Stacey Burr: Women are shaping the future of wearables

Adidas' wearable tech boss on the female force in the industry
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"Wearable tech is a new field and, when there is a new field – there's really no establishment, no traditional organisational structures in place to have to break into. It is just green field opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators. I think women really gravitated and stepped into that field as it combined a couple of areas of technology and innovation and the maker side of it also appeals."

Stacey Burr is a wearable tech success story. Back in 2005 she started e-textile specialist Textronics, which became one of the first companies to commercialise smart-sensing garments created specifically with fitness in mind. In 2008, German sports giant Adidas coughed up a reported $35 million to buy Textronics. Sure, Adidas wanted Textronics' patents and trademarks but they also wanted Burr.

Heading up the Digital Sports division, she has spearheaded the Adidas miCoach fitness monitoring ecosystem, overseeing a diverse product line from wrist-mounted optical HR devices and smart cells for footwear, to the miCoach smart soccer ball.

Burr is just one of an increasing number of female directors, designers and engineers setting the wearable tech agenda - women are playing a huge part in taking wearables mainstream.

"Wearables is unique as it's one of those spots that allows you to combine technology, design and craft," explained Burr.

"It's one of those really interesting intersections that requires cross disciplined expertise. We have to have that technological background, but the intimate nature of wearables – being in contact with skin and the body – also brings up the issues of comfort, aesthetics and that emotional relationship between the device and the wearer. I think it's a rich area for women bringing in a variety of backgrounds."

"Tricia Wilson Nguyen is a wonderful example of that," she continued. "She has a PhD in material science from MIT and is also someone who is an expert in the lost art of embroidery and fabrication techniques. She has her own craft business, alongside her engineering work. She's a poster child of the sort of eclectic background that plays very well in the wearables field."

Burr isn't the only woman making big waves in wearables. Lumo co-founder and CEO Monisha Perkash recently told us how her new product, Lumo Run, is a "leader in wearables 2.0"; Madison Maxey, founder of Brooklyn-based studio Loomia won Topshop's high-profile wearable tech competition; and Meng Li dreamed up the idea of the critically acclaimed Moov while she was working at Microsoft Research.

The list is seemingly endless - you don't need to look that hard to find the high-profile women in the industry. This is important, not just in terms of levelling the playing field in the traditionally male-dominated world of tech, but also in ensuring that female buyers aren't fobbed off with either unisex products that are clearly designed with only men in mind or otherwise patronising products.

"It's a real challenge with the clothing side of wearables," Burr told us. "There's the price point, the fabric, the washability, the comfort and it has to meet all the fashion requirements. And that's not an easy combination. But, particularly in the assembly of those sort of prototypes, women really shine because you've got people with design and hand-craft, maker, backgrounds."

The stats show that women founded and women run businesses do very well

This combination of tech/science backgrounds with more historically female-focused industries has led to a boom in female-fronted startups. And while some female founders have struggled to get funding for wearables aimed purely at women, Burr thinks the timing is perfect, with investors keen to capitalise.

"When I talk to VC investors and they look at the track records and statistics and see which of their businesses have tended to behave favourably – the stats show that women founded and women run businesses do very well," she said.

"I think wearables, early on, was a risky spot for VCs in general because there wasn't a clear path but I think that changed as a result of the sale of Textronics to Adidas and with the sale of BodyMedia to Jawbone. There's definitely now a clear path to profitability and exit – which is what they are looking for."

Burr isn't worried about over saturation in the industry though. She's excited about the personal health revolution powered by wearable tech.

"When I look forward I don't see it as sci-fi, I see it as very real and very attainable," she said. "Wearables, either the smart clothing variety or something worn on the wrist, have the potential to deliver personalised, customised wellness prescriptions – a personal insight into your own operating system as a human."

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Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

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