The story behind Baola

My name is Pierre-Emmanuel. Four years ago, I had an accident. The kind of accident that can change your life. This accident has been the starting point for creating Baola. Let me tell you the story behind it.
Pattern of Baola Orbit Edition

Back in July 2013

I was spending the weekend with my friends in Aix-Les-Bains. Aix-Les-Bains is a charming little town in France, with a beautiful lake. My friends own a boat there and, as it was a sunny day, we decided to spend the Saturday afternoon sailing on the lake.

At one point, we discovered a nice cliff, so we decided to climb it and then jump into the water. The water was so crystal clear there, it felt so inviting. Moreover, the cliff was not too high, around 8 meters, so it didn’t look too dangerous. My friends jumped first; then it was my turn. When I jumped, I was afraid to hurt my back on the rocks behind me. To avoid injuring myself, I decided to jump as far as possible. But I got unbalanced and landed in the water on my bottom.

Right after the jump, my back felt sore. I lay down on my friend’s boat for 15 minutes and the weekend started again as if nothing happened. I went wakeboarding, and we had a great barbecue that evening.

Two days later, I was back at work, and my back felt entirely blocked. After doing medical tests, including X-rays and MRI, the doctors discovered that I had a fracture of my 6th cervical vertebra. Since then, the doctors have been calling me “the lucky boy.” Indeed, if I had landed in the water at a slightly different angle, I could have broken my 1st or 2nd cervical vertebra. That would have been a very different story.

Man jumping in the water
"

That’s me during the jump before my fracture — I had a friend on the boat who was able to capture the moment. At least it’s a souvenir!

July 2013 to August 2017

Since this accident, my back has been hurting almost daily. Just after the accident I had to wear a neck brace for eight weeks. The problem with the neck brace is that it creates contractures in your back muscles. I saw physiotherapists (more than 150 times during last four years!), chiropractors and many other back specialists. That helped to reduce the contractures a little bit and for a short period, but then the ache would return … again and again. I almost gave up. I thought that I would have to live the rest of my life with this pain.

The birth of an idea – August 2017

Four months ago, I was complaining (again) about my back at the office, when my manager told me “Have you tried to sit on a Swiss Ball? I sat on one for four years at my previous company, and that helped to reduce my back pains.”

I was pretty reluctant trying the Swiss Ball. I had heard good feedback about it, read some articles but I was never convinced. I thought that it might be strange to sit on such a round object, especially as I have been sitting for so many years on a “normal” chair. The look of the ball didn’t help convince me to use it either.

But I was feeling so bad on that day that I decided to order one online to experiment with and see if it could help or not.

I got my Swiss Ball a few days later. It didn’t look good: the one I ordered was green — but I wanted to give it a try. And the ball proved to me that I was wrong about it.

It took me less than two days to adapt to it. The first day my lower back was feeling a little painful. After two days, I asked our office manager to remove my chair from my desk as I only wanted to sit on the ball to see the impact of it. Three weeks later, I was sold. My pains decreased and my physiotherapist, Paul, who has been following my progress was impressed by the results on my neck mobility and my back in general. At that time, I didn’t change anything (no extra sport, no other therapy) — so it was clear to me that the ball did have a real impact on my back.

Four months have now passed since I replaced my chair with the ball and the benefits of the ball are still here. My back pains are almost gone, which is a great feeling.

Green swiss ball at a desk
"

Here is the “ugly” ball I ordered.

September 2017

When I received my big green ball at the office, my colleagues became intrigued by this weird object sitting next to my desk. So they asked me lots of questions about it and I started telling them my story. It was then that I discovered that many people of our generation already have back pain.

I started doing some research online to find some nice-looking Swiss Balls, but I couldn’t find anything. I found hundreds of regular green/pink/yellow/orange plastic balls, but nothing visually appealing.

So I took on the challenge to create the first nice Swiss Ball that would look more like an “art object” than a plastic ball.

That’s where it all started. Yet, I had no idea about creating a product like this. What I knew was that I needed an illustrator to make the ball look unique and someone who could work on the shell and sew it around the ball.

I contacted Mike Lemanski, who is a super-talented illustrator based in the UK. Mike has been doing fantastic illustrations for Monocle, Nike, New York Times, Lacoste, etc. I thought Mike would never reply to my email. But he did reply and thought the idea was interesting, so he wanted to help me.

Here is what he wrote me:

“Firstly I think the project sounds really interesting, I don’t believe I have ever been asked to cover a Swiss Ball before, but there is a first time for everything. I really like the idea of covering the ball with some fabric.”

After receiving his email I was super excited to move this forward. Then I found two textile designers in Zurich, Kim and Yael, who could help make the first prototype.

Sketches of swiss ball prototype
"

Some early drawings of the “Swiss Shell Ball”

The initial designs

November 2017

Kim and Yael have been working hard on this. It’s a challenge to create a shell for this kind of shape and its size brings a lot of constraints to make something looking nice.

Here are three things we have been taking in consideration to build this product:

  • Unique: It should look special. Companies spend a lot of time designing amazing offices; we want to make sure not to break the design of the office space but participate in it.
  • Stable: Plastic balls are always moving when you don’t use them and can become annoying. The ball should stay stable if you’re not using it.
  • Washable: Offices get dirty easily and we want to make sure the ball always shines. It should be easy to wash.
Pattern of swiss ball prototype
Prototype of swiss ball cover

The “first” prototype

January 2018

In January we decided to share our first prototype to the public on Medium. We got some very strong feedback and people were very pleased that we are building it. So we decided to take the prototype to a next level and create the first Orbit Edition.

Final prototype of Baola Orbit Edition

January to July 2018

We have worked hard to make this product a reality. After publishing the medium article in January 2018 we received very strong positive feedback and so we decided to move into production with Baola. However, it was important to us that Baola was manufactured entirely in Europe, which we soon realised was much more complicated than we had originally anticipated. We tested many fabrics to ensure Baola is nice to sit on, and also to ensure it stays clean for as long as possible.

Today we are ready to take orders for our first Orbit Edition and we can’t wait to have you sitting on it.