Beau Wangtrakuldee, Ph.D., is a scientist, entrepreneur, and founder of AmorSui, a modern protective apparel company redesigning personal protective equipment (PPE) to empower women with greater function and protection in lab and medical settings. She spoke to Doreen Lorenzo for Designing Women, a series of interviews with brilliant women in the design industry.
Doreen Lorenzo: Have you always had an interest in design?
Beau Wangtrakuldee: The way I think about it, science and design are really closely related. You design to solve a problem. You conduct a science experiment to solve a problem. I’m a former Ph.D. scientist, so I’d work in the lab on drug discovery, antibacterial drugs, and material science. It’s all about problem-solving, creating something that can actually resolve an issue or a challenge.
What inspired you to launch AmorSui?
One day when I was conducting an experiment, I had a chemical spill. I was doing everything right. I was wearing proper pants, my lab coat, closed-toe shoes. But when the chemical came onto my body, my PPE did not do anything. It burned right through to my legs. The combination of chemicals I was working with that day was pretty nasty. Apart from severe burns, it could even cause heart failure. Luckily, I was able to take the clothing off quickly. The burn only ended up looking like a bad sunburn for a couple of weeks.
What I learned from that incident is that the PPE we wore didn’t really protect us. I also learned how hard it was to find PPE that was truly protective and functional, especially for women considering most PPE is made in men’s sizes. When I went and looked for a better product and couldn’t find it, I thought that this could be such a great business opportunity.
Tell us more about AmorSui. How did you start the company?
AmorSui means self-love. I started putting the company together after experiencing getting hurt in the lab. The accident happened in 2013. But I was a scientist back then and didn’t know much about business. Fast-forward two years after that to 2015: I moved to Philadelphia to attend UPenn where I had an opportunity to take an entrepreneurship class that explored customer discovery, market opportunity, and how to turn scientific ideas into a venture.
At the time, I was still working in a lab. But I kept the business idea in the back of my mind. I ended up talking to my girlfriends at lunch to do some market research. I’d ask them questions like, “Have you ever been hurt in the lab? Have you had difficulties with PPE?” Those few conversations turned into a hundred conversations with different women. All of them said yes. I launched a crowdfunding campaign to test the idea. Using the money we raised, I did my first production of products. Our first product was basically for me, my girlfriends, and the hundred women I spoke with. AmorSui really started as a passion project and has grown to where we are now. We made half a million in revenue this past year.
What is AmorSui’s mission?
What AmorSui is standing for is to be a global brand that puts the wearer first. We care more about function and personal safety, and now we’re adding planet health into the equation. We design products that are good for the planet instead of adding more waste to landfills. This is going against the current industry. The traditional PPE supplier supplies whatever is the cheapest you can find from overseas because they’re thinking about their bottom line. They don’t know where it comes from, so they have less control over their supply chains. Since we produce our apparel domestically, we have the opportunity to disrupt the PPE industry from the ground up.
How does AmorSui PPE improve upon traditional PPE apparel?
AmorSui’s products are stylish, professional, fire-resistant, chemical-resistant garments for laboratory scientists and healthcare workers, particularly tailored for women. Our collection of design-led PPE offers all levels of protection. We had the opportunity to think from a consumer’s perspective about the textile, thread, sizing, how it’s made, how it’s washed, and the purchasing process as well. We wanted to make the whole experience of buying PPE easy, digital, and delightful.
What was the response when you launched your products into this market?
We pre-sold about 1,000 units of pants and tops combined within 30 days with really little ad spend. It was through word of mouth, some press here and there, that got us into selling to UPenn, Harvard, UCLA, and multiple universities. From 2018 to 2020, it was a bootstrap business until the pandemic hit. That’s what gave us the opportunity to expand into healthcare. We always wanted to go into healthcare, but we didn’t think that we were going to be able to within two years like we did.
How did the pandemic affect AmorSui’s business?
During the pandemic, one of the things that really pushed me to pivot from laboratory to healthcare was seeing doctors and nurses having to wear one-time-use disposables over and over again. There were nurses in garbage bags because hospitals cannot find enough disposables. This could be solved with a product like ours. What we learned about the business and the whole healthcare PPE industry in general is that reusable PPE is actually better than disposable products.
Most disposable plastic products are made overseas, so anytime you have a crisis, you depend on an overseas supply chain. That’s why hospitals were looking for manufacturers who designed PPE domestically when there was a PPE shortage. Washable and reusable PPE has increased resilience, making it more cost-effective. With disposable PPE, you buy them once, use them once, throw them away, and then have to pay for them to be processed as medical waste. We want to change all that. Following the crisis, more healthcare systems are now open to having conversations about increased sustainability, resilience, and price shield from rising supply-chain costs in the future. We’re trying to make it easy for all these hospitals to see and adopt our PPE as an overall better solution.
Are there any new projects or services AmorSui is working on?
We’re always going through product design. Before, we had less control over the look and feel of our apparel. We had to use whatever was available in the market. Now we’re creating our own textiles. We’re developing a new proprietary textile that would be stain-released to protect against blood and [other] bodily fluids even better than the current offering. Some of the new products that we’re looking at are lighter, more breathable fabrics that could be laundered at lower temperatures. It’s better for the planet because you use less energy, but it’s more comfortable for someone to wear because it’s breathable.
How are you utilizing your scientific background at AmorSui?
Personal protective equipment is technical apparel. It’s not like a regulatory medical device where you need to follow a timeline to get approval. But FDA, CDC, and OSHA have guidelines that you need to go through, including regulatory and laboratory testing, which is where my expertise comes in. Like material science, there are chemical components that go into water repellant and fire resistance [materials] to protect you.
Why did you develop a mobile application for AmorSui?
PPE has a limit on how many times you could reuse and rewash it. They can’t just wear it until it falls apart. We do a lot of testing to determine that. For our medical gowns and lab jacket PPE, they’re good for 100 washes. Our mobile app is designed to track how many times each garment gets washed, so by the time it reaches the end of life, we can indicate it’s ready to be recycled and it’s time to repurchase a new one.
What can other organizations do to help create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive healthcare industry?
It’s important for leaders to really consider the end user. A lot of the healthcare industry cares more about their bottom line and it ends up hurting the people in the organization. A lot of healthcare workers quit the workforce because they don’t feel appreciated. Hospital leaders need to come back and be open to having more conversations about how they could be better in terms of sustainability and inclusivity to retain staff and keep them happy.
What advice would you give to young women aspiring to be designers and entrepreneurs?
In the beginning, I tended to shield myself, not giving my idea away. I think a lot of early entrepreneurs have that kind of mindset that you don’t want to tell someone about your great ideas and are afraid that someone is going to steal them. But when you’re not telling your ideas to anyone, it doesn’t move anywhere or go anywhere. I started telling everyone. I asked for help, asked for suggestions, asked for feedback. What happened is, I pitched better, I told my story better, I got different ideas from people about how to grow the business, and I got referrals whether that was the customer or bringing people into the business. For anyone looking to start a business, my lesson is to have a set goal set and timeline. Figure out how to solve each problem one by one. Then keep telling your story, and the right people will come.