UL-Lafayette graduate wins prize in design of life jacket for women _lowres

Illustration provided by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette --

A University of Louisiana at Lafayette industrial design graduate is getting widespread attention for her senior thesis project that was entered into an international life jacket design competition.

Jessie Kate Brown, who graduated in August, placed third for her Complex Flex Life Vest, a design she started working on last fall, and won $2,000 in the Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition sponsored by the BoatUS Foundation, a competition that had more than 250 entries from 40 countries.

“I’ve never found (a life vest) that fit exactly well that wasn’t constricted, that wasn’t bulky,” said Brown, who grew up fishing with her family in Basile, near Eunice.

“I mean, it’s either tight so it doesn’t go up above our neck, or it’s loose so it’s comfortable and it doesn’t restrict you, but water pushes it right up,” she said.

Made of polyethylene foam sheathed in nylon, the vest is specially designed as a form-fitting life vest for women.

The vest allows for more arm movement because of an elastic material that stretches down the sides of the vest from the armpit to the waist and hugs the body similar to a shirt.

“It’s a part of our culture and heritage in Louisiana to fish and to go boating, and many traditional life jackets are restrictive,” Brown said. “I wanted to design one that’s both functional and comfortable.”

Drowning accounts for more than 9 percent of the total global deaths and is the third leading cause of unintentional injury or death, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.S. Coast Guard says 71 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned in 2012 — 84 percent of the victims were not wearing a life vest.

Brown is using the prize money to procure a patent and promote the design.

She said her next big project is to design a swivel car seat for people with back problems.

“It kind of validated that the design was a good design,” Brown said of winning the prize. “At the time I was in school and I was doing it, I was kind of leery as a designer: ‘Did I have what it takes to produce something that can be marketed, that can be liked by the masses?’ ”