Each year a jury designates one product as Best of Competition in The Nightingale Awards, a program that celebrates some of the best in healthcare design products. The latest product to earn the recognition actually wasn’t originally developed for healthcare but found a fit in the market for its flexible and space-saving design attributes.

As students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland in 2015, David Ballagi and Carlo Loderer regularly organized music festivals on campus. As the events grew in size and popularity, Ballagi and Loderer were confronted with a tedious problem: organizing coat checks.

Unable to find an ideal solution, the duo came up with their own idea, a bag-based self-service garment storage system. And in fall 2015, they took a semester off, developed a prototype, and began taking it to different markets.

After trying to sell pilot installations in traditional event-based markets, they began testing other segments, such as healthcare, where they found a welcome reception.

“Healthcare and similar industries just had huge space problems, and we had developed a novel solution that could improve this situation and employee experience at the same time,” says Loderer, who cofounded Zippsafe AG (Glattbrugg, Switzerland) with Ballagi in 2016.

Specifically, the company’s “smart soft locker solution” replaces traditional hard materials such as metal or wood with polymer-based locker bags. Users hang their clothes on retractable hangars inside the bag, while accessories are stored in flexible compartments and side pockets that can adapt in size to the items stored.

Each storage frame measures 6 feet tall and 4.6 to 6.6 feet long and holds 10-15 storage units. It also features an attached bench and integrated shoe storage compartment. As part of the smart solution, the locker bag and shoe compartment are digitally controlled via an RFID reader, while user access can be managed remotely via an integral management system or existing access solutions.

At the 2022 Healthcare Design Conference + Expo, the Nightingale Awards jury found the company’s ZippSpace Pro model to be an innovative and attractive way to provide personal storage in a limited footprint. “This product hits so many issues in an elegant solution,” one juror noted.

Healthcare Design spoke with Loderer, now CEO of Zippsafe, who outlined some of the product’s features, how it addresses space and infection control, and its role in staff satisfaction.

Healthcare Design: What storage issues were you trying to solve with this system?

Carlo Loderer: The Zippsafe smart garment storage solution can solve a big problem—namely, the problem around space, of which there is never enough, especially in locker rooms. To be highly space-efficient was not enough, though. The real challenge was to design a system that is super space-efficient yet user-friendly for staff.

How is the ZippSpace locker system designed to solve the space challenge?

Carlo Loderer: ZippSpace’s zippered bags are attached to a frame, and users hang their clothes on retractable hangers inside the bags. Bigger personal items, such as purses and backpacks, as well as other accessories, such as motorcycle helmets, can also be placed inside these flexible compartments. The locker bag is then closed with a zipper and securely locked using RFID technology unique to the user, eliminating theft.

Why did you decide that this product would be a good fit for the healthcare market?

Carlo Loderer: Healthcare institutions are usually located in urban areas, where space is scarce and square footage prices are high. Part-time employment and increasing demands in healthcare result in growing workforces, requiring higher capacities in employee locker rooms.

At the same time, the skilled labor shortage is a big topic in the industry, and it’s known that staff space is critical to job satisfaction. Institutions are asked to offer personal storage to their employees. Locker rooms are the first and last touch point to the employee.

While the user experience in locker rooms is oftentimes considered not satisfactory, we wanted to improve the status quo and offer a better experience to people. Therefore, ZippSpace allows convenient handling and additional storage options for personnel belongings.

The system requires a third of the space needed by a classic one-tier metal locker. What specific features allow that?

Carlo Loderer: First, the bags are not rigid. Therefore, they can be much narrower compared to a traditional locker (most people do not actually need the full width of a locker), but they can adapt when somebody actually needs more space. Second, the solution stores items in a more vertical manner, allowing clothes to be properly hung without being wrinkled. Shoes are stored below, garments above.

Did you make any modifications to the product for the healthcare sector?

Carlo Loderer: Focusing on the healthcare sector, hygiene became a top priority.

As a first modification, we added a storage compartment for two pairs of shoes under the bench that’s separate from the garments and reduces smell and risk of contamination from pathogens that can travel on shoes. We further added side pockets to the zippered bags in order to make it possible for employees to store their scrubs hygienically separated from their streetwear.

Additionally, a built-in ventilation system with active carbon filters promotes a cleaner, healthier workspace. The system prevents the build-up of unpleasant odors and improves air quality. When employees store damp clothing, the ventilation accelerates drying and minimizes humidity.

Explain how the system works from a technology perspective.

Carlo Loderer: The Zippsafe Management System (ZMS) is the basis for the online management of our garment storage solution. Based on the customer’s needs, ZMS can be integrated into the existing IT landscape or function as a standalone system. In both cases, the assignment of a compartment (which includes the locker-bag and shoe drawer) can be done via our ZippManager software.

This web application was designed specifically for the management of the garment storage solution and additionally facilitates the process of allocating employees and managing lockers.

What mechanical or other support infrastructure needs to be installed with the locker system?

Carlo Loderer: The concept is designed to be plug and play, so a conventional power outlet is sufficient. Upon request, we offer an integration into an existing access management system, which allows employees to use their personal badge and operate their locker bags by simply placing their card against the RFID reader. This feature is highly valued by our customers because employees don’t need to carry around additional keys.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at anne.dinardo@emeraldx.com.