I recently did the most obvious thing, after a lifetime avoiding business studies classes at school, I started my first company! Data Apparel sells clothing that is inspired by data on international development.
It is not obvious that a trajectory beginning with academic training in Physics, scientific research into social behaviour followed by data science for international development and social good would be followed by selling clothing. So a reasonable question would be; why do this?
The answer is twofold (to be completed in an upcoming post). Learning to be a good scientist requires, at some point, that you learn how to compress lots of work and complex ideas into a killer graphic to appear in a top journal or interactive visualisation to present to the world. These are single figures that can take days or weeks to get right. The familiar adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ continues to ring true even in the hallowed meeting rooms of the United Nations. In a world of increasing stimulation and distraction, visual representations draw your audience in to hear your story. So if you really want people to take notice of your work as a scientist, you have to get pretty good at visualisation. This was something that I learned over time.
I also recognised that there are lots of socially conscious people who recognise that they are lucky to be relatively healthy, safe and educated, but don’t know the best way to use that privilege to advocate for those less fortunate. People are complex, and trying to get them to engage with complex issues such as international development can be challenging; even when they are charitably minded. Indeed big organisations like Oxfam or UNICEF make great efforts and innovate tirelessly to do so.
I saw a gap for data visualisation to bridge the ethical, global citizen and the sometimes challenging topics they would like to engage with. Wearing Data Apparel clothing not only comes with the piece of mind of strict ethical sourcing and a donation to charity, but in a small way empowers the wearer to start a conversation. Our life expectancy design (below) tells a positive message of people living longer, healthier lives over time; but why has life expectancy increased? All our products ship with stylish inserts explaining the data behind the design, so when your friend asks you about the design on your chest you can have an informed conversation about the advances in maternal health and immunisation rates.
And so I began my first business venture with a strong sense of humility. Some people are born with sharp business acumen, some complete degrees and undertake MBAs and others simply hustle for years to learn the ropes. I haven’t done any of those things. So I wanted my first foray to have few moving parts and I definitely didn’t want to remortgage my house while I cut my teeth.
In the second part, I will talk about how ambitious tech startups founded by scientists aiming to change the world convinced me to keep things simple.