Interview by Nayara Moia (@nayaramoia)
Tatjana, what does your current job role entail? What projects are you working on at the moment?
My passion for challenges and curiosity to learn more and think big made me go for not one, but two jobs at once. My role at Wear It Berlin is to help technologists and designers – start-ups and investors – as well as influencers, bloggers and wild ideas – to meet each other, connect and actually start developing new wearables together.
Throughout my bachelor thesis, I researched on cross-industry innovative collaborations between tech and fashion companies and gained a lot of knowledge and insights about the status quo, trends and potentials of success. This enables me to give specific recommendations for action and potential innovation partners. As a team of 4, we organize, moderate and coach at the Wear It Festival, Fashion Hackday, Get-Togethers of our professional innovation network Wear It Hub and several other events where we bring people from different backgrounds together. Wear It Berlin has build up over the last years the largest meetup community in Germany about Wearable Electronics with more than 950 registered members. I moderated last meetup about user centered design in wearable technologies and motivated everyone to play an interdisciplinary game and pitch their ideas.
Apart from my freelance work at Start-Up “Wear It Berlin UG”, I also work at SAP for 3 days a week to work on the InsurHub Innovation Lab, a partnership between EY Innovalue, SAP und V.E.R.S. Leipzig. The InsurHub is a catalyst for innovation and offers all participating insurance companies (HDI, LVM, Markel, Provinzial NordWest and RheinLand Versicherungsgruppe) the chance to rethink insurance in a totally new way. In this project, I’m the Design Thinking Coach guiding, motivating and pushing the teams to think outside of the box. My role includes not only to let different executives of big insurance companies explore the innovation methodology, mindset and workplace, but also apply business model canvas and lean startup principles to ensure desirability, viability and feasibility of new ideas the teams have come up with.
It’s always amazing to see all the doubts in the people’s eyes when we first start, because they need to understand the design challenge (problem statement of a user), go outside and interview people to really gain empathy and observe the customer they want to help, brainstorm new ideas, select one and do a rapid prototype, test it, iterate and at the end have a solution for the user. It’s all about getting out of the comfort zone. I studied Design Thinking at HPI D.School in Potsdam and I’m on fire, highly motivated to innovate in a way that actually helps people and solves problems.
As a proactive Designer I combine creativity and analytics in my two jobs and enjoy everyday challenges!
How has your career progressed since your degree? Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
After receiving a certificate of excellence for the best bachelor thesis, everybody expected me to find a job right away. But no, nothing. Rejections. That’s what I got. Why was that? My fashion background and my burning passion for innovations in the field of fashion tech and wearables and my increasing interest in IT, have made me apply for jobs that had nothing to do with what I know, but only with what I want to learn about. Which was not the best argument in interviews.
Another factor that made my career life more difficult is the fact that the field of „wearables“ is a young future market, just flourishing by single products being developed, that hasn’t reached the point to create its own separate branch yet. So there are no keywords to type in the search engine to find a job. No “wearable manager”, no “fashion technologist”, at least not yet.
While getting all the rejections of big IT companies, I have taught myself as much IT skills as I could via open online courses and learned about all the buzzwords like blockchain, machine learning, AI, chatbots and so on, to be able to understand the tech-side of wearables, not only the fashion-perspective. That’s why I contacted the machine learning and AI startup Wear Health. I really liked their business idea, so I volunteered to help them grow and connect to the right people at various startup conferences while gaining more knowledge in order to understand IT companies perspectives.
When I applied for Design Thinking at HPI d.school in Potsdam, none of my friends and family had heard about it, so they kept telling me to stop doing this crazy stuff and find a full-time job or just continue with my master’s degree. Against the odds, I had this feeling that I should do it. So I studied 2 days a week and worked the other days everywhere – even at a Haunted House during Christmas. And it was so worth it! Design Thinking changed my life. As a team of 80 crazy, but highly smart people from around the globe like Kenya, California, Lithuania and from different backgrounds, we learned so much from each other and came up with real new ideas. Throughout the 4 months, I found myself flourishing in this field and got to know myself and what I want: solve people’s problems. And not sell stuff nobody wants or needs.
I believe that wearables and fashion tech offer the highest potential to change everything in our daily lives – from making the clothing and fashion industry more sustainable to generating data or making our life more comfortable.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
It took about 7 months to be where I am now. The biggest challenge was to know what I really want to do. What do I want? A Master? Good money? Just travel? Throughout the Design Thinking study I had found out that I wanted to take action. I want to work. And I want to think with my hands. I want to have an impact and solve problems for people and not just stand there watching. So I changed my mindset from being sad about mistakes, rejection and “not knowing“ into LEARNING. No matter what – I would learn from everything, teach myself any IT skill or methodologies to constantly improve and reach my goal. And this is how everything suddenly fell into place. I got to know the right people at the right time and place. And one day my telephone rang, and I had more job offers than I ever imagined.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur and woman in wearable tech industry?
To me, #WomenInTech movement is a promising wind of change. Women are traditionally seen as not tech savvy, but today they rock smart technology stage with new perspectives and their view on the long-term impact of things in the future. Women contribute to the development of user centred innovations by adding empathy, a long term view and design elements. I’m happy to see people like Mira Duma who also see the potential of fashion tech to make this horrible, polluting textile chain more sustainable. While the fashion industry consists of mostly women, and the tech sector of mostly men, I think the interface between those two offers a playground for gender balance. However, it’s a tough industry to get into as a woman. There is a constant call for proof that your ideas are more than just accessories, but it’s not easy to get respect for smart innovative business models and for what you do when many manager positions are taken by men who still judge a woman’s surface more than her talent. But I’m convinced that whoever has a burning desire to act in the wearable tech industry and solve people’s problems with the product, service or business model innovation, will succeed – whether one is a man or a woman.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
My big goals are still under construction, but some little steps on the way that I’m proud of achieving are helping my mother, who is a German teacher for refugees, with my design thinking skills. Together we created a new teaching concept that enables her class to work towards a common goal as a team while getting to know German culture.
Another achievement was my bachelor dissertation. Spending numerous hours in libraries, search engines, labs, fashion tech conferences and talking to different experts for about 6 months I nearly gave up on understanding and measuring the status quo of fashion tech. New startups, new prototypes, new terms (smart wearables, e-textiles,...) pop up every day, and I wanted to understand it all, to get the whole picture. When my professor handed me a certificate of excellence for the best final examination and invited me to give a speech about my findings in front of public and experts at the university’s anniversary, I understood that I had achieved my goal.
Within the teams of my Design Thinking Sprints at InsurHub, I’m proud when I see the sparkles in the eyes of once very conservative, sceptical, critical managers who suddenly question their company and challenge their job. It makes me really happy when I can help people to live a happier life – if it’s for a consumer by developing new useful products and services or for an employee by opening up their mindset in a human centered way.
My two major, long term goals are to make fashion more sustainable with use of technology and help people suffering from illnesses, especially psychological ones, with the use of wearables.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
My bachelor dissertation that I wrote last year was about cross-industry innovative collaborations between fashion and technology considering the research question: Are these a tool for fashion companies to develop new products? My thesis showed that fashion companies have an unexploited potential to develop new products by collaborating in promising fields of technology. The empiric, exploratory analysis revealed that only eleven out of 44 collaborations manage to place new products in the market. New products come into existence mainly as accessories (80%). In principle, clothing itself stays a prototype. My research focused on the six "Key Enabling Technologies" (KET's) funded by the European Commission which are: microelectronics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, advanced materials, photonics and additive manufacturing. With 82% of collaborations within microelectronics, the potential could be better exploited. My key findings showed the opportunity to strategically exploit full potentials such as developing new fashion products and opening up new markets. Currently mainly tech companies see the potential in wearables. In the near future, we will (hopefully) see more actions by fashion companies as well. The key resource they sell are clothes, not accessories (“wearables” from a fashion perspective). And clothing still remains static textile. Collaborations like Google Project Jacquard and Levi’s really innovate the textile itself. Soon we will see interactive garments. And I believe as soon as the technology becomes invisible it has a disruptive potential.
Marketing: Using fashion tech / wearables for marketing and communication purposes will continue. Fashion shows are used as a prototype presentation by tech companies to test their market potential.
The Future of Retail: Many global players are changing their focus of innovation from product (or “only” marketing”) to retail and will change the way how we shop online and offline. The possibilities of wearables / fashion tech are highly interesting for companies with an IoT background. I’m just waiting for “The Internet of Fashion”.
Cross-industry innovation: More not-fashion industries will tap into the fashion tech market and pioneer in many new different ways. It will be interesting to watch if traditional fashion companies not only react to innovations, but proactively exploit the potential of technologies for themselves as well.
Partners will win, competitors loose: In the near future, it’s impossible to see the big picture without somehow working together cross-industry along the whole supply chain. Consumer needs change so fast and new technologies open up so many new possibilities. It’s crucial to see others not as competitors, but as potential partners for innovation.
Predictive analysis: Tracking biometrical data right through your second skin (fashion tech) offers many chances for predicting the future and helping people e.g. working in dangerous environments or suffering from diseases.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in wearable tech out there?
Work together, think with your hands and build on the ideas of others. You don’t have to reinvent the world alone. Create interdisciplinary teams with members being as different as possible and go for wild ideas.
Most important: don’t be afraid of mistakes! They don’t exist. Everything you develop and design is a prototype you test, if it’s a product, business model, or a new career path. See everything as a chance to learn. I actually love when I get negative feedback and criticism, because then I can change something and improve. Worst feedback after any pitch is “It was good.” You can’t get anything out of that to optimize.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
Miroslava Duma, Amanda Cosco, Billie Whitehouse.
LinkedIn: Tatjana Schiller
Twitter: Wear It Berlin