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Photographs by Emma Foreman
VINAYA is a London-based research lab and design studio creating technology products that help you feel better. ALTRUIS is a collection of designer wearable technology by VINAYA that helps improve digital balance. The Bluetooth-enabled jewellery allows you to filter smartphone notifications and receive subtle vibrations whenever you wish to be notified. ALTRUIS lets you customise which contacts, calls, messages and alerts deserve your attention via an iOs app. Distinguish ‘Profiles’, set ‘Secret Words’ and customise vibrations. Currently, the app supports text, email, WhatsApp, calendar and alarms. Manage stress by reducing smartphone dependence. Increase productivity by minimizing distractions. Practice presence by breaking bad digital habits. Stay connected, not distracted. We spoke to the founder of VINAYA, Kate Unsworth to find out how the brand began.
What lead you to create VINAYA?
Before starting VINAYA in 2013, I was working in a corporate environment with clients across the world. Because of the nature of the job, I found myself being ‘dialled in’ at all hours of the day. I was connected to my email 16+ hours a day. I never felt fully present in any situation and never fully comprehended my emotions to their full extent. I went cold turkey with a two week digital detox, which led me to contemplate what it meant to be happy in my life. I realised the answer was being surrounded by inspirational people, being creative and learning more about myself. I set out to find more digital balance in everyday life, so I could create space for more meaningful things - but that’s not easy to do in our fast-paced London lives. I needed a tool to let me take back control over my devices and prioritise how I gave my attention to the digital sphere. At the time, I realised this tool didn’t yet exist, and so the idea for ALTRUIS was born. I found two incredibly talented co-founders, and we started building VINAYA, a technology design studio creating beautifully-designed technology products that can help us achieve balance in the digital age.
I’ve been into technology ever since I was 15 and convinced my dad to teach me to rewire my own sound systems. I had dreams of becoming a DJ. It was this obsession for music that actually drove me to pursue a degree in mathematics, as I wanted to understand frequencies on a deeper level. At university, my eyes were opened to world of code, and I discovered that I could use technology as a creative tool to express myself in new ways. After graduating from University of Edinburgh and some short stints in advertising and publishing, I recognised I needed to do something more technical to satisfy the analytical side of my brain. So I trained as a Technology Consultant at Accenture, which led me to travel to India and learn to code Java. But I didn’t particularly feel at home in the corporate world. It was a great early stage training, and ultimately it was what inspired me to start my own company. Our team is now made up for 35 product designers, technologists, engineers, strategists and researchers and we’re based in our own “house” in Shoreditch.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I’ve always had an eye for clean and simple design. I’m not a fashion designer - I see myself as a technologist, who believes technology should be designed beautifully and seamlessly.
What have been the highest and lowest points on your journey so far?
My low point was when I was on the verge of a burn out. I felt totally stressed out and out of control of my happiness, until I realised my own digital habits were to blame.
There have been quite a few high points since starting VINAYA, but 2016 is definitely our year. We don’t really make small plans, and what’s going on within the walls of our new VINAYA House in Shoreditch is incredibly exciting.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
ALTRUIS was inspired by clean cut minimal design drawn from Scandinavian influence. We’re soon releasing more collections, so stay tuned.
Do you ever struggle to stay inspired?
I think the opposite might be true. I’m often told by my team to ‘reign it in’ as I get carried away while brainstorming, and am inclined to having existential crises that offset new waves of inspiration.
Where is your go-to meeting spot?
The Ace Hotel lobby in Shoreditch was my go-to, as I live and work in the neighbourhood. However, since moving in our own 3-storey office in Rivington street, the top living room floor of our “VINAYA House” has by far become my favourite spot. I’ve started inviting friends to sit in on our team meetings, give impromptu workshops, or take over the DJ equipment on Friday evenings when we’re all hanging out after a long week. It feels like an extended family.
How would you describe your customer base?
Our customers are those who live intentionally and mindfully, or are seeking new ways to do so. She’s someone who leads a demanding lifestyle, but appreciates the important things in life like real human connection, being the best version of yourself, or dancing the night away. Her smartphone plays an important role in her life, but she has a strong desire to disconnect and be more present.
Is there anyone you would love to see wearing your designs?
Arianna Huffington, Michelle Obama or Jessica Alba.
What are the morals you run your brand by?
We’ve succeeded in creating a culture where nothing is mandatory, everyone’s voice is heard, and where we teach each other what we know. I see our brand in the same vein - we want to evolve our brand as one that is authentic to the ideas and people who are building it, because they’re pretty cool.
Do you have a mentor?
I’ve learned a lot from Carmen Busquets, who’s an investor at VINAYA.
What apps keep you sane?
Soundcloud and since recently, Slack. Email is not my strongest suit.
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
Lately, I’ve been wearing our ALTRUIS Phoenix collection, which comes out later this year. I’m a big fan of the double leather strap bracelet with a little more of a ‘rebel’ flair. I’m always wearing at least one piece of ALTRUIS jewellery paired with my other jewellery, and it never fails to start the conversation at a party.
What’s the biggest style mistake you’ve ever made?
Wearing something that doesn't feel like me, pretending to be someone I'm not. You always look best when you feel yourself.
Is there another designer whose work you particularly admire?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
People won't remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
What drew you to Wolf & Badger?
Despite being an international team, London is in our DNA as a brand. Wolf & Badger is iconic for emerging London designers. Plus, we love all the juices at Raw Press.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
We’ll have had a few big designer collaborations under the belt and be recognised around the world as a go-to hub for understanding how technology can make us feel better.
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