Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Leanne Luce is a fashion technologist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she focused her career on the intersection of fashion and technology. She has worked on the development of robotic exoskeletons at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and Otherlab; as well as on blockchain-based projects such as: TetzelCoin and Omura. Recognizing dramatic changes emerging in the fashion industry, she started a blog called The Fashion Robot, which has been in publications such as Vogue and Glossy Media. She has also founded a Meetup group called Fashion Technologists to bring designers and technologists together in San Francisco. Every month there are events discussing technologies being applied in the new fashion industry.
What is the idea behind your project Omura and how did you come up with it?
The idea behind Omura came from my first experiences attending Blockchain conferences. I was in New York, having dinner with a group of people working in the space. I noticed two of these men had the Ledger Nano S around their neck on a shoestring-like lanyard. At the time, I barely knew what a hardware wallet was, but I thought the behavior was interesting. After pitching the idea to the both of them and getting verbal pre-orders for the necklaces, I started designing a few different pendant geometries.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
This project started back in May of 2017. Currently, Omura is just me. As many creative projects often start out, I have been wearing many hats in the project. I do everything from developing the pendants in CAD, sourcing materials and packaging, to developing the website.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I started working on the pendants in May, a few months and more than a dozen prototypes later I quietly launched Omura. It’s still a very recent project, we launched only a couple months ago, around October of this year, 2017.
What was the biggest obstacle? What are your biggest achievements to date?
There were a few obstacles I avoided with Omura. For one, working with Ledger to incorporate their Nano S device into the necklace was a big win because they have gained the trust of the community with their devices.
As far as our biggest challenges to date, I would say manufacturing has been the biggest headache. The details are really important. You wouldn’t expect things like the color to make a difference, but our Matte Black vs. Silver pendants have small differences in the measurements, so getting that just right took a little bit of time.
You are very passionate about world of fashion and blockchain, you cover both topics on your blog The Fashion Robot. How did that projects happen? Do you think that in order for such an early stage technology to become mainstream we first and foremost have to educate people about it? This is particularly important for blockchain technology, because it seems there is a lot of hype in the industry at the moment, but there are not many people who actually understand what it is all about and how this technology could affect our day lives on a long run.
The Blockchain is an interesting topic to talk about because you’re right, there are only a few experts that truly do know what there talking about. You’ll parse through a lot of incorrect information in order to get to the correct information and even then, it is difficult to understand. Personally, I do believe we should try to understand the technologies that are coming up because it’s important to know which to employ and which to ignore. There is too much noise out there and companies simply cannot incorporate every new technology into their business models. It wouldn’t make sense. Evaluating if your company cannot afford to ignore a technology means putting a lot of other technologies on the back burner.
The premise for The Fashion Robot has been to keep an eye on new technologies and talk about them. I try to explain things so that these new technologies are not so ‘black boxy’ to the fashion community. In the end, when you don’t understand something, it’s easy to fear it and avoid it. The way things are changing, we can’t afford to do that.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Women need to continue to blaze the way. To me, there is an opportunity in working in blockchain because it is global. As globalism grows a stronger and stronger foothold on our cultures and economies, women need to strive for global equality. This does not come without it’s challenges. I’ve experienced blatant sexism in the Blockchain community, even from friends. Frankly, I would be prepared for that as a woman. It is a male dominated field and some of the men are from countries where women have even less equality than we have in countries like the United States or the UK.
Promoting women in STEM is a subject that you feel passionately about. Why is #WomenInTech movement important to you?
I believe women should have the opportunity to thrive professionally and financially. Some of the greatest career opportunities right now are in STEM fields. Living in San Francisco, this is especially prevalent. I think it’s important that women get in there! By empowering a different voice, we can solve different problems.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
It’s important for women to support each other. Inevitably, there will be ups and downs and having support to keep going is critical.
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?
Wearable tech will evolve beyond the one-liners. There won’t be room on the market for gadgets that sit in the drawer after just a few weeks of months of wearing them. We’re going to start seeing devices that not only take in data about the user, but give something back. This may be in the form of digital security or in the form of actual wearable robotic devices that are coming onto the market.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
Danielle Applestone - Danielle Applestone doesn’t build wearables or fashion tech per se, but her company certainly creates the tools to do it. While I was working at Otherlab, Danielle was building Other Machine Company; now Bantam Tools. The product is a desktop CNC mill. Some of the earliest circuit boards milled on the machine were wearable LED necklaces. Danielle was very generous with me during my employment at Otherlab. She spent time she probably didn’t have to give me much needed advice. I continue to find her ability to juggle so many aspects of being a leader, an engineer, and a mom truly inspirational. I’m grateful to have been exposed to her leadership style and the way she cultivated her company over the years.
Kate Witherspoon - Kate is Co-founder and Principal Designer at Seismic, a company formerly called Superflex, building soft exoskeletons. I mention her for a number of reasons. She has built an incredible and multidisciplinary team at Seismic. It is by far one of the most diverse teams in the robotic community. Before Seismic, she lead the Robotic Soft Goods Lab at SRI and has constantly pushed the boundaries between Fashion, Industrial Design, and Engineering. Kate is leading the community to a future way beyond wrist worn wearables.
Leah Buechley - Leah Buechley really sparked the idea of using wearable technology as an avenue for engaging different demographics, particularly women. After she created the Arduino Lilypad, educational programs, research papers, and projects starting popping up all over the country using textiles and wearable mediums as a way to attract more women in the fields of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and other STEM fields. Her group High-Low Tech at MIT created a database of materials and methods to build wearables. It was a resource for components ranging from obscure conductive fabrics to electronic parts. This was something I personally looked at a lot as I was starting to learn about wearable technologies and work to build them.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of 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.