When life gives you mandarins, make mozzie coils!
You may not know it, but you’re probably familiar with the work of Eiichiro and Yuki Ueyama.
Eiichiro was a wheeler-and-dealer in 19th century Japan. His main business was organising shipments of fruit for import and export. The couple’s fate changed when Eiichiro stumbled across a nifty little fact: that some flowers have insect-repellent qualities.
This wasn’t a brand new discovery. Flowers from the pyrethrum family had already been traded for thousands of years between Asia, Persia, and Europe, with some records dating as far back as 400 B.C! They were dried, ground down, and sold as, ‘Persian powder’, with the marketing promise of summer evenings spent mozzie-free.
Intrigued by a life without mozzie-bites, the Ueyemas invested in chrysanthemums. Not only is this flower part of the pyrethrum family, it actually removes air pollutants – a finding of NASA’s Clean Air study, a project to improve air quality on future space stations! The citronella plant is also part of the family, which is why it was one our first t-shirt designs.
The Ueyamas made their own Persian powder, and mixed it together with a starchy substance and some of their own dried mandarin peel. They formed it around a short wooden stick, and produced a simple but effective end product: a mosquito-repellent incense stick that could burn for about forty minutes.
A lot has changed in the war against mozzies since then. A big step came in the 1920s, when Nobel prize-winning Croatian scientist Lavoslav Ruzicka made it possible to synthesise the active ingredient artificially. Natural harvest of pyrethrum continued to flourish up until the 1990s, with Kenyan farmers producing 90% of the world’s market. Though it has since dramatically declined, the crop is hardy and reliable, and is a focus of revival projects to reinvigorate farming in some Kenyan communities.
Unfortunately, though, forty minutes isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy a summer evening without mozzies. Yuki’s suggestion made all the difference; by thickening the stick and wrapping it up tightly (they did this by hand until the mid-1900s!), they were able to maximise the burn time for the incense. The result is the modern-day mozzie coil!
For as long as mozzies have been around, people have tried to find ways to stop getting bitten. It’s exactly what our aim is at Borne Clothing.
The history of the mozzie coil is a small piece of a larger puzzle. We’ve chosen to adopt it as one of our first designs because it ties together some of the important threads of this story.
Mosquito-borne diseases continue to impact the most vulnerable in low and middle income countries. More often than not, that group includes pregnant women. Of the ~33.8 million pregnancies each in African countries with high rates of malaria, 1 in every 3 women is exposed to the disease.
Simple innovations like the mozzie coil designed by Eiichiro and Yuki are the hallmark of humankind’s successes in the fight against malaria. Whilst it isn’t coils that are distributed to high-risk areas, it’s the use of effective and similarly low-cost interventions that has led to the improvement in rates of infection and mortality. In fact, as a result of the 229 million insecticide-treated bednets delivered in 2020, close to half of all pregnant women can now enjoy the peace of mind that only a safe sleep can give.
And so, the Mozzie Coil Women’s tee is just like any other design in our collection. It’s an opportunity to wear your heart (and your purpose) on your sleeve.