Kate Unsworth is a woman leading the charge in making wearable tech the height of fashion in her role as CEO at Vinaya. In the run up to Apps World Germany, where Kate will be discussing Wearables and Women in Tech, we get the inside scoop on the wearables revolution.
Kate, your background encompasses both fashion and tech. Can you tell us a little bit about your company Vinaya and how it melds the two together?
VINAYA is a London-based research lab and design studio creating technology products that help you feel better. Our first product line ALTRUIS, is a collection of designer wearable technology that helps improve digital balance by prioritizing what matters. The Bluetooth-enabled jewelry allows you to filter smartphone notifications and receive subtle vibrations whenever you wish to be notified.
How old were you when the idea first germinated to get involved in the wearables sector?
In 2013 I was 25 and working as a tech consultant. It was during this time that I had become a shadow of my former self. I was connected to email 16+ hours a day, never fully present in any situation and never fully comprehending emotions to their full extent. During a 2 week digital detox, I contemplated what it meant to be happy in my life. My answer was “being surrounded by inspirational people, being creative and learning more about myself”. It was after my detox that I set out to improve my digital habits (i.e. reducing the time spent interacting with technology) in order to create space in my life for more meaningful activities. However I quickly realized that I didn’t have access to the necessary ‘tools’, to make this work. The idea of creating a wearable to solve this problem came naturally to me. I knew the product had to be something you would want to wear and working as a tech consultant at the time I was researching the wearable’s industry and noticed that although there were a lot of players, I wouldn’t wear any of the products on the market. It was at this point that I spotted a gap in the market, and so Vinaya was born.
You rebranded from Kovert Designs to Vinaya – was there any particular inspiration behind the re-brand?
On November 1st 2015 we rebranded from Kovert Designs to Vinaya. For us the rebrand was a natural evolution. We had built a great brand with Kovert but we were just associated with creating “luxury wearable tech.” We wanted a name, which could hold our much bigger vision, and Vinaya was able to do that. We were inspired by the Sanskrit word ‘Vinaya’, referring to the disciplinary teachings of Buddha that play a pivotal role in monastic life. Unlike the Dharma, or the Truth expounded by Buddha, which is not changeable under any circumstances, certain Vinaya rules should be adapted to reflect the modernisation of society. In the same way, we must adapt to an ever-changing society (and ever-evolving technological landscape) without losing connection to our core human truths.
Can you tell us more about your connected jewellery line Altruis? What kind of reaction have you had from the fashion community?
ALTRUIS is a collection of designer wearable technology that helps improve digital balance by prioritizing what matters. The Bluetooth-enabled jewelry allows you to filter smartphone notifications and receive subtle vibrations whenever you wish to be notified. ALTRUIS lets you choose which contacts, calls, messages and alerts deserve your attention via an iOS app. Distinguish ‘Profiles’, set ‘Secret Words’ and customize vibrations for different contacts. Currently, the app supports text, email, WhatsApp, calendar and alarms. We’ve had great interest + support from the fashion industry. ALTRUIS is currently stocked at some of the best boutiques in the world. These include Browns, Farfetch, Wolf +Badger, Fivestory and Ron Robinson. We will also be announcing our exclusive collaborations with fashion designers this year, watch this space.
You will be keynoting Apps World in Berlin on the session, ‘launching wearables that stay out of the sock drawer’. Wearables are a fickle market. What are your top tips for longevity?
I believe the secret to longevity in this market is constant focus on generating real value to users throughout their life experiences. The smartphone has really achieved that, to a point where we can’t leave the house without it. The recent advances in technology within the IoT market are pushing towards a scenario where the wearable is not as dependent on the phone as it has been until now. The key to success will come from the best choices on how to leverage this new standalone capability to generate value on its own, as well as seamlessly integrating with other ecosystems that push the value generation even further for a particular user. Longevity will also come from users trusting the brands that are concerned about their daily life challenges and the impact that technology can have on the human condition.
Looking at the bigger picture what do you think of the European start-up scene?
It’s prime time for the European startup scene. There are lower levels of funding but smarter, savvier investments taking place. Meaning it is a more stable/robust market than the US. There is also a great mix of creative vs. very technical (hardware / AI) startups, and a gold mine of engineering talent (at much more reasonable salaries than in the valley!)
Lastly, any big developments in the pipeline for 2016?
I see Vinaya as a multifaceted business, focusing on product development, as well as scientific research into digital wellbeing. My plans are for Vinaya to become the go-to resource for anything related to the lifestyle management of technology, all centred around design, with design-led teams working on product development, collaborations, campaigns and events.