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Women of Wearables Co-Founder Marija Butkovic Talks To Durtti

Entrepreneur Marija Butkovic has carved an inspirational reputation as a key player in the global women in tech sector. Now she has the world’s attention, Durtti wants Marija to share her thoughts on what lies ahead.

Tell as about Women of Wearables please, Marija.

Based in London and Manchester, Women of Wearables (WoW) is UK’s and Europe’s first organisation that supports and connects women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR.

Our mission is to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or being founders of their own companies, as well as to create more jobs for women in STEM.

WoW has a growing global community of female founders, product and UX designers, developers, smart textile designers, executives and managers, as well as startups, industry partners, universities, accelerators and incubators, in 20+ countries worldwide.

Some of our partners and companies we have collaborated with are: Cisco, Barclay’s Eagle Labs, micro:bit Educational Foundation, Microsoft Accelerator, Tech London Advocates, All About STEM, Crowdcube, Education Technology magazine, and many more.

After being in the wearable tech industry for the last 3 years founding our own startups (my co-founder Michelle Hua is founder and CEO of Made With Glove and I co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella), we both found a lack of women and diverse teams in this industry, which is the very reason we co-founded Women of Wearables. We were both very passionate about women in tech, the world of wearables, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR.

We support our growing community of women and girls in the tech space through monthly meetups, panels, mentorship and collaboration with its partners and communities worldwide.

We also deliver workshops to girls between the ages of 10-18 to make their own wearable and e-textiles projects.

As you mention above, you are also Co-Founder of the Kisha Smart Umbrella. How did the idea come about?

My co-founders and I launched Kisha smart umbrella in 2014.

The Kisha story​ started with a Facebook post of one of the founders who complained about long heavy raining in our hometown in Rijeka, Croatia and how it would be great to build an umbrella you could never lose!

“It should be tied to your smartphone and let you know when you forget it.”, one of the founders said.

That’s how everything started.

Kisha is a windproof, high quality umbrella you cannot lose due to connection between your phone and a beacon inside the umbrella, which is using Bluetooth technology.

It’s actually the world’s first smart fashionable umbrella, as we decided to go into the fashion tech direction last year, which means we are blending the best from both worlds in our product.

So far, Kisha has been sold in more than 40 countries around the world and it makes us happy and proud that our umbrella has reached even the most distant corners of the world like New Zealand and Bermuda.

What impact do you think artificial intelligence will have on the wearables sector in the next 5 years?

I think we are not even aware of the importance of AI in general and the huge benefits it can bring to many industries, not just the wearable tech one.

The benefits it could bring to medicine, education and all those jobs that tend to be repetitive, almost boring, are just beyond our comprehension.

For example, one of the female founders we have in our community, Hadeel Ayoub, is building an amazing product – a data glove wired with sensors to translate sign language hand gestures to text and speech, and her innovation has gained global awards in innovation and artificial intelligence.

The Artificial Intelligence Group

We hear more and more about 3D printing within the fashion sector. What is the biggest obstacle to making 3D printing a mainstream production process within fashion – and wearables?

At the moment, I think it’s accessibility to 3D printers, as people still don’t know much about the technology itself and its usability. And 3D printers are still not perceived as something that can be used in mainstream fashion production. It’s a very early stage technology, so it will take some time for adoption.

What does the Women In Tech landscape look like compared to 5 years ago and what is the biggest thing that needs to change to build upon any progress to date?

I personally think that a lot has changed for the better, but there’s still a lot to work on. Awareness about this problem has definitely been raised and women in tech is a very hot topic now.

Gender gap, pay gap and diversity might have become buzzwords, but I am finally seeing some positive changes in some countries.

For example, we are seeing a very positive change in UK legislature – from 2017, any organisation that has 250 or more employees must publish and report specific figures about their gender pay gap. This is a great news that was most warmly welcomed by the UK tech community.

You are also a member of Tech London Advocates which aims to support new tech startups in finding new investment. What in your opinion are the most important things a tech startup needs to get right in order to stand the best chance of commercial success?

ALWAYS do your market research and see who else is building something similar – and is there really a need for your product?

Market research is one of the most important things in the life of a business, and should be done before you build any product(s).

It’s equally important to do your research even later and always carefully listen to your customers and monitor market trends.

Assemble the best team you can, with complimentary skill-sets. ‘Team’ is the key to execution.

Ideas are cheap, execution is expensive and that’s why you need to have a strong team!

Try to bootstrap for as long as possible. Build the simplest and smallest version of your product and try to sell it. It will be a good test for your company. Remember it’s the business you’re building, and ‘startup’ is just an overhyped word for it.

By far the most important number is the number of your paying customers, not the number of your investors.

If you can’t sell your product without external funding, the chances are you won’t be able to sell it with investors money, too.

Which wearable product sectors, either current or future, do you believe will yield the highest growth in the next 5 years?

I think smartwatches and fitness trackers are still very well represented, but I think the real value of wearables lies in the smart textiles and digital health space. I would really want to see more of these products in the future, as I am a firm believer that wearables need to solve real everyday problems, be easy and intuitive to use and last, but not least, be invisible (as much as possible) as tech products, and more as an extension of us and our (life)style.

Finally, Marija, what advice can you give to a female student who is passionate about technology, but she is not clear on how to pursue a path to a successful career in technology?

Don’t stress too much about your career, focus on learning new things and talking to people from the industry.

Try to find something you’re very passionate about, something you’d do even if you weren’t paid and learn as much as you can about that particular thing.

Try to find a role model or a mentor who can guide you and teach you about that specific niche or industry.

And always try to have fun along the way, because it’s the journey that counts, not the destination!

More at www.marijabutkovic.co.uk and www.womenofwearables.com

You can follow Marija here on: Durtti and LinkedIn.

Marija is a member of The Artificial Intelligence Group on LinkedIn.