Functional Art With Exo Design Labs

I recently reached out to an old acquaintance of mine, Alexander Toufexis, after coming across his new business – Exo Design Lab. This business focuses on the design and manufacturing of beautifully intricate prosthetic covers. This article focuses on the business and includes a Q&A with Alexander himself!

Exo Design Lab is a Toronto-based business that crafts beautiful and functional prosthetic covers for both above and below-knee amputees. The business was established by owner Alexander Toufexis, a young registered kinesiologist with a passion for design and manufacturing.

In 2017, Alexander enrolled in the Prosthetic and Orthotics program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre via George Brown College. In this program, he learned so much and realized he could use this knowledge and his new skills to make the fabrication process more efficient for clinics and allow for the creation of a better and more aesthetic product for prosthetic wearers.

After 2 years of research and development, Alexander was able to open the Lab in August of 2020 and has since grown to include a talented group of designers, engineers, and artists. To learn more about the company and how it came to be, see our exclusive Q&A with Alexander Toufexis below!

Q&A With Alexander Toufexis

Q: When did you first launch Exo Design Lab?

A: Exo Design Lab first really started when I was in the middle of studying prosthetics and orthotics in 2018. I began conceptualizing the business during that time but officially started research, development and prototyping in the autumn of 2020.

Q: Would you describe the launch as difficult? Simple?

A: Launching our covers has been an interesting experience because I did all of the research and development myself, with all of the manufacturing processes having to be built from the ground up. It has been complex and challenging at times, but I could never say it was difficult because of all of the fun has been in the trial and error.

Q: How long did it take for you to get your first purchase?

A: We started field-testing prototype covers with prosthetic leg wearers in January 2021 – that was our first really exciting moment, being able to actually see how good they look in person, and especially seeing the responses we were getting from our volunteers – I don’t think I could have expected the extent of the positive response we received. By March, we had begun our first sales and it is still as exciting as ever.

Q: What originally drew you to a career in kinesiology and to the Prosthetics and Orthotics program at Sunnybrook?

A: Kinesiology was my starting point because I always felt that health is ultimately the most important aspect of living well – particularly exercise and the freedom of movement; but in university, I found that the standard career paths presented to me were oversaturated and frankly uninteresting. When I discovered the GBC Prosthetics and Orthotics program, I was immediately drawn to it because I was able to work with my hands and build things, but also be able to help people restore their ability to move, exercise, and live independently through the use of the devices I built.

Q: What problems do you feel that existing prosthetic offerings hold? How does your product aim to solve this?

A: I’ve found that the prosthetics industry as a whole has an issue with very high costs and limited choices. This is ultimately a valid result of it being a really small field, but I think that innovation can help – at least in some ways. The manufacturing processes I have built and the fact that we are a really small company make it so that we can adapt to the needs of clinics and amputees in essentially every way.

Traditional leg coverings have their own specific issues as well. In school, I learned a lot about the standard ways of giving prosthetic legs their shape when I realized that the fabrication methods were pretty time-consuming and quite limited in terms of genuinely fashionable designs. They ended up being heavy, easily worn out, and definitely just looked old-fashioned. I noticed more and more that people I knew with prosthetic legs would not really bother to have a cosmetic shaping at all, for many of those reasons. These covers are far lighter, quicker to make, and the customization is essentially endless. We are bringing prosthetics aesthetics into the modern world.

Q: How many employees does Exo Design Lab currently have?

A: We currently have 3 employees, including me. Much of the artwork is done in-house but we work with a number of artists to come up with some of our designs.

Q: Which cover is your favourite and why?

A: It seems like every time we come out with a new cover, it instantly becomes my favourite! I would say that Vegvisir (see Figure 2) is the one I like best because it was the first design I had originally worked on and there is a lot of historical and spiritual meaning in it for me. 

Q: Which cover was the first you were able to offer?

A: We launched with our entire initial collection right from the very start. However, Circuitry (in a metallic purple and black) was the first design that was actually worn (see Figure 3).

Q: What are your long-term goals as a company; what do you hope to one day accomplish?

A: Honestly, the first main goal is just to see as many people as possible feeling joy when wearing our covers. In working closely with amputees for a few years now, I found that the best way to promote inclusiveness is to normalize and embrace it. My hope is to expand on that by coming out with covers for other types of prostheses, working with inspiring artists on new designs, and maybe even collaborating with bigger brands (Nike and Louis Vuitton, give me a shout – I have some fun ideas!). Essentially any way that we can broaden the scope of fashion to include amputees, is the direction we are going to move in. 

Q: Do you make covers for children? Or only adults?

A: All our covers are available in child sizes through special order, at the moment. We are working on making them available directly through our website early next year, along with new kid-focused designs.

Q: Would you ever consider offering a customizable cover so amputees could design their own?

A: Definitely. We have produced a number of custom designs for customers – again, available at the moment only through special order. Eventually, I’d love to have a platform where people can upload a design right on the website. 

Another great way to customize a cover is by ordering the Exo Standard cover and adding personal features like sequins, hand-drawn art, lights, etc. It’s a great canvas for all sorts of creativity and expression. 

To learn more about the business, see their website here, or view their Instagram page here!

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