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How Technology Will Make You a Better Yogi

A conversation with
WearableX CEO Billie Whitehouse

by Bibi Deitz

October 11, 2017


Have you ever wondered if you’re doing yoga “right”? In class, a good teacher will help you adjust if you’re not in alignment. But when you’re practicing at home, how can you know for sure if your back is extended properly in downward dog, or your leg is bent correctly in half-moon pose?

You can’t — and that’s where Wearable X comes in.

A tech company bringing innovation to wellness, Wearable X recently unveiled Nadi X, a line of yoga pants that come outfitted with high-tech sensors that can recognize different poses and help yogis find the perfect flow.

We spoke to Wearable X co-founder and CEO Billie Whitehouse about their cutting-edge products, working at the intersection of fashion, technology and design, and the challenges of being a woman in today’s world of tech.

The Assemblage: What made you interested in speaking at The Assemblage NoMad?

Billie Whitehouse: I’m super excited about The Assemblage and how Wearable X can be involved; from a community perspective, there’s a really amazing sensibility about the importance of bringing people together in physical space and connecting to a community; which as someone who designs in the digital and physical world, is something I often think about. Secondly, building an environment where people feel safe to experiment is important not only for us, but for people who want to come and try our products. We are interested in both education and the playful nature of what wellness can really be about, since how we define wellness does not have a single answer. There is no “well” and “non-well,” so it’s nice to be able to come and explore, and hopefully get great feedback from the community.

TA: Wearable X makes a bunch of really cool wearable garments that also inform your body and positioning, and you just launched this yoga line, Nadi X. Can you talk a little bit about what the experience of wearing your yoga gear is like?

BW: Wearable X and Nadi X sit at the intersection between pushing forward into the future and glancing back at a true tradition, so we see ourselves at the intersection of those two worlds. Nadi means “flow” in Sanskrit, so it is a yoga line that is built to give the wearer the ability to find their perfect flow. Nadi X allows for an ancient practice like yoga to be integrated, quite physically, with electronics and software.

The yoga pants have a Bluetooth device and five sensors embedded in them. The sensors know and understand what pose the user is in in real time and can provide feedback on that pose using gentle vibrations, which feel a little bit like a massage and a guided flow. It is about guiding intention in that pose; it’s not about saying right and wrong because in yoga there is no right and wrong.

Every person’s body changes daily, affected by variables like travel, sleep and diet. So, every pose has a sequence of what we like to call “songs” on the body. It’s written quite literally with the intensity and frequency that changes like music does. Whether it’s a grounding down sensation, which could be more like a purr, or a lifting up, which could be more like a pulse, these sensations on the body are all very different and have been tested with hundreds of different yogis to make sure that they not only give a sensation that would reflect what an instructor would say to you, but also that it just has to feel nice.

The pants have to remind the wearer: “Turn on that muscle, or ground down on that leg, or lift up a little bit more, or even rotate out.” Those subtle gestures in yoga are really important. That’s what the pants are built for.

TA: Right now it’s just pants — do you want to expand the line?

BW: Absolutely. The intention is to launch a new tech-enhanced bra by the end of 2017, of which we already have multiple prototypes, as well as to launch a second version of the bra in 2018. Ultimately, we plan to expand to other areas of wellness. The bra has a meditation feature, so it has guided inhales and exhales on the body. That’s something that I built for my own meditation practice — sometimes I just forget to breathe, or I get confused about my timing when I’m concentrating too hard. The feature is just that gentle, subtle vibration around your chest — up and down — to remind you. Another feature reminds to roll your shoulders back and down, which is something we are all guilty of, whether we’re sitting in a desk or actually practicing.

Then, Wearable X will work into running and cycling. Nadi X is one of the more intelligent products on the market because of the amount of sensors it has. If I’m going to go down the nerdy path then I’d say we’ve all had to become data snobs, and the funny thing is that data has become a new currency for people. But there’s an issue in that: we place so much value on data, and it’s all crap. It’s all dirty data. It’s such a shame that we’ve put so much value on something that isn’t a reflection of how we live. In the wellness space, that reflection is what we really want to see. We want to see a beautiful reflection of how we live. Yes, digitally and physically, but something that actually makes us feel different and feel good. That really is our long-term goal.

TA: Do you do yoga? What inspired you to get into this wellness space? 

BW: I’ve been practicing yoga diligently for six years. I started when I was 18, but I wouldn’t say I had a dedicated practice. I stepped into the wellness community just before I moved to America [from Australia]. I’d started meditating a lot more and I had some true moments of clarity and revelations. I would normally go for a run and meditate halfway through because I really enjoy the sensation of energy flowing through my body as part of the meditation, which is not necessarily what everyone else is looking for. With the change of what was happening in the industry and the growth of the wellness community in general, it just kind of made sense. It was multiple things aligning to help make this decision.

TA: Do you feel like wellness is becoming more accessible now?

BW: I do believe so, yes. There has been a slight democratization of this idea of wellness. We can’t make it this just an East Coast-West Coast, New York-L.A. thing. It really needs to be something that can be accessible for Middle America. And, yes, there is a trickle-down effect and it takes time, but I’m not sure that we’ve solved all those problems yet.

TA: You’re a female leader in tech, which is a powerful position to be in today. What has that been like? Have you always worked in the tech industry?

BW: No, definitely not. You could potentially put me in the space of soft technologies, but I’ve only been building high technology products like this for the past five years. I’m a designer first and foremost, and I want that to be the lead thought system for how we create products.

Design, for me, comes from studying people, and when you look at it from an anthropological view, you see so many different things. Yes, technology does evolve, and it gets faster and cheaper and sometimes scary for some people, but if a designer were to build something it would be very different than if an engineer were to build it.

I’m a fashion designer by training. I did my Master’s in Italy; that place puts so much value on history and slowing down. That, in combination with my fashion heritage — my mom started a design school in Australia — allowed me to grow up in the industry. In my tenth year of school I interned at a fashion house, and afterwards said there was no way I would stay in fashion. I hate it, it’s too hard, I said. Of course, I ended up combining it with something even harder, and now I’m delighted with my challenges every day. For the first time, I do find myself being comfortable with the discomfort. I would like to revel in that a little more.

TA: Can you talk about your experiences as a woman in this industry?

BW: The first interview I ever did with my [male] co-founder was for a product we built in Australia called Fundawear, which were vibrating knickers built for couples in long-distance relationships. We did an interview with a very public platform, which I should never name, and I was cut out of the interview entirely. At the time, and I think this is my coping mechanism, I put it down to the fact that I was designer and not an engineer, and they were telling an engineering story potentially. Regardless, one can’t exist without the other.

Since then, because my co-founder was so aware of it, he’s really pushed me into the forefront of having a voice in the space, and I value him for it. I do sit on a board with a majority of men, and sometimes that is really challenging. I sometimes fight fire with fire. I’m pretty equal parts masculine and feminine in energy, so when I’m met with really masculine energy and should probably respond in my feminine, I often come back with, “Please realize you can’t talk to a group of adults that you respect that way.” I am learning that there is a way to respond in softness and still be really strong.