SARA CHIPPS AND BROOKE MORELAND, cofounders of Jewelbots, are intent on changing the worlds of fashion and technology. They’re taking a unique approach to the age-old desire of making fashion meet function by creating friendship bracelets that are programmed to interact with each other. Jewelbots encourages girls to code the bracelets themselves, and provides a forum for them to share what they have made with each other. This is part of Jewelbots’ mission: besides sparking a revolution in the realm of fashion, Jewelbots’ creators are also passionate about fighting for gender equality and representation in Silicon Valley, and are hoping to inspire girls who are interested in STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics — to pursue them as they get older.
They aren’t the only ones who believe in this project; Chipps and Moreland reached their Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours and doubled it in less than 48 hours! The duo spoke to Lady Clever about challenges they’ve faced combining the fashion and tech worlds, executing a successful crowdfunding campaign, and their future plans to empower young girls to code.
Tell us about Jewelbots. How do they work?
Sara: Jewelbots are bracelets aimed at teens that can be programmed to interact with each other. A Jewelbot can be programmed to light up when a friend is nearby, or can send messages using vibrations to a friend with another bracelet. Basically, you just need to download our iPhone or Android app to control the functionality. The coding part comes in when the girls plug their bracelets into the computer. They can code their bracelet to do anything they want using the free, open-source Arduino software.
Where did the inspiration from Jewelbots come from?
Sara: I’ve been a software engineer for 15 years and was the co-founder of Girl Develop It, a non-profit international organization that exists to provide affordable and accessible opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development through mentorship. A few years ago, I got into hardware and started thinking about building something that would get girls excited about programing at a younger age.
How did the two of you meet?
Brooke: In 2010, I tried to hire Sara to come work on Fashism, the fashion-tech startup I had founded. I wanted to hire some women engineers since we had such a female-focused product. I heard awesome things about Sara and wanted to hire her full-time, but she was in such high demand I could only book her for a few months! She did an amazing job and really got what we were trying to do. We stayed friends over the years and when she told me about the idea to create Jewelbots — I was so excited and wanted to come join her immediately!
Sara, I know you are particularly passionate about encouraging girls to take an interest in science. What particular features of Jewelbots do you think will excite young girls about the world of STEM and inspire their curiosity?
Sara: The fact that the Jewelbots are open-sourced is definitely exciting. On our website we will have a place where the girls can share what they have created with one another. They can inspire others and get inspiration. Most amazing things are built by teams and by collaboration, and the girls will get to experience that collaboration first hand with us.
Can you describe the feeling of reaching your Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours? What factors do you think attributed to such quick success?
Brooke: It’s really awesome! I think it was a little bit of luck and a LOT of planning. We had our messaging down, we reached out to our networks in advance, and we spent a lot of time crafting the videos. We read a lot about successful crowdfunding campaigns, and the do’s and don’ts of running one. But I think the main thing is we have identified a problem, and have a fun idea for a solution.
What has been Jewelbots’ biggest challenge to date?
Brooke and Sara: So far, our biggest challenge has been how to cram all of the functionality we want and the battery life we require into a tiny bracelet that will look nice on small wrists. It’s tough, because we don’t want to make any compromises on size or functionality.
Brooke: It’s really strange the pushback and reaction we get from certain people about wanting to make our bracelets in designs that appeal to girls and young women. There seems to be this kind of thinking that, because it is a piece of technology, it needs to be “gender neutral,” which is crazy. In fashion, it’s a given that there are accessories for men and accessories for women. There’s a Men’s Fashion Week and a Women’s Fashion Week. It’s not controversial; it’s just the way it is. It’s funny how if you were just trying to make a gorgeous decorative bracelet for women and girls, it’s totally fine, but if you want to make that bracelet ‘smart,’ then “No! It can’t be girly! How frivolous! What if a boy wants it?!” To us, that kind of thinking is very offensive. Things can be girly, and beautiful, and smart. This should be obvious.
This is one trend we hope stays in style forever!
If you’d like to get involved in this awesome project, you can contribute to their Kickstarter campaign, which still has about a week to go, check out their website, and follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.