Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Rana Nakhal Solset was born in Beirut, Lebanon. She moved to Montreal at the age of 3, and later to Paris where she got inspired by French fashion. Her general style inspiration comes from Paris, and being Lebanese (French Colony) she has always embraced and been influenced by French culture. She moved to London in 2000. Ever since she went to university, the idea of technology in fashion was interesting to her. First job of importance was in advertising for Wallpaper* which in those days embodied what luxury lifestyle was and she got to be and work at the heart of it, working with design brands globally. After Wallpaper*, Rana worked at Elle, and then Tatler Magazine. From her teenage years, she was fascinated with magazines, supermodels and fashion and fabrics. With her love and appreciation of fashion, design and fabrics she have created the perfect coat that heats and embodies all her passions. Today she is founder of EMEL + ARIS.
What is the idea behind EMEL + ARIS and how did you come up with it?
I had that lightbulb moment when my son asked me why there wasn’t a coat that heated up. It made me realise that no designer has sleek tailored coats that heat. My friends who travel frequently for work and pleasure need their coat to be adaptable to the climate. So why had no one made a coat with an invisible lightweight heating system. This is when I set out to make a coat with an invisible lightweight heating system as the first product within my luxury wearable tech brand, Emel + Aris.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team? How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I started in the company in October 2015. I brought on my ex-colleague, Tara Winstanley, to help me get the concept to reality and build a brand. The team now consists of the inventor, fashion designer, accountant, logistics manager as well as services from our lawyer, creative agency and PR.
What was the biggest obstacle?
In order realise my concept, I wanted the best possible future-proofed technology. There is plenty of heat technology on the market, but it was essential the heat for the Smart Coat worked in breathable fabrics like cashmere, wool and cotton. I searched until I found the inventor of a wireless system that produces Far Infrared heat technology. It's a technology he developed over 30 years so it's well tested and completely safe. Together we have designed a unique system that Emel + Aris is patenting. Our other challenge is the battery. Initially, the system required a battery twice the size and weight in order to function well so we went back to the drawing board and after weeks of trial and error, we managed to make it work to its same capacity with a much smaller battery that we could buy off the shelf. We're now working on developing the next generation which will be more in line with our ethos and have more functionalities.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Getting all the press encouragement and approval from the likes of Vogue, GQ, Wallpaper*, FT, Forbes, JWT, BBC news etc...
Pre-Selling 150K of coats around the world in 2 months, producing and delivering all these orders.
Raising £220k through financially astute investors who were willing to take a chance on us.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Being female - no obstacle to being an entrepreneur. I am not technical myself so I recruit to ensure the business has the best. There are not many female engineers and this is a shame, as good innovations need applications that women want. And unfortunately style and design are often overlooked. I would like to see more women in tech roles.
Fashion tech is a small industry and full of people trying new ideas. There's not a lot of established brands so everyone is learning from each other. The great thing is we all know that we need to collaborate to succeed and it's a very open industry.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
AI is the next big thing. But how that is a benefit is still in debate. In the context of a heated coat, we can expect AI to allow the heat to automatically turn on/off and the temperature adapt in line with the wearer's preferences. The key thing is to keep it simple to understand and program; give the consumer benefits not challenges!
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Of course, we'll make the world a better place and we'll do so responsibly. I have to admit though that I find most entrepreneurs helpful both men and women as most of them understand your struggles and if you're a little bit likeable and not shy to ask, people quickly lend a hand, share a contact, make a an introduction...
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Keep calm and carry on, hire your weaknesses, turn your bad energy into fuel and prepare for things never to go exactly to plan. Resilience is key and good if often good enough. Remember this: 91% of women who start businesses are still in business 5 years down the line so we're predisposed to succeed!
Don't undersell yourself, you know more than you think.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
Natalie Massenet, literally my hero as the person who made a success of luxury fashion online. I met her and was awe struck and I've met many ultra successful people and celebrities who did not have such an impact on me.
Francesca Rosella, Cute Circuit - getting product to market and concentrating on doing one thing really well. Met her as well at a Paramount event in Paris where they were exhibiting both our products and she's very inspirational. She went into the market very early on, has managed to build and sustain a name and a lot of fun can be had with their products so I suspect they'll continue to do super well.
Third has to be you and Michelle for creating this community, growing it so fast and constantly having your finger on the pulse.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.