Protect Heads, and the Earth – The New Ecocycle SHELLMET Has Created

01 September 2023

Protect Heads, and the Earth – The New Ecocycle SHELLMET Has Created

A seashell-like object placed gently on the shore of a wave – what you see above is “SHELLMET”, a helmet made of wasted scallop shells and recycled plastic, Japan’s first material derived entirely from waste (Shellstic®︎). SHELLEMET transforms a large amount of shell waste, which had been a problem for the community because of its potential to cause soil pollution and bad odors, into something that protects the earth and our heads. Turning the “waste” into “resource” – this sustainable concept has attracted a lot of attention from both inside Japan and overseas, and so far won many prestigious awards, including 2 Gold and 1 Bronze at Cannes Lions 2023, and 1 Grand Prix and 1 Gold at ClioHealth 2023.

The story of “SHELLMET,” developed by TBWA\HAKUHODO in partnership with Koushi Chemical Industry Co., and quantum, began with a single tweet and eventually is adopted as the official disaster prevention helmet for the 2025 Japan International Exposition (Osaka/Kansai Expo). We talked to Masatoshi Usami, Creative Director, and Yuhei Ito, Creative Director & Senior Art Director about how the concept of “SHELLMET” has come about and what the team is aiming for in the future.

It all started from a single tweet from “Namchan”

Q. What was the inspiration for this project?

Ito: One day I came across a tweet that people on Twitter were talking about. The tweet was from “Namchan_koushi,” who said, “We can now mold plastic from eggshells, about 200,000 tons of which are thrown away every year.” Intuitively intrigued by the idea of making ecological plastic from shells, I shared it with Usami and suggested, “Why don’t we propose something exciting to Namchan?”

Namchan_koushi’s tweet that started everything

Namchan_koushi’s tweet that started everything

Usami: I thought it was interesting. The idea of naming the product “Shellstic®︎” as it is an ecological plastic made from shells immediately popped up in my mind, and I sent a DM to Namchan. He was Mr.Tetsuya Nambara of Koushi Chemical Industry, whose business is integrated processing of plastic from mold making, molding, painting, and welding to assembly. Mr. Nambara responded that he would like to hear more about the project, and we began working to give shape to the idea.

Q. Namchan’s post talked about the eco-plastic made from eggshells, but how did the project ended up using wasted scallop shells?

Usami: Actually, when we looked into it, we found that other companies or municipalities were already working on the technology to turn eggshells into ecological plastic. We thought that this would not bring any novelty to the project, so we looked for another material for eco-plastic. We turned our attention to the eggshell component, which was calcium carbonate and found out scallop shells are also made from the same component. That’s how we changed the direction of our proposal, “SHELLMET,” which is to make helmets out of wasted scallop shells.

Scallop shells accumulated in Sarufutsu Village (photo taken in August 2022)

Scallop shells accumulated in Sarufutsu Village (photo taken in August 2022)

At the same time, we proposed that we involve Sarufutsu Village in Hokkaido. Sarufutsu Village is one of the largest producers of scallops in Japan, winning the top prize for scallop catch many times, but we hypothesized that there might be a lot of discarded shells as well※. Can’t we turn discarded shells into a new resource instead of letting it become just waste? If we could do this, we thought, we could create a new eco-cycle in the scallop fishing town.
(※Fisheries Promotion Division, Fisheries Bureau, Hokkaido Department of Fisheries and Forestry, “Survey of Fisheries Waste Generation in FY2021”)

“Craftmanship” & “Storytelling” that only TBWA\HAKUHODO can provide

Q. I imagine there are so many ways where eco-plastics can be applied, but how did you decide to go with “helmet” as the first product using Shellstic®︎?

Usami: There were three key points for the project idea. ① Shells are essentially a protection against external enemies ② Scallop fishermen always wear helmets in the field because of the danger they face while fishing and ③ Calcium carbonate, the main ingredient of scallop shells, is often used in industrial products. The idea of making a helmet was derived by multiplying these points.

Sarufutsu village fishermen wearing SHELLMET

Sarufutsu village fishermen wearing SHELLMET

Ito: Initially, we had several other ideas besides helmets. For example, we talked about how we could expand the use of eco-plastics as a substitute for paper straws, which were becoming a hot topic at the time in Japan, as the consumers understand using paper straws is to reduce using plastics but still hard to get accustomed to.

During the planning stage, there were times when it was unclear whether the project would really work or not. However, Mr. Nambara empathized with our enthusiasm with this project and we were able to keep pushing through during this difficult period.

Q. SHELLMET is not just a typical helmet but has a shell-like design. Was there any reason behind the design and technical difficulty when producing?

Usami: We had many discussions about the design. We wanted to make sure that the product would sell well as business but didn’t want it to be a conventional thing. At the same time I was also worried if we push the “shell-like” design too much it may just look funny.

So the team rethought what “SHELLMET” would be competing in, whether it’s design, functionality, or environmental. We got to the conclusion that we as a creative agency can competing in creating “buzz”. We returned to the fact that the strength of TBWA\HAKUHODO is news making and context creation, and created a story that is not just about recycling, but about protecting people’s lives by turning shells, which originally protected themselves from the environment, into helmets. It was important to think about the brand story that the world needs from a PR perspective and reflect it in product development, by simultaneously engaging in “craftsmanship” and “storytelling”.

SHELLMET design sketch at the time of proposal

SHELLMET design sketch at the time of proposal

Ito: Above is the sketch that I first drew during our discussions. We aimed for both “an iconic look like a seashell” and “a beautiful silhouette when worn”. With help from Mr. Monden, a product designer of quantum, the design and 3D model was meticulously created. By incorporating the idea of biomimicry, mimicking a structure of nature, SHELLMET ended up getting more endurance, helping to complete a coherent PR story.

Since Koushi Chemical Industry specializes in handling small plastic parts, producing a helmet was a huge challenge for Mr. Nambara, as they were larger in size than the products he normally handles. However, since we had decided on a policy of competing on the basis of “buzz creation,” we were able to resolve issues one by one toward our goal, and the project was able to take root without much of a blur from the initial conception.

The story of SHELLMET, spreading throughout the world

Q. The crowdfunding for SHELLMET started on December 14, 2022. Once SHELLMET was released, crowdfunding exceeded its goal by a wide margin, and received positive responses from overseas. Did you expect this level of response?

Usami: To be honest, I didn’t expect the response would be this great. I was surprised to see such a great response from overseas.

Ito: We put a lot of attention in creating the crowdfunding pages. We created about 30 patterns with different wording and design and verified each banner. I felt that such small “verification of the way we communicate on each platform” has led to the current response.

Q. What do you think made SHELLMET get so much recognition from overseas?

Usami: I think the growing interest and consciousness of sustainability globally. Although they were from different countries, people found it interesting to hear the story of how we can creatively solve local issues that led to environmental problems. We had also decided to make a product that people can understand the thought behind the project, a shell that has protected itself from external enemies and is reborn as something that protects human life, and I am glad that the message was conveyed without having to use words.

Ito: For the key visual, I had an image in my mind of a shell-like helmet laid by the sea. The moment I actually placed SHELLMET on the beach and took pictures of it, I felt “this would work.” During filming, I heard people passing by talking to each other, “that’s so cute! Is it something related to sustainability?” That’s when I was convinced that the message is conveyed easily and intuitively.

Protect Heads, and the Earth – The New Ecocycle SHELLMET Has Created

Q. I could tell the team effort played an important role for the project.

Ito:The SHELLMET team was special in that all members voluntarily came together for this project who were interested in the idea. Since it was a self-initiated proposal, we could not spend endless hours on it, but we were able to proceed with a sense of speed and enjoy the process with the desire to deliver Koushi Chemical Industry’s technology to the world as a great product.

Q. Looking back, what was the most rewarding part of the project?

Ito: It was such a pleasure to work with Mr.Nambara and this team that I even looked forward to every meeting. I found it very rewarding to see how Koushi Chemical Industry’s technology, and our creative direction, art direction, PR strategy were all tightly crossed throughout the project.

Usami:I was happy when I saw that a tweet about the SHELLMET article at the end of the year 2022 made a buzz just like Namchan’s tweet that started everything. And I am proud that SHELLMET was adopted as one of the official helmets for the 2025 Osaka Expo. We feel that the story behind the helmets is reaching a wide range of people from all walks of life.

Color variations and images of people wearing SHELLMET

Color variations and images of people wearing SHELLMET

Q. SHELLMET brought home the first GOLD LION from Japan in the Innovation Category at Cannes Lions 2023. What do you think was the key to winning this award?

Usami:I think the scalability as well as the idea itself was highly evaluated. This new material, Shellstic®︎, which is made from recycled seashells, has the potential to replace plastics that have a high environmental impact. I think the fact that it can be applied not only to scallop shells but also to any other shells, including mussels and oysters, which are in surplus all over the world was very much recognized and appreciated.

The story of SHELLMET continues

Q. “SHELLMET” is introduced as one of the official helmets at the 2025 World Expo. Are there any other plans and goals the team is aiming for?

Usami: We have already received many inquiries, and we hope we can further expand SHELLMET. Since the wearing of bicycle helmets has become legally mandatory this year in Japan, I think SHELLMET specialized for bicycles would also be great. We would also like to continue promote “Shellstic®︎” itself throughout the world.

Shells are crushed into small pieces and made into material for

Shells are crushed into small pieces and made into material for “Shellstic®︎”.

Ito:We are talking about keeping the “protection” aspect and concept when we create new products in the future. Like a protector for your elbow, a phone case to protect your smartphone, or a suitcase to protect your luggage, etc. We are currently experimenting with a technology to mold Shellstic®︎ thinly with Koushi Chemical, with which will expand the range of products we can make with the material.

Q. Finally, what are your goals for your future work?

Ito: I believe that a city with good parks that answers to various needs of various people is a good, inclusive city. So my personal goal is to create a park one day – even a single piece of playground equipment, if not the entire park. I have often made three-dimensional objects in the past, and the helmet was a size that would allow me to take advantage of my past experience. Through “SHELLMET,” I came to realize that I wanted to combine the platform of a park with some kind of solution to social issues.

Usami:I want to work hard on what is in front of me and create meaningful changes in society by combining what I encounter with the creativity I have cultivated through my work in advertising.

<Project Members>

【Koushi Chemical Industry Co.】
Manufacturer Tetsuya Nambara

Chief Creative Director: Takahiro Hosoda
Creative Director: Masatoshi Usami
Senior Art Director: Yuhei Ito
Art Director: Takeshi Matsuda
PR Planner: Kyosuke Hashimoto
PR Planner: Suguru Kato
Producer: Yuki Sakamoto
Producer: Omu Inoue
Editor: Nobuo Mita
Motion Designer: Kiyotaka Sumiyoshi

Product Designer: Shintaro Monden (quantum)
CAD Modeling: Minatsu Takekoshi (quantum)
Director: Kohei Inoue (Robot Communications)
Photographer: Junya Taguchi (Freelance)
Designer: Hisahiro Tomonaga (spice)
Retoucher: Takumu Koshiba (CONTRAST Inc)
Retoucher: Hayato Ono (CONTRAST Inc)
PR Promoter: Eri Sato (KMC)
PR Promoter: Takashi Hamada (KMC)

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Communication Team (