From a young age, Ken has known that sleep is a driving factor to his success. Realising that his pillow was giving him headaches and sleepless nights from rolling in bed all night, he developed an itch to improve it.
“None of the ones [in the market] did the job, so the only choice was to make a new one myself,” the then 20-year-old thought.
17 years of research later, in 2020, Ken finally released his innovation, GIRAFthepillow.
Finding pain points
“To be honest, in the beginning, I had no idea what to do, it wasn’t a situation where I decided to dive headfirst into a pillow with composites tech,” Ken told Vulcan Post.
He shared that engineering the GIRAFthepillow was an incremental innovation process. A lot of time went into studying what users require from a pillow and what problems existed with conventional pillows out there.
“From there, the aim was to solve these problems,” Ken said.
It was during this stage that Ken realised that many issues came from the limitations of conventional materials. For example, he discovered that memory foam is the wrong material to use in pillows.
Memory foam is said to be one of the most comfortable materials to use in mattresses, cushions, and more, as they also provide good structural support. In fact, it was developed by NASA and used within spaceships.
“NASA only made it to disperse pressure, not for structural support,” Ken countered.
Using his Mechanical Engineering expertise while studying at the University of Nottingham, UK, he applied his knowledge in ergonomics and composites to create his own pillow from scratch.
“Advanced composites were my area of focus in uni where I helped design 3D composites for Bentley, and it sparked my interest in using this approach to try and solve the material limitation issues for the pillow,” Ken shared.
He considers himself lucky to have been under one of the top experts in composites in the UK during his uni days, where he was also given access to develop his concepts there.
Designed for all sleeping postures
Ken’s advanced composites pillow is partly inspired by Formula 1 racecar seats, which moulds according to a person’s body. “We actually took 3D moulds from actual people, then applied exact calculations to produce the shape you see today,” Ken explained.
GIRAFthepillow’s contour takes on what it calls a Pilot Headrest Wings shape, inspired by business class seats on airlines. They’re of a similar shape as neck pillows often placed in cars, where the middle of the pillow is lower than its sides.
The materials and design of the pillow have been fine-tuned by a posture expert with certification from the American Posture Institute too.
This design is supposed to mimic human cuddle, otherwise known as deep pressure therapy (DPT). Testing it myself, I can confirm this claim is true.
A lot of attention was also paid to provide a seamless transition while ensuring minimal sleep disruption to those switching positions throughout the night.
“Most people say they are a side sleeper, back sleeper etc., but research has shown that the majority of sleepers change positions throughout the night, just that they themselves may not realise it (after all, you’re asleep then aren’t you?),” Ken pointed out.
Additionally, the pillow uses breathable high wicking materials which draw moisture away from the body, giving it a cooling effect.
I haven’t been using the pillow for long enough to have a proper opinion on it, but so far, while it satisfies in the DPT and cooling aspects, I did find myself waking up with some neck aches after usage.
Although, it could simply be because I’ve not gotten used to the shape of the pillow yet, since I personally favour pillows that don’t “dip” in the middle.
A hefty price for good sleep
GIRAFthepillow is sold for RM399, with free shipping around Malaysia and Singapore.
For a fee, customers are also given an option to personalise their own custom-fit pillows through appointments with SleepScientifica, GIRAFthepillow’s internal R&D arm.
GIRAFthepillow’s product could come off as a luxury purchase to the average middle-income Malaysian. However, it does appear that Ken has found a receptive audience for it, if not exhibited by GIRAFthepillow breaking even within two weeks of launching, and receiving 50% repeat orders.
To add, searching online for other pillows made from advanced composites will lead you to a dead-end, with GIRAFthepillow appearing as the only option. This would imply that GIRAFthepillow is in fact one of—if not the only—companies engineering pillows made from advanced composites.
In fact, Ken shared that during his beta testing phase, there have been attempts to copy his product, even before it was officially launched in 2020.
“There was an attempt to take our pillow apart and our customer service team was harassed to provide manufacturing and assembly instructions,” Ken recalled. “They say imitation is the best form of flattery, and we still believe that.”
It seems that GIRAFthepillow is now protected legally, displayed by its trademark sign on the logo on its website.
On top of just providing better support for sleep, GIRAFthepillow’s tech could be expanded to serve other industries as well, especially for products that require cushioning.
Bringing this observation to Ken, he shared, “Whilst the composites tech that we have may be further applied to different industries, being a sleep-obsessed engineer, my future focus will be on disrupting the sleep industry.”
His team is now on the lookout for opportunities for funding and working with other areas of technology to take the pillow beyond being just a piece of furniture hardware. Ultimately, Ken wants to make it a smart healthcare and wellness product that will change the way we sleep for the better.
Featured Image Credit: GIRAFthepillow