car, so you just temporarily lock in and don’t have to grab on to anything,” Haidery adds.

First, though, the team will have to finish crowdfunding the Germinator. The designers are partnering with clothing company Betabrand to produce the jacket, and still need a few more supporters before it will go into production.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.