Interview by Michelle Hua @MadeWithGlove
Mary Fenske has worked in numerous positions in multiple industries, academia and government. Being analytical by nature, analyzing anything and everything comes very easy for her. Mary has a weird but wonderful gift to see trends and gaps in products, processes or industries. She has many aptitudes from sewing, grant writing, anatomy and legal work. Easily being able to manipulate complex data sets to understand the meaning, she says her weakness is mental maths.
What is your product and how did you come up with the idea?
Having suffered for years with chronic neck, back and shoulder pain, one morning I woke and loss the use of my arms. The pain and lack of mobility was diagnosed as a result from compression from my neck that was being exasperated by my job to sit at a computer. I was (kinesiology) taped after my therapy session and it did not help it, just pulled my skin. I asked my therapist for a brace to help support my shoulders and she said none existed. I did market analysis and determined why and what was missing and began prototyping and discovered how to hinge the shoulder with fabric. Also, being a woman and not wanting to wear a brace and a bra, I combined the two.
Posture Wings product is a posture solution that can be incorporated into any upper torso garment for women and men. It is both preventative and rehabilitative (depending on the embodiment). Many chronic conditions are caused by the global epidemic of musculo-skeletal disorders. Women suffer significantly more due to our fragile neck and shoulder anatomy coupled with our breast tissue weight. Also, bras are not a disruptive product. Due to this and being a woman, I researched the history and structure of bras. I have now become an expert on bra innovation. Due to my approach to first improve posture and then support breast weight, it led to an understanding of how flawed our bras are and how to fix it so we can have a much better life!
What is your background?
I was an analyst and worked in multiple industries, academia and government, but after suffering so much while sitting at an office chair while working, I turned to create Posture Wings.
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
To create Posture Wings, I researched current posture products and learned the entire eco system related to posture aka biomechanics. I began prototyping by sewing on my kitchen table, filed the patent and began working with experts in the field of Biomechanics to attain grants. When I sat at my desk in pain, I envisioned a product that could adjust my body into good posture with my phone. That is where the wireless technology idea came in, and I added that to my patent.
The innovations of Posture Wings are wellness, health and a (not realized yet) wearable/smart apparel category. I have manually wired and wireless technology capability in my patent. Also, a total new way to construct bras.
I have bootstrapped and have been a solopreneur since the beginning.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I have been innovating for 9 years. I began before wearable tech was known as it is now, so for me, progress was slow.
What was your biggest obstacle?
I struggled with no team and I was ahead of my time, so funding was hard to come by.
What are your biggest achievements so far?
My biggest achievement was learning technical textiles, complex garment construction and manufacturing everything. I was awarded a Utility Patent and an Entrepreneur Grant for a biomechanics study to carry out my study with fantastic results. Working with an NC State College of Textile to create a Senior/Graduate level class based solely on my theory of function fashion to advance my products was a real achievement. I also won the 2015 Seattle Health Innovator Award.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
There were many barriers, and the biggest one was being that I did not have a team or any funding to help. Trying to birth anything is terribly painful. Trying to birth and raise a person, product or company, can be much easier, enjoyable and have a better result with the support of at least one other person. Even when you are passionate, if you have no one to share the day to day struggles with, it can become very disheartening and especially for entrepreneurs, making it horribly isolating. I can say that has been my biggest frustration.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Don’t start without a team and it will take way more money and time than you think it will take.
You need to find dedicated people who share the passion, purpose, have complementary skill sets, and have the ability and stamina to work for no money. I was fortunate to work with a lot of people who did dedicate their expertise and resources towards the company (for no payment), but not someone to dedicate and commit full time to the company.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and smart textiles industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I think combining wellness with apparel will be the next key trend, as Posture Wings is a unique product that solves a problem.
Who are your 3 inspirational women?
Elenore Roosevelt, Madeline Albright, Maria Eitel
Facebook: Posture Wings