Workwear is functional, not fashionable, but a team of designers in Japan is changing the status quo. The Shellmet, a new hardhat made from scallop shells from TBWA\Hakuhodo and Osaka-based Koushi Chemical Industry Co., is a stylish and durable accessory for laborers.
Japan consumes scallops more than any other shellfish, but only the rich, edible center is processed for consumption. In the small fishing town of Sarufutsu Village, empty shells were becoming a waste problem. More than 40,000 tons were piling up in landfills each year. Looking for a greener solution, Koushi Chemical stepped in.
A scallop’s hard shell protects it from predators and water erosion, which got scientists thinking about how it could do the same for humans. A helmet, which could protect construction workers, fishermen, and cyclists, was the perfect product for experimentation.
Building off the emerging field of bioplastics, in which plastic materials are generated from natural materials instead of petroleum, Koushi Chemical utilized a method invented by Professor Hiroshi Uyama from Osaka University to convert shells into plastic. They boiled and sterilized the discarded shells, then crushed them into a calcium carbonate powder. That’s mixed with recycled plastic to make “Shellstic,” the cheeky term Koushi Chemical gave their new innovation.
“Wearing a Shellmet can be considered an activity to protect the ocean in a larger sense,” Hiroshi said. “I hope that this Shellmet will help raise the environmental awareness of many people.”
But the Shellmet isn’t just a technical innovation. TBWA\Hakuhodo’s creative team stepped in to lead the design process. Tapping into biomimicry, the agency molded Shellmets into playful, striated forms that mimic the clamshells they came from. TBWA\Hakuhodo claims that the ribbed form, which uses less plastic material, makes it 33% more durable than the polyethylene that typically makes a hard hat. With that improvement, the Shellmet has been adopted by more than 250 fishermen at Sarufutsu Village, and Koushi Chemical imagines that it could also be worn during earthquakes and other disaster relief efforts.
The helmets come in many pastel colors, like Sunset Pink and Ocean Blue. Though they may not scream in neon like a typical hard hat, their oversized dimensions will thoroughly cover a head from any debris or falling objects, and a woven chin strap, with a shell imprint on the adjustable clip, will keep the Shellmet securely in place.