Marija and Michelle, founders of Women in Wearables

Top 5 female role models in wearable tech

Women of Wearables is a fantastic organisation founded by Michelle Hua and Marija Butkovic. It’s a community group exclusively for women in the wearable industries. It covers wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT (Internet of Things), VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality).

It’s a global network that connects women in wearables with one another. WoW inspires, supports and connects women in wearable tech by providing them with industry visibility, peer support, mentoring, industry connections, events and wearable tech workshops.

Women of Wearables also delivers workshops for girls to learn e-textiles in London and the north of England. These events are run with the aim of tackling the gender and diversity gap in the wearables industry.

Tackling the gender and diversity gap

Women of Wearables is the only group in the world focused solely on women in wearables. Michelle and Marija formed it in response to the lack of diverse teams. Both women are entrepreneurs who have founded their own startups in wearables, and they each also have backgrounds in the legal sector.

Wearables is an exciting area of technology because it is an intersection of several industries. Especially when you consider that fashion is traditionally dominated by women, it’s even more surprising that there is a lack of women in wearables. It’s less surprising when you remember that VR, AR, and IoT all have a gender imbalance.

Wearables is an exciting, growing industry where women need to move fast to make their mark. But a lack of women in this space, just like every other area in the tech industry, can be offputting to many. With few visible women, others are discouraged from entering the industry, or feel alienated as outsiders.

The answer to the gender gap is to promote more inspiring female role models in wearable tech.

Here is a list of my top 5 women in UK wearable tech, in no particular order.

Marija Butkovic

Image: Marija Butkovic by Kornelije Sajler

1. Marija Butkovic, London, co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella

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Maria is the co-founder of Women of Wearables. She works with startup accelerators and incubators in London and across the world as a mentor and advisor.

She co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella to solve the problem of women constantly losing their umbrellas. The high risk of loss means women are less willing to invest in a fashionable umbrella.

Maria’s wearable tech design in the Kisha umbrella connects with your smartphone so you never leave it behind. It also lets you know when it’s going to rain, reminding you to take your umbrella. It’s durable – even in the most unpleasant weather conditions.

In an interview, Marija says, “The wearables industry is still a male-dominated sector. It’s a general reflection of the male-to-female ratio in the tech industry. Wearable tech teams are often run by men who hire male designers and developers. They create technology that appeals mostly to men. They’re ultimately excluding a huge chunk of their potential customers – women.

“That’s why our Head of Design at Kisha is purposely female. Companies should build a community composed of an equal number of female to male employees. This all starts with the kind of company culture you foster.”

Marija has made the career jump into wearables from from working as a corporate lawyer and consultant for legal trade journals. She holds a Master of Laws degree from Faculty of Law, University of Rijeka, Croatia, and was also awarded a diploma from the Startup Institute in London.

Colleen Wong

Image: Colleen Wong, Techsixtyfour

Colleen Wong, Teddington, founder of Techsixtyfour

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Colleen has developed a wearable tracker watch for children. The watch is really a mobile phone and tracker. Children can call their parents by pushing a button.

This tech encourages children to play outside more by ensuring their safety, instead of staying indoors glued to video games or smartphones! Here is the promotional video for the Gator watch, filmed by a local mum.

Colleen founded her tech startup, Techsixtyfour, after a trip to a UK farm with her two kids. A little boy had been found alone and staff were searching for his parents.

Colleen says, “I just couldn’t help but think there had to be a better way to deal with such stressful situations. Being a mum gave me that push to find a product that would let me stay connected with my kids.”

Before Techsixtyfour, Colleen was VP at two European investment banks and a graduate of Insead. She left investment banking after having children because the hours weren’t flexible enough. She dreamed of running her own business so she could spend more time with her family.

Colleen is inspiring because she didn’t have any previous experience in the tech industry or in marketing before launching her business. This shows that anyone with the drive and idea can succeed.

Colleen says, “If you want to get into wearables, just do it. I was an investment banker then full-time mum before getting into wearables. As long as you have a product you’re truly passionate about, and willing to work hard and learn fast, nothing should stop you. The journey is filled with brilliant people who make it so worthwhile.”

She loves a good laugh, Guinness, baking, musicals, spicy food and giving cuddles to her son and daughter.

You can buy the Gator watch from John Lewis or Amazon.

Michelle Hua of MadeWithGlove

Image: Michelle Hua by Sarah Jones

3. Michelle Hua, Manchester, founder of MadeWithGlove

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Michelle Hua is a public speaker, writer, founder & CEO of MadeWithGlove, a UK wearable tech start-up designing fashionable heated gloves for women. She is also a STEM Ambassador and the co-founder of Women of Wearables.

In her interview with the Fashion Network, Michelle says, “Heated gloves on the market are big, black, bulky. They’re designed for men, skiers and motorcycle riders. I’m taking an accessory already familiar and worn by people, and making it practical and functional. It integrates technical textiles and technology, while also being fashionable and solving a common problem: cold hands.”

Michelle took MadeWithGlove to the Top 150 Most Influential Brands in Wearable Tech. She also received the ‘highly commended blogger’ award at the UK Blog Awards. She was awarded the UK TechNation Exceptional Talent Visa for her entrepreneurship in the digital technology sector, as well as for her work in promoting, mentoring and supporting women and girls in tech in Manchester.

Michelle and the WoW team deliver wearable tech workshops to teach girls how they can make their own wearables and e-textiles projects.

Michelle worked as a commercial solicitor in Australia and New Zealand for 8 years before she started her company. Michelle has Bachelor degrees in Commerce from Curtin University, and Laws from Murdoch University.

Annie Lywood

Image: Annie Lywood, Bonnie Binary

4. Annie Lywood, Bath, founder of Bonnie Binary

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Annie is the founder of e-textile consultancy, Bonnie Binary.

Annie completed her MA in design, specialising in e-textiles. She’s engaged in prototyping e-textile products, especially in creating textile interfaces that recognise various touch gestures, enabling controls to be embedded in clothing. She also explores how we can make technology that is more responsive to people’s needs.

For example, the mood cushion allows the user to control their home environment with light and sound through pushing buttons. Their Valkerie jacket lights up at night to make women feel safer on their way home.

Annie is at the crossroads of textile design and electronics, working as a project manager, facilitating collaborations and being creative with technology. She is particularly interested in teaching the next generation the skills to make them capable with digital technologies.

Pauline Issard

Image: Pauline Issard, Trackener

5. Pauline Issard, London, co-founder of Trackener

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Pauline is originally from France and she’s designed a wearable tech product called Trackener. Pauline’s wearable tech is a little different because it is designed for horses to monitor their health.

Pauline has been caring for horses all her life, which made her notice that it’s extremely difficult to look after them. Most horse carers figure it out just by looking at their animals, using a mixture of experience and intuition. Pauline thought there must be a better way.

Following on from her engineering studies in France, Pauline gained experience in product development at Adidas. She completed her Msc Technology Entrepreneurship at University College London, where she got the idea for Trackener. Pauline wanted to help horse owners do their best to take care of their horses, and the answer is the latest technology.

In her interview with WoW, Pauline says, “As a female founder, I navigate between female-dominated, non-techy environments at horse-related events, and hardware/IoT events where there are very few women! This can be challenging because I need to introduce Trackener in radically different ways, depending on which environment I’m in.

“On the other hand, being a female founder in London is easy. There’s a great community of women in tech and female entrepreneurs, so I’ve never felt disadvantaged compared to male founders.”

Check out even more WoW women on their website.

Main image: Marija and Michelle of Women of Wearables by Nadine Barda

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About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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