Symbols on T-shirt help wearer overcome language barriers

CNN  — 

Call it the ultimate fashion statement – a shirt that can do the talking when no one understands a word you’re saying.

This genius item of clothing is printed with nearly 40 icons that travelers can use to try to get their message across if they don’t know the language.

Inspired by a communications breakdown on the road, the shirt is part of a range of items created by a team of Swiss guys who’ve formed a company, Iconspeak.

“We came up with the idea in 2013 when we were riding motorbikes through Vietnam and one broke down,” co-founder George Horn tells CNN.

Horn, a business consultant – or, as he describes himself, “a pen-pusher” – needed help to fix it and ended up in a tiny village where no one could understand his English or French.

Instead, he and his fellow traveler used symbols written on paper and cards that worked so well, they used them again and again in other situations.

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Inoffensive icons

Day or night, the symbols can be used in virtually any circumstances.

Eventually they came up with the idea of committing their translation tools to T-shirt.

“It was a long process,” says Horn. “We started with a huge list of possible items and began testing a lot of prototypes.”

The list was gradually whittled down, with every item carefully vetted for its potential to cause offense somewhere on the planet.

“We kept away from religious symbols, just to be on the safe side,” Horn says.

And they work, he adds.

“I’ve been testing them around Europe and my colleague Florian is right now using them in Latin America.”

The shirts, available to buy online for $33, include icons that could be used to chat about bikes, trains, buses, hotels, beer, food, hospitals, airplanes and Wi-Fi.

All that’s needed is a laundromat symbol – for when everyone else starts using the universal sign language for “dude, it’s time to change that shirt.”

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