Billie Whitehouse of Wearable X Talks About Startup Life, Smart Apparel & Wellness Technology

As the possibilities for intelligent design become more sophisticated, the act of seamlessly blending tech into our daily activities has become the new frontier for tech entrepreneurs.

Gabriella Lacombe
Gabriella Lacombe
Creator of WunderFiend.com at |

Creator of WunderFiend.com and senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, Gabriella Lacombe believes that narrative is the most powerful tool for getting people to think and make choices. Majoring in journalism with a minor in Italian, Gabriella is dedicated to always searching for new perspectives.

Evolving technology has dovetailed with the health and wellness boom, bringing us wearable tech that counts our steps, tracks our heart rate, and even monitors the quality of our sleep. The latest name in wearable tech is Nadi X, the smart yoga apparel with vibrational corrective cues and an accompanying routine-creating app, allowing you to work in a flow wherever you go.

Billie Whitehouse in a pair of Nadi X and striking a yoga pose

Bringing Nadi X to our attention is Wearable X. Founded by Billie Whitehouse and Ben Moir Wearable X (once known as Wearable Experiments) is a Sydney-born, NYC-based company launched in 2013 with a product centered around touch. Exploring the intersection between technology and fashion, the fashion tech company has built a reputation in successfully merging design and technology in order to create a better quality of life.

When it was announced in May 2017 that Wearable X had launched its first direct consumer product, our interests piqued. Following the announcement, FashNerd was invited to attend the New York City launch of Nadi X at the Madison Square Neuehouse on 1st June 2017. Excited to be given the opportunity to see the activated yoga apparel in person, we accepted.

Nadi X NY Launch 2017
Refinery29 co-founder and executive creative director Piera Gelardi with Wearable X co-founder & CEO Billie Whitehouse

After attendees enjoyed coconut waters and live yoga demos featuring Nadi X yoga pants, Refinery29 co-founder and executive creative director Piera Gelardi sat down with Wearable X co-founder and CEO Billie Whitehouse for an interview about the future of her company, smart apparel, and wellness technology.

Gelardi: [Tell us about] Nadi X and the inspiration behind its creation.
 
Whitehouse: Okay! I think I’ve said this maybe 700 times in the past two days, but I’m really excited to share this with you guys. Nadi X is an activated yoga pant with sensors built in and around the hips, knees and ankles, and it gives you guided feedback with vibration. Really, the center of our brand and our company has always been around touch, and what touch means to people, and what it means even when you’re touching yourself, and you’ve got your hands on your body. If you pay attention to yourself right now, what does that communicate about you? What we tried to translate that into was something that people really want to wear, and something that’s very functional. It’s specifically for yoga, and inside the app there are three different modes: you can learn yoga for the first time if you’re truly a beginner, you can do a guided experience where you only get help or feedback in the poses that you pre-select inside the app, or if you’re a little bit more professional, you can do the entire flow. You’ll get the feedback in your body where we would like you to focus your attention during that experience. This isn’t necessarily about correct or incorrect yoga, it’s about pants that make you feel good, and feel more connected to yourself. So, drawing the awareness and the attention to those parts of your body you don’t necessarily always focus on.


 
G: Was there a eureka moment where you had the epiphany for this idea? Because it’s such a unique concept that I’ve never heard of before, I’ve never thought of before, and I love seeing the animations that really give you the sense of how the touch is pulsating through.

W: The eureka moment was—sometimes it starts with the technology and knowing that it’s actually possible, which, you should know, my board members and some of my engineers told me two years ago that it wasn’t—and it was through creating a really amazing team, some of whom are here and some of whom are in Sri Lanka and Australia, and their creativity that we were able to bring this all together into something really fabulous. So, the eureka moment was really the first time I put them on, and I felt the vibrations, and I felt the difference between the grounding down in my ankles, and the lifting up, and the rotating my waist. The vibrations [are] truly sensory, and this touch language is really universal.

“The eureka moment was really the first time I put them on, and I felt the vibrations.”

G: So as a woman working in technology, who is a CEO and creative director, which is basically like being a triple unicorn, I’d love to hear [if] you’ve experienced challenges or push back as you were starting your company.

W: Yeah, most definitely, and I think it’s unavoidable. Especially as an Australian in America, you’re a long way from home, and that has its own challenges. Originally, I met with every VC you can imagine in New York trying to pitch for money, and it was really tough. I had a lot of rejections. I think when that happens, you sort of feel very disheartened. Then finally we found the right partners and the people who really believed in this, and who could actually help us scale. That to me was this huge delight and this weight off my shoulders because it meant I wasn’t just this crazy person living in the future, there were people who actually did believe in the vision that we had as a company, and that was truly amazing.

Nadi X NY Launch 2017

G: I’m glad that you persevered, and I think it’s a good example to just keep pushing forward. We need more role models and more examples of women CEOs, women in technology, and women creative directors.

W: I do have one other thing to say about that, and this is so resonant, I think, to how you build your company. I have this amazing group of female entrepreneurs around me, and they truly changed my life. We shared everything from breakups to cap tables, and how to deal with them. That group of women, we always have this saying, that is, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.”

G: That’s beautiful. I love that, someone tweet that. So, let’s talk bodies. Right now, on Refinery29, we have our Take Back the Beach series, which is our third year of doing a series about women taking up space at the beach, and owning and celebrating their bodies. I would love to know from you how body positivity and inclusivity factors into the creation of Nadi X.

W: It even stems just from how we built the company. I can honestly say I think I have more differences in religion, even on my board, that I see in most dinner tables around New York. I’m truly proud of that, and that makes me feel whole as a human. Beyond that, when it comes to testing, we have to collect data on every different body shape for these to be able to work. So that’s tall, thin, short, it doesn’t matter. Honestly, that is how we make this product work, and that’s how the artificial intelligence behind this product works. So there would be no point in having a product that would only work for a particular shape of a woman, that doesn’t make sense. It’s exciting for us to explore that even further now.

G: So I’d love to hear from you what you see as the future of technology. Is there anything that is really exciting you about how the world is moving forward in that realm?

W: Yes, I’m really delighted that we’re almost moving away from this Silicon Valley, quantified-self space—and if I’m speaking jargon, you can just let me know—basically that just means counting everything you do in your life. I think that is really base level. That isn’t a very empathetic look at the world. What I’m seeing now in technology, what I’m so excited about, is actually seeing that translation of interesting data into something really human and empathetic. Obviously, I’m going to talk up my own company, but I truly believe that this product is the personalization of data unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I will talk about dirty data because I can, and I have the microphone, but anything that basically sits on your wrist… has a small awareness of who you are as a human. Whereas what we’re trying to do is understand you and your body, so we can make experiences for you that always feel good. This product isn’t about quantifying yoga, these are feel-good pants, and they do make you feel good.

G: I heard the vibrations feel like a massage on your body.

W: I think so!

Nadi X NY Launch 2017

G: That’s a good sell. I think it’s really interesting the way that a lot of technology and even virtual reality is really thinking about empathy and how to integrate that into the design. It’s a really exciting trend. So I’d love to hear how you envision Nadi X moving forward for this. I know that we were just talking about… Hidden Figures… when Kevin Costner says… he’s “already on the moon in his mind.” I know that you and I are people who kind of have that vision and we’re so impatient to just get there already. Can you give us a little picture into your crystal ball from where you want to see Nadi X go in the future?

W: Absolutely, I love a crystal ball. My life at the moment is actually really unique. For the first time ever, I’m enjoying the process more than ever. I think for a long time, I lived so far in the future that it was very hard to be present in the right now, and I would often let tomorrow get in the way of tonight. That being said, for the future of Nadi X, I have to constantly be able to look forward and back, and I think that’s really central to the practice of yoga. That push forward, pull back, that ground down and lift up. I think that comfortableness in the uncomfortable is truly what I’m trying to explore even more in this product. But from a very technical standpoint, what we’ve seen in our community, they’re really interested in having feedback for things like powerlifting, for squats, I have taken them to a couple of Barry’s [Bootcamp] classes—I tend to be a little obsessed—and that to me is a really interesting area of how we can partner with studios, how we partner with particular yoga instructors, so that this can be the Peloton [bike, which allows you to connect through a tablet to live studio classes] for yoga. So you can take this anywhere, and you can take a… class from Yoga Vida, but you could be in Berlin. And that, to me, is something really exciting for this.

G: I can’t wait to see where it goes. So millennial women are really investing more in wellness than ever before, and it’s an exciting trend to see and it’s almost a new form of luxury. I’d love to know, from you, sort of, why this mentality is shifting—I mean, I think it’s much needed—and kind of how you’re weaving that into your thought process for Nadi X.

“I will play the female card, because why not.”

W: I think we’re really lucky—and I will play the female card, because why not—I think we’re really lucky that women are the power consumer, and so our needs, interests, desires, are often coming first and foremost beyond anyone’s—and children, let’s put them equally. That, to me, has been where this wellness trend has come from, is that we’re finally empowered with the things we really care about. And I do, I do care about looking after myself, and we do care about making sure we have a long, healthy life, and that we’re present and mindful. So, that I think is intrinsic in the way you build a business. I was just lucky, I think, with timing. The technology was all talking to each other at the right time, and the industry really awakened at the right time, but I think that now it’s a time that’s not necessarily just to be a business, and as I said, it’s not just to be about counting numbers for quantifying how many times you do yoga a week. This is truly about empowering people to feel really good in their body, and to know their body in a whole new body. That’s really the goal of this product.

Nadi X NY Launch 2017

At this point, Gelardi opened the floor to audience questions.

Q. Where did this idea even come from?

W: So for those of you who don’t know the full story of the company, we actually started with vibrating knickers for couples in long-distance relationships. So, I knew the technology existed, which I think helps your creativity. And then, I was a yoga practicer, I am a yoga practicer, but I’m not that good. And so I, in fact, need the guidance. I was that person in the class desperate to be touched and desperate for corrections, because in New York, sometimes you’re in a class of 100 people. I wasn’t getting the attention I deserved, and so I wanted to build something that would give me the attention that I think I deserve!

Q: When can I buy the sports bra?

W: The sports bra has two features, it reminds you to bring your shoulders back and down. I’m sure you’ll see in yoga, people do this (Whitehouse scrunched her shoulders up near her ears) all the time. In fact, people do this throughout life, and the sports bra will be available in about a month and a half. It also has a meditation feature, which to me is one of the most delightful things. You can time, whether you want five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and it will guide you with inhales and exhales down your body. And you can also set it to a full guided meditation all the way from your ankles, knees, hips, all the way.

Nadi X NY Launch 2017
Q: How does it know when you’re doing the move right, and how does it tell you when you’re wrong?

W: So the sensors are built into the pants, in fact, the pants I’m wearing right now—and you can come and feel me up ‘cause everyone else has—they’re talking to each other in real time, and because they’re constantly saying “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here,” they know the shapes that exist with these yoga poses. Then the feedback is given to you with directional vibration, so it feels like a grounding down, or a lifting up, or a rotating in the hips.

Nadi X NY Launch 2017
Wearable X Will be launching Men’s collection in December 2017

Q: When will you make them for men?

W: The plan is to be launching Mens in December.

Priced $299, you can now shop Nadi X. Want to learn more? Read up on Wearable X at FashNerd.com. What’s next? Well, Billie Whitehouse will be taking part in Wear It Berlin where she will be giving a keynote on Thursday 8th June 2017.

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