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WWU students design tea maker they hope people will flip over

A few Western Washington University students have made a product that is not only a potential money-maker for future students but is handy for loose-leaf tea drinkers on the go.

Western’s student chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America created Imbue, a tea-brewing vessel that uses magnets to make it both a tea steeper and a mug. Customers put the loose-leaf tea in the steeper, then put it in the water-filled vessel and flip it over. When the tea is done brewing to the owner’s satisfaction, the vessel is flipped again. The magnets keep the tea steeper in place and prevent the tea leaves from escaping into the tea, so it’s easy to remove the leaves and drink the tea.

Imbue was a student-led project to help pay for some student fees and extracurricular activities for the chapter, including a spring break trip to design firms outside the area.

This type of chapter project has been in place for several years, but this product turned out to be particularly popular in tea-happy Bellingham. At an event held at Bellingham’s Mindport in December, nearly all of the 150 Imbue tea units were sold in one evening, and people were asking where else they could get them. The students decided to take it a step further, making plans to produce more units so that it can be a revenue source for future students, said Ashkon Nima, a junior in Western’s Industrial Design Program.

“Once someone from outside the program liked it and started telling others, we knew we were on to something,” Nima said.

To start the next phase, the students are launching a Kickstarter campaign on Friday, May 1. By pledging money, people will get a variety of rewards, including the Imbue tea vessel itself for $27 (the price will go up to $29 after a few weeks). The fundraising will go toward tooling costs and other expenses to make the product, which will be sold online and possibly at local stores. Proceeds will go toward the student chapter for future projects and to help support the school’s industrial design program, Nima said.

The advantage of this product is that the tea drinker can control the brewing time by simply turning it over, said Leah Cohen-Sapida, one of the students who designed Imbue. It can handle hot or cold tea and go everywhere, making it particularly attractive for office workers.

“It also makes a great water bottle,” she said.

Coming up with the design and making it function the way they wanted took quite a bit of work. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how many magnets were needed to keep the tea steeper in place, said Dan Taylor, one of the students who worked on the project. A lot of work went into pounding the magnets into the lid. For the product being featured on Kickstarter they will need just one strong magnet, reducing production costs.

The students originally liked a mason jar look, but they soon found that using a borosilicate glass (which is also used in Pyrex products) was better because it is a great insulator, Taylor said. Combined with a wood lid, it gives it a nice traditional and modern look, Cohen-Sapida said.

It was also quite a learning experience for the students even when the design was done. Marketing, negotiating contracts and licensing are among the challenges the students have had to tackle, skills that will be useful after graduation, Cohen-Sapida said.

For details on the product, visit imbuetea.com.

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