It’s common knowledge that technology tends to be a male-dominated industry, although the times are slowly changing. Women make up just 23 percent of New Zealand’s tech sector, which is less than one fifth of the total industry.
Amelia Diggle is one of these women, who works by day designing chatbots at Ambit AI, an artificial intelligence chatbot platform company. By night, she sells jewellery (or what she dubs ‘wearable tech’) through her company Human Interface (HI) Jewellery. It champions women who are a part of New Zealand’s tech sector by using 3D printing to create fine gold, silver and titanium feminine jewellery pieces that can be worn as a badge of honour and reference their roles via tech-related objects, such as cursors, toggles and clouds.
Diggle says the idea came to her when she was in a metalsmith course attempting to design jewellery pieces after a day spent deep in UI design pushing pixels around a page. The jewellery line is intended for likeminded women in the tech sector, as it cleverly weaves together her tech-related passions – UI design, jewellery design and 3D CAD design – but she says it’s also a way for people that are not so familiar with new technology to connect with it.
“HI Jewellery’s designs are inspired by software and interfaces – melding fashion and technology to create a new style of ‘wearable tech’,” Diggle says.
“We read about, and see, online all this amazing new technology: 3D printing, AI, robots, virtual reality, but for the majority of us, it’s almost impossible to touch or play with it unless we work in the industry, have lots of money or know someone who does. This also makes it extremely hard for us to understand what this new technology means to us, our health, our families, our jobs, our communities – to the world. Human Interface Jewellery enables everyone to own a piece of the latest technology, hence the name.”
As a user experience designer by trade, Diggle says she knew she had to first research whether people liked and wanted the product. So since inspiration struck, she’s been using social media as a testing ground and sharing sketches of her designs. The interest showed her the idea had legs, so HI Jewellery went into production – though it hasn’t quite become a full-time gig yet for her yet.
“As with user interface design, we sketch and test every concept before each is prototyped and refined,” Diggle says.
“We involve our community in every way we can, from testing, to voting to sampling. We’re dedicated to building great designs and connections and to being socially responsible. The ability to 3D print with metal, and especially precious metals (silver and gold) is so new. It’s really opening up new possibilities with not only the designs, but business systems too, as you can quickly customise a design and print to order – making the product both personalised and environmentally friendly.”
Diggle says one of the challenges she’s faced along the way is finding the right 3D printing manufacturers.
“3D printing was first invented in 1984, and has come such a long way since then. We’re now capable of printing human organs and limbs, rocket engine parts, car and aeroplane parts, entire five-storey concrete houses and metal bridges. So when I was approaching 3D printer operators with my jewellery designs, not many of them were interested in ‘lifestyle product’ – I don’t think earrings have much appeal to the engineers managing the 3D printing machines. It’s been a real journey finding high quality 3D printers who are willing to print my designs,’ she says.
Another interesting challenge she’s faced is she says there’s a stigma around 3D printing being “tacky”. Sometimes people are under the impression that 3D printed means it’s tacky, unfinished, rough or temporary.
“People have even told me not to mention that HI is 3D printed because it sounds kitsch,” she says, but the product line on display on its website and social media channels has proved them otherwise.
HI Jewellery now has its manufacturers secured and is at the scaling stage. A new design is being released each month in the range, like how a software application releases regular updates. The design choices are made based on customer feedback on social media to find out which will be the most popular before 3D modelling and prototyping is carried out.
March saw 3D printed computer icon earrings released, April saw computer cursor pendants, May was the toggle ring, while June’s release will be a kinetic necklace.
“The backlog is prioritised by popularity. I’m working on a loading spinner ring and necklace and some bracelets next, and now that I’ve got the production process working, I’m opening the range up for wholesale to retail shops, and expanding the offering to include a custom design service as requested by customers,” Diggle says.
She says there’s been a fantastic response to the product, especially from women who work in the tech sector.
“In a subtle way, the jewellery is a celebration for these women, giving them something feminine yet techy to wear as a symbol of their belonging in this male-dominated industry. We’ve also been sponsoring some NZ Women in tech groups to support the communities and brave ladies who are creating these networks. These incredible women are showing younger girls that this is an industry in which they are welcome in and there’s more than just coding to it!”
She has also had international interest in the product, and had to turn a start-up exhibition opportunity at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal in November.
“I entered thinking they wouldn’t be interested in a crazy Kiwi jeweller, and surprise, surprise – got accepted into the ALPHA programme, but I simply cannot afford to go at this stage.”
While the company is still in its infancy, Diggle is already looking ahead to the future. She says there’s two directions the company could head in: Incorporating precious stones into the designs, or creating jewellery that can be connected to the Internet of Things and sense other pieces around it.
Whatever the case, judging by rapid growth of New Zealand’s tech sector – there’s no shortage of potential customers.