Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Christina d’Avignon is the founder and CEO of RINGLY, a fashion-technology company building smart jewellery and accessories. RINGLY’s core belief is that technology can be more discreetly and smartly integrated into our lives. Since the launch in late 2014, RINGLY has been profiled in national and global media as one of the most exciting wearable technology companies to target women. They were named by Forbes as one of the top 25 innovative consumer and retail brands of 2015 and Christina was placed on the Business of Fashion’s 500 list, an index of 500 influential people shaping the global fashion industry. Prior to founding RINGLY, Christina was the VP of Product at Hunch, a machine-learning company that connects people to the things they love. Hunch was acquired by eBay in 2011 where Christina played a major role in improving the social shopping and merchandising experience across ebay.com. Christina’s passion for art and technology started at an early age. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in both Fine Art and Human Computer Interaction. She has a strong interest in user-centered design and its power to enrich and strengthen both online and offline experiences.
What is the idea behind RINGLY and how did you come up with it?
I continued to miss calls and texts from my friends and family because my phone was buried in my purse and I hated leaving it on the table every time I went out. I also disliked feeling so dependent and chained to my phone. I started to realize that many of my friends were having the same issue, so I thought, "what if I could make my jewellery smart?" The idea of creating a solution to the problem while also designing something that women would get excited about wearing, was thrilling for me.
We are not a tech company that is trying to be fashionable. We are a fashion-first company that’s packing small and powerful technology into beautiful jewellery. Ringly is not trying to replace your phone, rather we want to integrate technology to make your life easier.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
We wanted to build a technology that was discreet yet stylish. Most women don’t want to wear something that screams ‘tech gadget’. RINGLY creates simple and unobtrusive jewellery, focused equally on fashion and technology.
There are a lot of wearable products on the market today, but they lack the aesthetic quality that women are looking for when they shop for accessories. Many technology companies building wearable tech products are making products that are “unisex” or modular. We take a different approach by making the technology discreet and creating products that our customer would want to buy even if it didn’t include technology.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
RINGLY has evolved into much more than a beautiful product that notifies you if you have an incoming call or text. In addition to syncing with more than 200 apps and the ability to customize alerts with vibration and subtle light, all Ringly smart rings and bracelets are now activity trackers, tracking steps, distance and calories burned. Ringly smart jewellery also allows you to achieve mindfulness and balance with guided audio meditation and breathing exercises led by an esteemed yogi and meditation guru.
We’re always working on new collections and smart accessories that help make our lives better. Our commitment to top-notch hardware and software, has prepared RINGLY to support many new products and designs.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Wearable technology remains conspicuous and until very recently (and for the most part), fails to address the female market. We believe that broader consumer adoption in the space will depend on aesthetics, far beyond making a bulky rubber bracelet in pink – what you wear says a great deal about who you are. Women want devices that are simple, stylish and unobtrusive. Ringly is focused equally on the fashion and the technology of our products because we believe technology can be both beautiful and useful.
Working with traditional materials, such as gold, brass and bronze was one of the biggest challenges because of the RF. We went through several iterations and eventually patented a system to make it work. That system did inform the decision to use precious and semi-precious stones.
Alongside this, another big challenge was getting the tech as small as possible in order to design something sleek and fashionable and was on par with other popular, contemporary jewellery designs. We didn't want something that was bulky and tech-y or replaced your phone in any way. Our goal was to make our rings look like any other great piece of jewellery, something you'd wear even if there wasn't technology inside.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
With a company like RINGLY, there are a lot of moving parts. We’re shaping and defining an entirely new category of jewelry and fashion accessories. Doing that has a lot of challenges, but also comes with a lot of rewards. Being a part of the history of jewelry by merging new technology with something that’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years really excites me.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Not to sound cliché, but I’m really proud of launching and building RINGLY. Starting a company is not always easy, but not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new. When we first launched the brand we were included in Time Magazine’s Top 25 inventions of the year, along with the Apple watch, a reactor that could realize nuclear fusion, and a filter that fights ebola. Being included in that roundup felt pretty remarkable.
What are projects you are currently working on within your company?
We’re on a mission to help women achieve a healthy, happy and more balanced lifestyle and every feature we introduce relates back to our mission. Over the past several months, our team has been hard at work creating more ways to incorporate RINGLY into our lives. In May, we launched our newest product: Ringly GO. With a fresh and versatile look, the new collection is designed to make your life even easier. We also introduced a new version of our app with breathing exercises and guided meditation. We love learning from and listening to our Ringly community and are continuously making improvements and building out new features that will get them excited.
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?
I’m excited about the future of wearable technology and it’s ability to improve the interactions we have with ourselves, our environment and the relationship with our devices. We see tremendous opportunities in health and wellness, payments, access and personal identification. The fashion industry will play a huge part in the success of wearable tech by working with technology companies to create devices that are discreet and desirable. I don’t believe there will be a one-size fits all solution, and, just like in fashion, we’re excited to see variety.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Absolutely. As a female founder in the tech world it’s incredibly important to support other women in the industry. I always encourage the team to get involved with organizations such as #Builtbygirls, and support the #womenintech community as much as possible.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
My advice to anyone starting out would be to have perseverance. Starting a company is not an easy thing to do, but you’ll learn more than you ever thought possible and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your vision unfold and having others believe in it too.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO 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.