Interview by Amanda McIntyre-Chavis
Yuchen Zhang is a designer, educator, and entrepreneur in fashion technology based in New York City. After working in leading branding firms such as Pentagram and Red Antler, Yuchen left branding to earned her masters in Design Technology at the Parsons School of Design. Since graduation, her technologically-enhanced wearables have been shown at events around the world. She recently was chosen as a fellow at the MIT Open Style Lab and a Technology fellow at Brooklyn Fashion Tech Accelerator. In 2017, together with Hellyn Teng and Jingwen Zhu, Yuchen formed their company, Wearable Media. Since then, they have integrated electronics and big data with clothing. Their work has been featured in publications such as the Verge and their solo exhibition at Columbia University. This year, their company, Wearable Media has been selected as one of thirty finalists for LVMH innovation award.
What is the idea behind Wearable Media and how did you come up with it?
We started Wearable Media with the vision that we will tell stories by integrating data into clothing. Unlike conventional wearable tech products that track data about ourselves, our projects track the data of our surroundings. With this focus, we created projects like Ceres, a jumpsuit that vibrates and light up when asteroids are near earth. Project Reefstone, a garment designed with 40 years of global temperature data. AudRey, a customized textile design displays your instagram colors in augustment reality animation to reveal your digital “aura”.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
We started our company in 2016 December. Our co-founders include Hellyn Teng, our creative director and Jingwen, our creative technologist and me as CEO.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
It tooks us about a year and half. We spent a lot of time in the beginning of our company exploring conceptual projects to get our creative ideas working and learning about working with each other as well. Since a year ago we started to think about a commercializable product. Since then we started prototyping for Meter, the interactive streetwear line.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle is to learn on the business side of wearable technology. All of our co-founders started with design and later went into technology. We have so many skills to create wearable tech projects. However, we have a lot to learn about the business side. It’s been really helpful to have our previous experience in the design field so that we have a lot of mentors with great business background we could talk to. NEW INC also has helped us a lot in developing our business model.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Earlier this year we have been selected as one of the thirty finalists for LVMH innovation award. This was really exciting to us. We went to Paris to attend the award hosted at Viva Technology Conference. We met Ian Rogers, the Chief Digital Officer of LVMH, saw the CEO of LVMH Mr. Arnault and even the French President. That was an amazing journey that we took to show our newest interactive streetwear prototype, Meter to the European audience.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Many of the wearable tech product needs to be practical and functional to the user. Our current challenge is maintain our sense of wonder and fun while delivering a fashion technology line to our audience. Our audience are young creatives who are interested in science, design, music, art and culture. We are creating a fashion tech line that reflect their lifestyle and how we think fashion tech garments could take forms in. We are designing the future of streetwear.
I think being a female founder is a wonderful thing. I have many strong female friends with their own startups. They are the best mentor to turn to talk about the challenges I face in tech and the startup world. Knowing that I am not alone in facing the challenges as a women, it gave me strength.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Absolutely yes. A big reason why I became entrepreneur is because I saw other young women who did this before me. In 2015 I graduated from graduate school from Parsons and started working for Maddy Maxey at the Crated. Seeing her being a young female entrepreneur gave me courage. After working with her, I started my own studio at BF+DA and later found my own company with my co-founders.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
The biggest help I have gotten is to surround myself with people who believe in strong women and brilliant female entrepreneurs who are also kind. When I lose courage I can turn to my support network and talk to them to find out I am not alone.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I see more collaborations and diversity in the purpose and approach of wearable tech. A lot of big companies have approached us for collaborations, brain storms or a few hours for internal interviews. They are looking for fresh ideas to connect to their audience via wearable technology. I am really excited to see these collaborations take place.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and / or fashion tech?
Maddy Maxey, Despina Papadopoulos, Ying Gao.
LinkedIn: Wearable Media
This interview was conducted by Amanda McIntyre-Chavis, Women of Wearables Ambassador in New York, USA. She is the CEO and Founder of LegendFactory, a interactive brand management company and two new tech initiatives: Muzaik, a social media aggregator and Myndfull, a wearable tech company. She is also an active mentor, arts advocate and supporter of various social causes. Based in New York, Amanda is a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. (NARAS), the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment (NABFEME), National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), the ELLEVATE Network and Women In Music. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMcChavis.