Marija Butkovic, co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella and Women of Wearables
Marija Butkovic, co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella and Women of Wearables. Image: David Jackson.

Working with wearables: Beautifully merging visual with technology

26 Jun 2017

Wearables is a growing industry, but like all tech sectors, it needs more women. Luckily, there’s a community there to support women in the wearable technology industry.

Fashion tech and wearables is expanding as an industry. There is a huge number of jobs and opportunities forming in the world of wearables as well as plenty of scope for budding entreprenuers.

Marija Butkovic is the co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella and Women of Wearables, an organisation set up to support women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, VR and AR.

Future Human

She spoke to about how she came from a career as a lawyer to the wearables industry.

What first stirred your interest in a career in wearable technology?

Technology has the power to change the world. Some of the most important inventions of the 21st century are technology ones, such as Bluetooth, social media networks, internet of things, smartphones and many more.

Technology can make our lives so much easier, but at the same time there is also some collateral damage caused by technology, such as loss of privacy. Technology impacts so many areas of modern life that it has become impossible to ignore it.

Using it as a teaching tool in schools and universities is an important feature of a comprehensive, broad-based education. Technology is fundamental, just like reading and writing. I was always interested in technology, but not until 2014 did I actually start creating technology.

What education and/or other jobs led you to the role you now have?

Before becoming an entrepreneur and getting into tech, I was a corporate lawyer for eight years, so my transition to tech has been quite gradual. I started mentoring start-ups in one of the Croatian start-up incubators and writing for tech and business media titles in 2013, which was life-changing as I learned so much and realised my career could be much more creative and diverse compared to what I did then.

I always loved interacting with people, going to events, writing and letting my creative juices flow, so I wanted to find a better way to do it than working as a legal professional.

In 2014, I quit my day job in Croatia, moved to London with my husband and decided to become digital marketer and PR strategist, something that I was already familiar with through my journalistic work in Croatia.

The same year I co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella with my five co-founders. Kisha is a name behind world’s first smart fashionable umbrella you cannot lose. I instantly fell in love with wearable tech, an industry that has great potential of beautifully merging the visual with tech, and to enhance our daily lives at the same time.

I also decided to direct my efforts to digital marketing and PR, and at that point I knew my real passion was supporting, creating and building communities. While working in Kisha, I soon realised how wearable tech industry suffers from a lack of women, not only female founders, but also product and UX designers, smart textile designers, and entrepreneurs in general. This was the very reason I co-founded Women of Wearables in 2016 – an initiative that connects and empowers women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, VR and AR industries, but also offers support, mentorship, workshops and visibility to women.

So far, the interest has been overwhelming with women from India, US, UK, Canada, and many other countries in Europe and Asia. We currently have more than 6,000 members in more than 20 countries, and few weeks ago we launched our first international chapter in Berlin. Women of Wearables has a growing global community of female founders, product and UX designers, developers, smart textile designers, executives and managers, as well as start-ups, industry partners, universities, accelerators and incubators.

Although we are a women-in-tech organisation, we welcome everyone into our community as participants and speakers. It’s important to raise awareness about lack of women in STEM, but we also want more men joining our community, because this problem cannot be solved without everyone participating.

So, I can proudly say I currently wear many hats – I’m marketer, entrepreneur, wearable tech enthusiast, STEM ambassador and blogger.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?

I’ve learned so much over the past few years since getting into tech, but also as a lawyer. There are many challenges, especially for female entrepreneurs. For example, I’ve learned that you always have to build up your hard skills to better understand how specific industries or niches within the industry work.

You also need to be ready to pivot, make decisions quickly and learn to trust your gut a lot. Things will not always run smoothly, so surround yourself with people you can trust who can mentor you and teach you because their help might become priceless at certain point.

Don’t scale your business too quickly, otherwise you’ll burn out and you won’t get the chance to build an amazing company culture (because for that, you need time). Never underestimate the power of a kind word, stay true to yourself and focus. The more focused you are, the better the results.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

My dad for sure. He is an engineer but he never pushed me into tech or any other industry, he just let me be and decide for myself what I want to do with my life. He was always so supportive and knowledgeable, which enabled me to learn so much from him. I’m very grateful to my parents for enabling me to get the education I wanted and for supporting me all along the way, even now when I live far from home and not doing what I was originally educated in.

You can do anything, but you cannot do everything, especially not without the support of your family. At the end of the day, only a handful of the closest people will be there when you need them, that’s one the most valuable lessons I learned as an entrepreneur.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Being able to create my own schedule, connect with amazing people who inspire me and my freedom. I would say freedom is the single most important reason I chose to be an entrepreneur. I love working for myself and being able to create my business life. I just cannot imagine myself doing the same job all over again, working nine to five.

Life is too short to be mediocre. And of course, empowering women is something I love so much. I want to empower and support other women in their entrepreneurial journeys, especially those who decide to completely change their career path (just like I did), as it can be very lonely journey.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I’m an extrovert, which makes everything so much easier. I love to network with people, mentor start-ups, organise events and write, all of which I’ve been doing as digital marketer and PR strategist, not only for my own two businesses, but also my clients.

As a female entrepreneur, you have to be adamant almost twice as much as men, because the world of tech is male-dominated and expectations and opportunities for women can be quite different from those for men.

So, I’ve decided very early on that no matter what happens or how hard it gets, I will do whatever it takes to succeed and I won’t give up. It takes time to build a successful business, which means you have to be patient and work hard, because success doesn’t happen overnight.

How did your current company support you on your career path, if at all?

Meeting other women in the tech industry made me realise we all share some struggles and concerns, but it has also been very rewarding as we all serve each other as support. Women and men I meet through my work in Women of Wearables serve as my inspiration because everyone’s journey is unique and you can always learn so much from people from this industry.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

Being a start-up founder is not easy, but it’s very rewarding. If you have that entrepreneurial creative itch, go for it. Don’t be afraid to start your own business, but be aware of all potential obstacles and challenges that might come your way, from raising money to finding co-founders.

As a marketer, I always say that every business today is a technology business, but as a start-up founder I’m pretty sure that not every business needs to be a unicorn business. Learn as much as you can as early as you can, bootstrap as long as you can, surround yourself with positive, like-minded people and work on your business or career day by day, little by little.

Hard work always pays off. And even if you fail, you will learn so much. Failure is good, it’s just another way of learning things. Thomas Edison summed this up very nicely: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I cannot agree more with this.

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