The article first appeared on Forbes.
Need a hug? Tired of losing your umbrella? Want to know where to find wearable and fashion tech companies? Hug shirts, smart umbrellas and gloves that translate sign language on your smartphone, are just a few of the innovative "products we actually need," being created by WOW (short for Women of Wearables) member companies. Started by Marija Bukovic in 2016, an ex-lawyer-turned-entrepreneur from Croatia who now lives with her husband in London, the online organization has grown to 10,000 members in more than 20 countries around the world in just two years.
Marija’s journey to founder of WOW started when she moved to London and decided to put a tech twist on an often ignored accessory, the umbrella. “Perfect for London, right?” she says laughing. The company, Kisha offers “smart” umbrellas that track it so you can’t lose it, tell you when you need to bring it (it has a weather forecast feature) and remind you not to leave it in places where you might forget it. As Marija built the company with her co-founders she noticed a theme that’s common in fashion...lack of communication between different sectors and no centralized area to find information. There also wasn’t enough support for women in wearable tech and fashion tech, and as a female founder she almost desperately wanted to connect with more female designers and technologists. Fashion tech appeared to be following in its namesake’s footsteps, so she started WOW with her co-founder Michelle, now WoW Ambassador in Manchester and Newcastle. It’s a networking platform for people looking to move forward in the wearable tech, fashion tech and IoT sectors who want to find materials, manufacturers, and other people to talk to in this fledgling industry. While primarily a networking resource for women entrepreneurs in tech, she says“I often get asked by men if they can join our community, and the answer is always YES! Women of Wearables is not just for professional women, but for anyone with an interest in wearable technology and providing women with a platform for growth.”
Talking to Marija is different than speaking to most people in technology. She’s funny and an absolute wealth of information about technology from a human, cultural perspective. “Fashion tech is not as new as people think,” she says. “200 years ago, the first roots of wearable tech were conceived. In 1884 The Electric Girl Lighting company in the US started using ballet dancers with electric lights attached to their clothing to entertain guests. The “electro girls” as they were called were a huge success. The first “go pro” was also created in the 19th century. A photographer, Julius Neubronner, put a tiny camera on the neck of a pigeon that took pictures every 10-15 seconds. You could then purchase them on a postcard. In 1961, Edward Thorpe and Claude Shannon created a computer that could fit into a shoe in order to cheat at Roulette in Vegas.”
WB: How do you create value and impact for companies in the tech world?
M: Everyone is buzzing about inclusion these days, but few companies really know how to create it. So many of them have a “brochure awareness” around diversity. If you want to support women, invest in them, pay them, enable them to grow. Otherwise it just doesn’t really work. WOW is here to help companies realize they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, they can partner with non-profit organizations like ours to support women and learn how to facilitate inclusion in their company culture.
WB: Can you give me examples of women who are making it in the fashion tech sphere?
MB: Francesca Rosella, co-founder of Cute Circuit is a great example. CC has done so many cool projects over the last 15 years from their recent Video Jackets in partnership with Google and the band Subsonica, the Hug shirt which allows people to feel the strength, duration, skin warmth, and heart rate of the hug sender, and the Sound Shirt which allows deaf people to feel sound. She’s one of the people leading the way towards wearable technology with a human centered focus.
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