Rebecca Minkoff—the designer and the fashion brand—is not shy about adopting technology. From debuting drones on the catwalk to installing interactive mirrors in dressing rooms to selling bracelets that double as phone chargers, Minkoff is at the forefront of fashion technologies.
And yet, she is the first to admit that most everything going on in wearables at the moment is horrible. In an event at her SoHo store for Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, she dished on what everyone is doing wrong—and why she blames men trying to design for women for a lot of it. Here are the best bits from our discussion.
Co.Design: Even Apple is struggling to sell its watch—why do you think most wearables aren’t catching on?
Rebecca Minkoff: There is a huge disparity of women in this field, STEM. And that is affecting the design of the goods we’re receiving. It’s not against men. But you have to have equal representation . . . you’ll never see the innovation that would take place with equal parity at the table.
We had a situation where we were meeting with our tech partners on a [necklace] wearable, and it was a really big jewel-like item, like an amulet. I said, "a woman would never wear that, why is it so big?" And a gentleman on the design team said, "we wanted it to last for days." And we said, "a woman usually takes her jewelry off at night." So we bundled it with a charging station and that cut the size by a third. So it’s looking at those use cases—ideally, when you have a woman on the design team who knows those use cases, and can talk to how a woman’s going to use it and benefit from it.
It was the same when designing our [lightning cable] bracelet. I had an unfortunate time when [the archetypal male engineer] said, "The signal can’t go through metal, the actual piece is gonna be plastic." I said, "a woman won’t wear plastic." He said, "don’t worry, we’ll just paint it gold, she won’t know." [audience laughs] And I was like, "OH YES SHE WILL KNOW! You can get that out of a quarter machine, then she’ll wear it." It was one of those instances, those nuances that are like, why aren’t there more women here?
What about augmented reality glasses? Will those ever take off? Or is there an inherent problem with putting something like that on your face?
I think they can take off but I think it’s about, how do you integrate the design? I think it always comes back to that. With Google Glass, if you’re talking to someone, I’m hoping that you want to look them in the eye but worry they’re looking just above you.
I think Snapchat is probably the first in this space to make something that you want to wear because they look like glasses! Everything is unwieldy in its beginning stages. . . . But Snapchat glasses are the first good-looking design on the market.
What’s the whole wearable industry getting wrong?
All the gimmicky stuff. Like a shirt that lights up or a dress that reacts to your mood. I think all those things are gimmicks that maybe get you press. But my brother [Uri] and I wonder, how do we help you in any part of your day, or give you knowledge that you actually want?
At the beginning of any change, you’re going to see people who are pushing it in that [cheesy] way, and getting press and notoriety, and I think that’s fine. But when you get down to consumers purchasing goods, is it something that unlocks an experience? Something you scan to constantly unlock new incentives?
We had talked about doing a bag that had an [RFID] chip in it. We were talking to a company, and it didn’t happen for a multitude of reasons, but the idea was that as long as you carried your bag, it was like your rewards card, and it unlocked certain experiences. So we were talking about those things. And I think those are technologies women would be excited about.
Okay—so what’s the whole wearable industry getting right? Anything? You can say nothing!
Uhhh . . . [laughs]. A lot of stuff is bad.
This transcript has been edited and condensed.