In the run-up to national women’s equality day Women’s Day on the 8th March 2018, we are paying homage to 7 women who have made a name for themselves in the world of technology. We are honouring women leaders in technology, who are quietly making a difference in their field. In this series, the women in tech industry personally share their experiences and challenges while also giving us a glimpse into the lessons that they have learnt along the way. In her own words, Rachel Freire shares her story.
My career path is quite diverse. I began as a fine art painter and signwriter; I have built sets and interactive environments. I am a self-taught pattern cutter. As a self-taught person in most things, I used to often suffer from imposter syndrome. I have worked in costume and feature film, and in 2009 I launched a conceptual fashion label that operates as a bespoke atelier.
Currently, I also focus on developing a sustainable manufacturing process for a product called MI.MU Gloves, which grew from a personal project of award-winning musician Imogen Heap. Initially, Imogen approached me as a fashion designer, to commission an outfit and a harness to house an early version of the gloves. Fusing past experience, performance design, garment technology and experimental material design, I am now a textile designer on the MI.MU Gloves project where I work quite a bit with wearables and e-textiles.
I see myself as an artist, more than a designer. I enjoy experimentation and pushing boundaries because I believe that clothing is such a powerful expression of the self and everybody can relate to it. In new fields like wearables, the lines between disciplines are blurring, and collaboration is becoming essential. Working in wearables and e-textiles involves new ways of thinking, and this becomes a strength. We are all exploring uncharted territory together. This is what draws me to technology. I feel fortunate that I am technically minded and interested in practically applied objects. It means I work cross-discipline and that my work in wearable tech happens organically.
The diversity of my work has given me invaluable experience in cross-discipline problem solving, which I think is the most useful thing I bring to a project. In more traditional and established fields such as fashion or film, it is frowned upon to break the chain of command, even to offer a solution, which boggles my mind. Now those instincts and behaviours are a tremendous strength for me, as is thinking outside of the box. I have a strong constitution from doing 30-hour shifts before fashion shows where you must be able to work super precisely and deliver, even when sleep deprived! Such a crazy work ethic is invaluable in the world of tech startups as it becomes instinctive to go the extra mile and strive for excellence. I do sleep these days though.
As artists and designers, we have a responsibility to look at the impact of our work in the real world. Imagining and realising positive futures and exploring new methods is exciting and motivating. Working in technology, I am passionate about innovation. I believe that through collaboration we are required for us to progress technologically.
When it comes to women in the field of technology, I am a disruptive thinker who is quite frustrated that we still need to work so hard. At MI.MU Gloves it is a majority female company. This is quite unusual. I would love us to be one of many, not an exception to the rule. Large hierarchical organisations are still white male-dominated, but that is just fallout from an ailing past and is beginning to change. Now we need job descriptions and wages to follow suit. Famous women in technology have historically only been hidden behind the perceived achievements of men. We were always there. In a world of new technology and attribution systems such as the blockchain, I think we will see a more transparent reflection of reality and credit where it is due.
Another way to deal with the unfairness is to filter out negativity and push through. Everyone’s experience as a minority is different, be it gender, class or ethnicity. I have personally experienced class bias in my career more than sexism, but such things are ingrained and related. We need to make sure that innovative women in tech are at the forefront of new emerging disciplines to ensure equality. The field of wearables needs the intuitive influence of women.
As women continue to break into the field of technology, they need to be as active and visible as possible. Championing equality for all genders and inspiring more girls to take an interest in tech from an early age is the change we need. I would never have been encouraged into what was seen as a traditionally masculine career when I was young. As our new disciplines grow, our generation has the responsibility of changing attitudes and cementing equality in these fields.
When I think about the most significant transformation in technology, I feel fortunate to have been born when I did. This has meant that I have experienced the explosion of the internet during my most formative years. This has given me and my generation a fantastic perspective on the emergence of technology. For me what really hit me was music: file sharing and iPods. At first, it was this great thing which made life more comfortable, but I soon missed the thrill of discovery. Instant availability came at the price of magic and ritual. Interaction changed. I guess that’s when I realised how vital stories and objects could be. I think my strongest motivation is searching for solutions. We see similar disruptions in other fields and now have the experience to channel them positively.
I think that the next transformation in the tech industry is one that I cannot wait for- a replacement for the sewing machine. Garment technology hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. I think CNC knitting, 3D printing and bio-textiles will be the next big leap and a complete revolution in garments as we know them. I’m wondering if I will live to see a world where sewing machines are consigned to museums as curiosities. I love my sewing machines, but I also love progress.