The Techie Designer: Billie Whitehouse

Sexy vibrating underwear for lovers over the phone, a navigation jacket with sensory motors that tell you directions, a jersey that lets fans feel the actual adrenaline of the sports players they’re watching on TV — these are just a few of the futuristic projects that have materialized in real life over at the magical factory of ideas at Wearable Experiments (We:eX). The company, led by Aussie co-founders Billie Whitehouse and Ben Moir, specializes in creating the hardware, software, and apparel for wearable tech products.
Whitehouse, whose background is in fashion design, saw an opportunity two years ago to give fashion a bit more intelligence. And, at the end of 2012, she and Moir moved from Sydney to NYC and built a team of developers and project managers. Today, they work on designing products that can help people live more efficiently, more freely, and emotionally charged. While most of the ideas brewing in the We:eX incubator are naturally on the down low, Whitehouse lets us tap into her brain on entrepreneurship, the highs and lows of her career, and what all the buzz is really about.

How to stand out in an all-boys club
“I’ve been a presenter at a wearable tech conference where there were only two women and about a hundred men. And, that’s intimidating, but I do see the shift. The ratio is tilting, and it’s really exciting to be a part of it at this point in time because women are so aware of how to support each other and how to build this environment and community. Someone described it to me like we’re scaling a huge building, but instead of scaling it by ourselves, we lean down and grab everyone else up. And, we bring them up to our speed, and then someone else goes up a little higher, and they bring us up. As they say, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’”

How to respectfully break the rules
“Learn the rules, and then learn how to break them really fast — with respect. I guess that’s why they call me a free spirit, because I’ll come in and be like ‘Oh fuck it all, let’s do something else.’ Breaking the rules sounds like such a cliché, but it is really important to understand the formula first. To see it, understand it, respect it, and then fuck it and do it your way.”


Why it’s important to take risks
“Women should be bold because we’re in a position now where we’re working towards equality. Bravery and courage are certainly a part of that. If we take those bold steps, we can have an amazing universe.”

On being a democratic boss
“Sometimes I feel like a phony just because I’m not a traditional boss. I don’t have a dictator personality. I very much think that a collective mind is better than one. We held our first hack-a-thon here in New York, and that to me was the greatest move forward. All of these crazy creatives from neuroscientists to designers to technologists were all there together, building and molding and using technology with their hands. That, to me, is a much more powerful force than me as a boss just saying, ‘It should be like this.’ I like to think of myself as democratic.”

How we choose which products to build
“At the moment, we try to make sure that there is integrity at the core of what we’re trying to do. We take products on when we decide that ‘Yes, it has integrity and yes, it’s intuitive and yes, the people we’re working with are fantastic.’ Because in the end, the companies [could be] great, but you want to work with great people.”

You’re going to make mistakes
“There were dramatics that we’ve had to overcome, certainly. There were 2 a.m. nights where I accidentally sewed through wires and hit vibration motors with needles, broke every single one of my fingernails, trying to complete a jacket for a particularly large radio host. I had to build it from scratch in 12 hours and just get it to market so he could try it on. But, you enjoy that sort of commitment because you know the product is good.”

Louis Vuitton jacket, Kate Spade Saturday dress, TopShop skirt, Manolo Blahnik heels, Judith Leiber fish purse, Jennifer Fisher earrings, model's own vintage necklace and ring.
Photographed by Geordy Pearson; Makeup by Sophie Haig; Hair by Michiko; Styled by Laura Pritchard.

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