Arthur Menard was discussing his testicles with friends over dinner. As you do. It was a serious discussion and not as vulgar as it might first seem.
Unconstrained by British reserve, the French entrepreneur and his pals chatted away about their balls and eventually came up with the idea for Spartan boxer shorts - a high-tech pair of pants that protects a man’s most vital assets from the radiation that pervades the modern world.
This is not merely an invention for the hypochondriac. Wifi, smartphones and numerous other devices emit electromagnetic radiation which several studies have suggested damages mens’ sperm.
Though a conclusive link between radiation and lower fertility has not been proven, sperm are definitely dying. Recent research found that, for a variety of reasons, some of which remain unclear, the sperm count of western men has halved over the last forty years.
Faced with the reality that men are not going to give up the smartphones that have become their second-favourite appendage, and the fact that they don’t want their other favourite to stop working, Menard, along with co-founder Pierre-Louis Boyer, set about finding a way to create a world in which sperm and smartphone could live harmoniously.
The fruits of their labours are the unique Spartan boxer shorts. The company says they take inspiration from the technology found in microwaves and space suits.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that the pants cook a man’s sperm to near-nuclear temperatures that can burn the roof of your mouth. Nor does it allow one’s seed to travel to far flung galaxies (whatever strange fantasies you may have).
It means that the boxers are based on the idea of the Faraday cage, a far less space-age concept, discovered by English physicist, Michael Faraday, in 1836.
It uses a mesh of conductive material to block electromagnetic fields, thus protecting the precious goods within.
So the Spartan is, in effect, a cage for the crown jewels. And why not? But don’t be fooled by the term “cage” or the name Spartan. Despite being named after the famous warriors of antiquity and being made from 50 per cent silver, these underpants “are not a suit of armour”, Menard stresses. They won’t protect you from a high-paced football to the gonads or a crafty below-the-belt punch.
In fact, after a lot of research, the team developed a silver and cotton mesh that Menard claims is more comfortable than normal fabric. It’s also highly effective, he says, blocking more than 99 per cent of mobile phone and wifi radiation. Silver also has the added benefit of having anti-bacterial properties meaning the pants should stay odour-free.
The idea has clearly struck a chord. It attracted hundreds of investors on crowdfunding site IndieGoGo last year and the founders took Las Vegas by storm in January, presenting themselves at the CES technology fair wearing no trousers, just Spartan boxers. So confident was Menard in his product, he even pitched to Google wearing the pants. The company was started at the HEC incubator at Paris' Station F startup campus. The founders also studied at HEC and the university helped with funding. Spartan has now raised over €500,000 (£440,000) and the boxers are on sale in 30 countries.
Prices range from £28 to £35 per pair so it’s a premium product, competing with the likes of Calvin Klein and Prada. But Menard makes the strong argument that given what’s at stake, they’re probably worth the investment.
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