Suzanne Lantos was sick of holding the showerhead with one hand while she shampooed with the other. But it was the only way she could direct the water to rinse her hair because the plumbing fixture constantly slipped down the pole it was attached to. Until she found relief with a rubbery new glue.
"I was holding the showerhead at the right height when I realized I needed an extra hand, literally," says Lantos, who lives in Ledbury, England. She opened a packet of Sugru, rolled a squishy blob of putty into a few sausage shapes, wrapped them around the pole and, in a final artful touch, sculpted them to look like miniature fingers.
Sugru stopped the showerhead's inexorable decline.
You may not have heard of Sugru, but plenty of others have. It's sold online to people in 172 nations and in physical stores in more than a dozen countries. Moldable, bendable, waterproof and resistant to heat and cold, Sugru has become the stuff of life hackers everywhere.
It's more than merely useful. The malleable adhesive can give you a whole new attitude about the stuff in your life. Wrap a blob of Sugru around that fraying iPhone charging cord and, presto, you get a satisfying sense of accomplishment that comes from extending its life for a few more years.
That's good news for a planet that's practically drowning in thrown-away items. The world's cities currently generate 1.3 billion tons of garbage each year, according to the World Bank. The US alone accounts for 254 million tons of that waste.
"The world has too much waste. We're tired of it," says Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, co-founder and CEO of FormFormForm, the London company behind Sugru. "Human ingenuity and imagination are going to be fundamental to solving that waste problem."
It doesn't hurt that repairing something gives us an emotional connection that encourages us to keep it out of the garbage can, says Crystal Reeck, an assistant professor at Temple University's Fox School of Business and director of the school's Center for Neural Decision Making. "People are more likely to value things they made," she says.
Mother of invention
Sugru's technology, a patented form of silicone known as Formerol, was years in the making.
In 2003, Ni Dhulchaointigh — working on a master's degree in product design from the Royal College of Art in London — became disenchanted with the idea of designing new things instead of repairing what's broken. That's also when she started fooling around with a moldable mixture of silicone and fine sawdust that could be used to customize and fix what we already have. She launched FormFormForm the following year.
"As designers, we're trained to look for the one killer app — the problem this material is going to solve," Ni Dhulchaointigh says. "The eureka moment was realizing, 'What if there isn't one huge problem? What if there is an easy way of people solving thousands of problems?'"
By 2006, she and two former scientists from Dow Corning were developing a prototype. They released the product three years later and, in 2010, Time magazine ranked Sugru No. 22 on the list of that year's top 50 inventions.
Sugru comes in a $12 package containing three little foil packets. Once you snip open a packet, you have about half an hour to squish it into the shape you want. It cures in about 24 hours, keeping its shape but remaining flexible.
A new kid-friendly formula arrives this fall.
I've used Sugru to fix charging cords, replace the handle on a food processor mixing bowl and mend a cracked lint screen on a decades-old clothes dryer. Fans of the glue constantly share more-inventive repairs and crafts ideas. With it, DIYers have built a custom canoe paddle grip for a woman missing fingers on her left hand, added nubbins to microwave oven controls to help a blind person cook, molded a prosthetic foot for a chicken named Snowy, and mounted Lego figurines onto the side of the desk so their little plastic hands can organize charging cables.
Such whimsy isn't too surprising when you realize the name Sugru comes from "sugradh," the Irish word for "play." Using it will remind you of when you were a kid sculpting with Play-Doh.
"I love Sugru like I love duct tape," says Simone Giertz, a YouTube star who creates amusingly terrible robots, like an iPhone case with spinning arms. "I basically just compensated for lack of building skills with Sugru."
And that's a big part of Sugru's appeal: no expertise required.
Just fix it
Sugru suggests plenty of other ideas: customize earbuds to fit, mold protective bumpers around cameras, phones and other equipment and turn driftwood into a towel rack.
Making and repairing things has been part of our nature throughout history — from knapping arrowheads out of flint to building thatched roofs from river rushes and changing the car's oil. Today's products, though, are often designed with an entirely different ethos. Our laptops and phones have become sleek slabs of electronics that can't be upgraded even if you could figure out how to open the case. Car engines are an impenetrable mass of equipment packed under the hood and controlled by computers.
It's convenient, sure, but it also discourages us from rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. The result is "a feeling of helplessness," says Kyle Wiens, CEO of how-to site iFixit, where thousands of community members create repair guides anyone can use. About 94 million people visited iFixit just last year.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world if you take something apart, apply the fix, get it back together and have it working again," Wiens says.
That's definitely how Lantos felt after Sugru-ing the showerhead. It's no longer a mundane plumbing fixture, she says. It's a thing of beauty.
"I'm ridiculously proud of it."
This story appears in the fall 2017 edition of CNET Magazine. Click here for more magazine stories.
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