Of all the online marketplaces that have sprung up in the age of startups, Kickstarter is one of the most bizarre. Where else can you go to find people simultaneously raising money for maniacal-looking baby necklaces and small-batch lemongrass Sriracha? Odd products aside, some of the most successful tech companies, including virtual reality headset maker Oculus (later acquired by Facebook) got their start on the site, proving that it can be a launchpad for the next multibillion-dollar business. With this in mind, I decided to try out AiraWear, the "world's first massage hoodie," which finished a successful Kickstarter campaign this past June. The concept is, admittedly, genius. How do you make a comfy hoodie even more appealing? Make it a massaging hoodie! AiraWear uses "targeted massage modules," that, when activated by an accompanying app, inflate to provide a gentle, vibrating sensation along the wearer's back and shoulders. Unfortunately, when my hoodie arrived in the mail, I was less than impressed. It isn't particularly soft and has no fleece lining, both of which are hoodie musts in my book. The design, even for a hoodie, is far from cute, and the inflatable pockets embedded into the back are bulky — they feel like they're made of tougher Bubble Wrap. Plus, the battery that you switch on to operate the sweatshirt (which fits into an inner pocket) is surprisingly heavy and sticks out the back, making it uncomfortable to lean on. I could not imagine squeezing the hoodie beneath a work sweater, as the company's promotional video suggests — I would look like I had on the puffiest puffer jacket of all time.
Nevertheless, I was determined to persevere in my quest for a soothing massage. I put the hoodie on at work in an attempt to embrace the "relax and recharge" ethos at my desk. The experience was anything but relaxing. When I zipped up the hoodie and leaned back in my chair, I could feel each of the six massage modules poking into my back. It felt like I was sitting against rocks. The app, which connects to your hoodie via Bluetooth, has four, pre-programmed massage options: Relax, Shoulder, Lower Back, and Sleep. I tried the first three and could barely feel a vibration, let alone a massage, from any of them. All I could feel were six painful points that were supposed to be relieving my sore muscles, not exacerbating the problem. Massage hoodie, why do you hurt me so? What did I ever do to you? Granted, my hoodie is a prototype from AiraWear, not the final shipping product. But, unless some major design and technical changes are made before the hoodie ships in January 2017, this is not going to be the next Kickstarter-funded breakthrough. Plus, who spends $199 on a hoodie? Just wear your $89 American Giant hoodie (also on the expensive side) and call it a day. For now, I'll be visiting a real massage therapist for some much-needed muscle relief.