Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Mari Thomas is a 28 year old based in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. She graduated from Sports Technology at Loughborough University in 2012 and has been a sports product tester ever since. She is currently setting up her business, MAAREE, manufacturing women’s sports performance apparel. She wants to support women so that they are empowered to achieve their potential.
How did you end up working in the smart textiles and wearable tech industry? Tell us a bit more about your journey so far.
From a young age I have been interested in sports and science, always with the ambition to combine my vocation with subjects I was passionate for. Following a degree in Sports Technology at Loughborough University, I was asked to become a research associate testing the performance of sports bras (a subject close to my heart currently). My introduction into wearables was with TomTom Sports as a sports product tester, with my background in sports engineering and technology, within two years I became head of wearables testing for the sports division.
Which has been your most challenging project and why? How about most rewarding and why?
Taken the step from working life to entrepreneurship has been my most challenging. For the past 12 months, I have taken my experience in product technology to create an innovative sports bra design, aimed at supporting motion in the upward direction. Having an idea is the easy bit, turning that idea into a commercial product, then the product into a brand has provided many challenges along the way. The project, ‘MAAREE’ is now online and currently crowdfunding, with delivery of final product coming in the autumn of this year.
How are smart textiles related to wearable technology? In your opinion, what is a difference?
The use of smart textiles in apparel provides the insight into the next generation of wearable technology. The technology to seamlessly integrate materials which monitor physical activity metrics directly to your smart device is close to becoming a part of our everyday lives. There is a difference between the two, smart textiles will enhance the accessibility of wearable technology.
How do you keep learning about smart textiles because it is constantly changing with new technologies?
There are some great blogs and feeds which give you the latest information on smart textiles. Otherwise, get yourself out there, talk to the people in your network and the people at the forefront of these developments. Don’t feel afraid to reach out to people on LinkedIn, people are more often than not willing to talk about the subjects which they are passionate.
What do you think will be the key trends in the wearable tech and smart textiles in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I see the future of wearable technology in the advance of apparel based technologies through the use of smart textiles. Smart apparel will allow the monitoring of key health metrics for the medical sector, and physical and performance metrics for the sports sector. Within my businesses application, a sports bra provides an ideal basis for the integration of smart textiles. Why shouldn’t my sports bra monitor heart rate, GPS, speed and gait analysis, or even telling the user when the right time is to replace their bra based on fabric fatigue?
Have you experienced challenges in the industry and if so, how did you overcome those challenges?
The technology industry is historically male dominated. At TomTom, I was the only female manager within the sports division, so I made efforts to ensure females were fairly represented in my team. I spoke at events to encourage young girls to pursue engineering and science subject options, showing that if you are passionate about these subjects, you can follow them you’re your career, and become successful within this industry.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to entrepreneurs in the wearable tech/smart textiles industry?
The best piece of advice I can offer when becoming an entrepreneur is to build a wide ranging and well-resourced network. When starting a project, there are many tasks that someone in your network can offer to you from an experts perspective. Spend time actively networking, it will be time well spent.
Who are your 3 inspirational businesses or individuals in wearable tech and smart textiles industries?
MyZone, Bellabeat, Levy + Google.
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.