When form meets function: Smart accessory startup wins inaugural QUT CEA fashion hackathon

Startup Weekend Fashion

Sarah Nelson (fourth from right) and the Electra team with the Startup Weekend Fashion judges. Source: Supplied.

This weekend, tech innovation clashed with cutting edge design, as a slew of aspiring fashion startup founders combined their creativity to compete at the inaugural Startup Weekend Fashion.

Run by Techstars and hosted by Queensland University of Technology‘s Creative Enterprise Australia, the event saw teams creating business ideas within 54 hours, before pitching them to a panel of judges.

It was intended to give competitors the chance to connect with potential investors, mentors and influencers, while also taking the opportunity to bounce ideas around and connect with like-minded collaborators.

The top prize went to Electra, headed up by founder Sarah Nelson. With a degree in multimedia design and a background as a software developer, Nelson realised she wanted to do something more creative, so launched a 3D-printed and laser-cut jewellery brand.

Now, she’s working on embedding technology into her designs.

Her team took home the top prize at Startup Weekend Fashion with tech-enabled jewellery, allowing the wearer to choose the colour they wanted their accessory to be. An app would also be able to automatically suggest a colour, depending on the user’s outfit.

“The fashion scene is an untouched market for innovation,” Nelson says.

While there are 3D-printed and high-tech products on the runway, “I’m trying to bring that down to the everyday consumer,” she says.

Eventually, she will move into products with Internet of Things capabilities, comparing her vision to a Fitbit, “but more aesthetic”.

Her products will still primarily be accessories, but “with a bit of cool functionality”, she says.

“It’s not so much to solve one particular problem,” she adds, “but to provide a platform where lots of different problems can be solved”.

A big first step

For Nelson, winning Startup Weekend Fashion is an endorsement for the business, and “a really good, big step”.

“It’s the first public recognition that I’ve had for the idea that I’ve worked on for a year,” she says.

However, she’s also already feeling the pressure.

“It’s also a lot of responsibility, to actually execute on the idea and make it something really amazing,” she says.

Nelson has been working on Electra for about a year, she says, but only launched the website a matter of months ago. Now, she’s working on the business full-time and plans to join an accelerator program to achieve the next step of growth.

As well as starting to produce integrated technology pieces, she’s starting to work on 3D printing using recycled plastics, and she’s also developing a partnership with Brisbane charity Liberty Enterprises to provide work for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

“Particularly for women who have kids, or are divorcees, it can be difficult to get back into the job market after a break,” Nelson says.

Through partnering with the charity, she hopes to help women get back into work, providing a basic income, while keeping manufacturing in Australia.

Joining an accelerator will help Electra to scale, and to get these projects off the ground, Nelson says, but it will also help her to grow as a founder.

Up until now, she has been focused on developing the product and getting the website up and running, now will turn her focus to communications and marketing, and developing her own leadership skills.

“I see myself as a designer, but starting a business forces you to play all those different roles, that’s been quite challenging having to make decisions in every single area,” she says.

“I’m clearly not going to be amazing at everything to start with. I’m learning how to work with other people and communicate the idea to other people, deciding what to delegate and not to delegate,” she adds.

Nelson advises other aspiring startup founders to get out into the community and to talk to as many people as possible. She’s also learnt that when you work with other people, “the magic really happens”, she says.

“So, developing those skills is really important, and being comfortable with being really open about it and what you’re doing,” she adds.

“There’s lots of support out there, it’s just a matter of accessing it and reaching out to it.”

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