August 4, 2016

Life is a Battlefield: Shalem Student Translates IDF Technology into Everyday Design

After two years spent struggling with Shalem’s rigorous course load, Shalem sophomore Yonatan Aldouby felt the strain—on his back. “Maybe if my studies weren’t so intense,” Aldouby grins, “I wouldn’t have felt the need. But the Odyssey, the Hebrew Bible, the Koran…these are heavy works. They take a toll.” To help lighten his fellow students’ loads, Aldouby decided to design a better backpack—and gain valuable experience as a social entrepreneur in the bargain.

The result is “JOEY,” an everyday backpack designed to save your back and help Israel’s image at the same time. As a former soldier in Sayeret Matkal, the elite special operations unit of the Israel Defense Forces, Aldouby recalled wearing a kit bag (backpack) that carried a lot more, but felt infinitely lighter than what he was currently hauling around as a civilian. Working with a Jerusalem-based designer, he managed to refine a product that mimics the functionality and ease of military gear, yet looks polished enough to pass muster in the library, at a café, or a stroll downtown.

“The key is a suspension system that balances weight evenly, and with minimal effort,” Aldouby explains. “But no less important is a design that enables everything to be easily accessible. Think of soldiers: They can’t be rooting around in a deep pocket for what they need, taking the pack on and off constantly, and turning around to reach equipment. So, too, with everyday people. Muscle strain is often the result of craning our necks and swivelling our backs to get at smaller items.” These elements, along with a high-durability fabric, are what make JOEY the perfect solution for urban trekking.

Yet the design, Aldouby is quick to add, was only half the battle. Starting a business—from recruiting staff and applying for patents to learning the ins and outs of online marketing—“was a project far bigger than me. Fortunately, the Shalem community more than rose to the occasion.” He turned to Odelia Yatzkan, the director of Shalem’s Department of Career Services and Leadership Development, who tirelessly connected him with individuals in the greater Shalem family, including former Timberland CEO Jeffrey Swartz, who helped him channel his vision into what could become a profitable business model.

The Shalem student body also rallied around Aldouby’s idea, taking it to even greater heights—literally. “Yonatan mentioned to me that he was trying to bring a famous American tightrope walker to Jerusalem to get attention for the backback’s Kickstarter launch,”explains Yatzkan. “I suggested he work with fellow student Daniel Kinreich, whom Shalem helped to secure an internship at the Tower of David, in order to organize the tightrope-walking event there. What better place to create a buzz than at one of Jerusalem’s most iconic, historic locations?” The resulting high-wire walk above the Old City walls garnered several articles in an appreciative Israeli press, and undoubtedly helped to make the recent Kickstarter campaign a success right out of the starting gate: Within its first two weeks, Aldouby raised more than $100,000, exceeding his most ambitious projections.

Finally, Aldouby hopes his backpack will show international markets another side to Israeli ingenuity. With so much negative media surrounding the Jewish state, products such as JOEY, he believes, can serve as an important means of making connections. “People can take issue with policies,” concludes Aldouby, who plans to sell and ship models overseas according to demand. “But comfort and style? You just can’t argue with that.”

To support Aldouby’s Kickstarter campaign, make your pledge here.

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