Introducing The Talking Tourist T-Shirt

Open Jaw

There are some truly terrible tasteless tourist t-shirts out there. You see them in the souvenir shops and wonder how anyone could wear them without embarrassment. Then you see someone wearing one – without embarrassment.

 But a new shirt from a company called Iconspeak is not only inoffensive, it could be called the ultimate fashion statement. It’s a shirt that can do the talking when no one understands a word you're saying.

Inspired by a communications breakdown on the road, the shirt is part of a range of items created by a team of Swiss guys.

The t-shirts are printed with nearly 40 icons that travellers can use to try to get their message across if they don't speak the local language.

"We came up with the idea in 2013 when we were riding motorbikes through Vietnam and one broke down," co-founder George Horn told CNN.

Horn needed help to fix his wheels and ended up in a tiny village where no one could understand his English or French.

So he and his fellow traveller used symbols written on paper and cards that worked so well, they used them again and again in other situations. Eventually they came up with the idea of committing their translation tools to a T-shirt.

"It was a long process," says Horn. "We started with a huge list of possible items and began testing a lot of prototypes."

The list was gradually whittled down, with every item carefully vetted for its potential to cause offense somewhere on the planet.

"We kept away from religious symbols, just to be on the safe side," Horn says.

And they work, he adds. "I've been testing them around Europe and my colleague Florian is right now using them in Latin America."

(will not be published)