The founder of a new tech bracelet touches on why women are needed in the wearable tech industry to make products more appealing for women.
By Jing Zhou (Founder, Elemoon)
In 2010, I moved back to China from New York to launch my first tech startup. Since then I have built and sold one of China’s first rich-media mobile ad companies, and developed a tamagotchi-like social app for young women to communicate with their best friends. I had two epiphanies while doing these projects.
The first happened while I was running the mobile ad company. I reconfirmed that the majority of digital consumers are women, yet far too few products are tailored to them. This motivated my team and I to create a more emotional digital experience for women, spawning the social app, elepon.
We saw a lot of smiles when girls were playing with elepon, but we also realized that there were limitations in the app experience. Our users wanted something tactile, something that they could touch and smell—something physical. We started brainstorming how we might marry the app with consumer products.
A year ago, the emergence of wearable technology captured our imagination, but none of the products on the market truly inspired us. We instantly knew this was a huge opportunity. So there came the second epiphany: the utilitarian and fashion value that hardware could bring is limitless.
We decided to combine software and hardware to evoke a truly emotional experience and make technology a bigger part of people’s lives.
Wearables made by men for men can be a problem.
Since most of our team members are women, it’s always quite easy for us to recognize products made by Silicon Valley men for Silicon Valley men. The first time we wandered around the wearable section at an Apple Store in New York, we saw a lot of group-think. Almost all of the products were in the health and fitness category, and there was an unrelenting hype for smart-watches. But most of these products focused on function while ignoring form. They lacked personality, sex appeal and just weren’t pretty! A wearable is something we incorporate into our lifestyle—it's not enough that something works, it also needs to be attractive and reflect our taste. One month into the design and development of our product, we saw the media calling for more fashionable wearables.
Here’s an awesome quote from Wired Magazine’s cover story Why Wearable Tech Will Be as Big as the Smartphone. “Wearable devices—technology that people will want to display on their bodies, for all to see—represent a new threshold in aesthetics. The techcompanies that mastered design will now need to conquer the entirely different realm of fashion. And that could require technologists to unlearn a great deal of what they think they know.”
What can women bring to the wearable world?
By being “superficial.”
As Wired magazine pointed out, wearables have to look good first. When we started rethinking wearables, we made sure to think untech: Whatever we ended up making had to be beautiful even when not activated. We decided to stay away from things that have little emotional attachment for us, such as watches. We also didn’t want to waste effort on making things that smartphones can already handle well, like step-tracking.
Everyone on our team is obsessed with color and Native American jewelry. We have an eclectic taste in fashion and love wearing accessories, but all we were seeing in the market were these bland rubber wristbands.
So we asked ourselves: What if we could have a bracelet that changes color and pattern to match whatever we wear? We all liked that idea, and tried to recreate the sensation of traditional jewelry with new material and interactive features. The first thing we nixed was an electronic screen.
Thinking untech encouraged us to avoid too many features and simplify the user interaction. We didn’t want to overwhelm the user. We paid attention to how people naturally interact with a designer bracelet. Nothing beyond tapping, rubbing or shaking.
However, our thinking untech approach also created some major technical challenges. Smart jewelry really set the standard high for design and engineering. As creative thinker Matthew E. May articulates, “Elegance is simplicity found on the far side of complexity.” Even though our hardware team had 10 years of experience in making smart devices, we found ourselves in uncharted territory. After we made our working prototype in June, our male collaborators were psyched about its tech capacity and wanted us to unlock more features. We said no.
Innovation is born out of diversity. Engaging talent with different culture backgrounds while giving an equal voice to women is crucial—especially in such an interdisciplinary field as wearable tech. And beyond the fitness and health niche, there’s something broader called lifestyle. This is a trend particularly driven by female consumers who are willing to spend more money for something that truly speaks to them. But the only way to speak to them is to make sure that their voice is integrated into the product, from concept through completion.
What wearable tech would you like to see in the future?
Photo via Elemoon Facebook.
About the guest blogger: @meetelemoon founder, entrepreneur in fashion wearable, angel investor for female-founded companies, @BW alum.