School of Business Alumna Offers Consumers a Fusion of Fashion and Technology
Technology is ever changing and the impact of its application to our daily lives is immeasurable. Before the nineties, who could have foreseen what a difference the Internet would make on the world? Who knew that photography would move nearly all digital? What about music sharing?
We never know when the next technology trend will hit and which will be the one to take us all by storm, but one alumna of George Mason University’s School of Business has an idea that may change the way you look at fashion and technology.
When you get dressed in the morning, you often pull out your clothes, gather your accessories, and try to match those socks with those pants. If you’re a woman, you know the challenges of coordinating the bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, as well. It can be quite expensive to acquire the many different jewelry pieces to accompany all of your outfits.
But Rima Ruhman, MS Technology Management ’09, may have just the right technological solution for that problem. She recently received a patent for her idea to create Techstyle Screen Gems, a sensor-embedded epaper jewelry that wearers can customize by color and pattern through a variety of mechanisms including a USB cable, wirelessly, an embedded camera, or maybe even an iPhone app. Bracelets, earrings, and necklaces can be transformed from plaid to paisley—or any one of hundreds of patterns or colors that wearers might choose from in a library of pre-uploaded images—in a matter of seconds.
Ruhman says, “Techstyle Screen Gems is just what the jewelry industry needs: a fully personalizable piece of jewelry that is neither just a static piece of jewelry nor a technology, but a fusion of both fashion and technology that will interest, excite, and attract tech savvy young consumers.”
Imagine this. You recently purchased a very unique dress for a special occasion, one that’s colorful and vibrant but you are unsure of what accessories to pair with it. Now, what if you could match that fabric or that pattern exactly with a ring, bracelet, earrings, or charm? Wouldn’t that be the best accessory? Well, that is what Screen Gems can offer consumers. You would have the flexibility to create jewelry that was unique to you, and you could change it as often as you change your outfit.
At the turn of the 20th century, most costume jewelry was made to look like the real thing, but in 1920 Coco Chanel revolutionized the industry by offering jewelry that matched the Chanel clothing line rather than matching precious stones. This began the trend that costume jewelry should match fashion.
Today costume jewelry can cost even more than precious stones. And individuals are always looking for ways to personalize their jewelry. From Pandora’s customized charm bracelet where there are never two of the same, to photo websites like Shutterfly selling necklaces and bracelets with personalized photograph charms—the options seem endless, but Screen Gems would offer a new take on both of these.
“I see this as taking a step further for the 21st century what Coco Chanel did with costume jewelry,” Ruhman says. “Screen Gems brings a new creativity, individuality, and affordability to costume jewelry.” And the best part is, individuals can change the jewelry over and over.
And this technology is not limited to just jewelry. It can be applied to fabrics as well. Jim Wolfe, entrepreneur-in- residence and assistant professor of management at George Mason University’s School of Business says, “There are technologies and then there are technologies. And this particular technology has the potential to begin a tsunami in the way that jewelry and fabrics are made and what they do.”
He adds, “There are technologies that are an advancement— but don’t get people too excited. But this is an advancement that can touch so many different areas.”
Ruhman is optimistic that if she can find the right funding, this new product has the potential to hit the market and take off. And although her business is small (just herself right now), she has collaborated with classmates and numerous units across Mason to help make this product a reality.
“Teamwork and leadership classes taught me that if you believe in something, you have to follow through with it with passion and motivation,” Ruhman says of the Technology Management degree program. Ruhman first presented her idea with a team of fellow Technology Management students as part of their end of year Capstone presentation. This final project won first place in the business competition, and she considers it her most rewarding experience in the program, along with graduating summa cum laude.
When asked about her experiences at Mason, Ruhman says, “It is more than just a school, it is an entire new world of opportunity.”
Ruhman also worked with Mason’s Office of Technology Transfer to acquire a patent and Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering to create a prototype. She purchased supplies for an undergraduate engineering class, and students created a prototype using epaper, which captures static images, does not require a battery to display, and is virtually indestructible. In addition, Professor Wolfe’s MBA students evaluated Techstyle Gems Inc. for their final project, writing up a paper about the company and offering Ruhman suggestions for strengthening her business and tips on how she could utilize free resources at the university. Rima said, “This network of people [at Mason] has been amazing in helping me through this entire process.”
And so you may be wondering where Ruhman got this idea. Well it all started in the summer of 2008 in a marketing class at Mason. Ruhman was struck with this idea as part of an assignment to come up with an innovative IT product that would be compelling and fulfill a new market need. Techstyle Screen Gems was born in that moment, and the idea hasn’t left Ruhman’s mind since. Although working full time as an IT services research manager for IDC, she hopes to one day make this idea a reality.
Techstyle Inc. was established in late 2009. Ruhman is currently seeking funding from angel investors or venture capitalists to create a market-ready prototype she can bring to jewelers. “I would like to mass manufacture the product with the help of a jeweler who can use their expertise to make it look beautiful and the help of an engineer who can make it user friendly,” she says.
When asked what advice she would give to School of Business students, she says, “Take advantage of the connections you make at school. Don't forget there are people out there who will believe in your ideas and help you make them a reality. Life is short— make your mark in the way you feel the most passion. That goes for both the students who are about to graduate and those already in the workforce.”
To learn more about Techstyle Screen gems, visit www.techstylegems.com.