Team photos for House of Anesi and SKIIN

Toronto-based wearable tech startups changing the undergarment game

(By: Angela McLean)

Get ready to say goodbye to your uncomfortable bras and boring underwear. Thanks to their advancements in the booming wearable market, two Toronto-based startups have made undergarments that are personalized, forward-thinking and, most importantly, feel like they aren’t even there.

Enter House of Anesi, a startup based out of Ryerson’s Fashion Zone that is revolutionizing the bra. Their Anesi bra, which officially launched on Kickstarter July 31, adapts to changes in breast size to fit better and last longer. It does so through innovative engineering technology and “smart” materials.

“It started as just an idea in a hackathon and from there we thought it was actually a product that the market needs,” said Leen Al-Taher, who co-founded the startup with her Ryerson peers Stephania Stefanakou and Jacob John.

House of Anesi co-founders Leen Al-Taher and Stefania Stefanakou
Two of House of Anesi’s three co-founders, Leen Al-Taher and Stefania Stefanakou, at the Fashion Zone at Ryerson University. (Photo credit: Angela McLean/RUtv News)

Al-Taher and her female team members were unsatisfied with their bras. The straps and underwire would often dig into their skin, causing discomfort, skin marks and back pain.

They soon realized that they were not alone in their experience.

“We always ask people what they wish their bra did for them and a lot of people answer ‘I wish I would feel like I’m not wearing my bra,’” said Al-Taher.

With that goal in mind, Al-Taher, Stefanakou and John mixed their fashion and engineering backgrounds to make the most comfortable bra possible with extra features to enhance the deal.

Woman modelling an Anesi bra
A woman modelling the Anesi bra. (Photo courtesy of House of Anesi)

As any startup team will tell you, it can take years of work to get to a point where the product matches the initial vision. The first Anesi bra, tested in the summer of 2016, wasn’t much different from a regular bra.

“For the people that were trying the bra, the bras weren’t fitting them nicely because we didn’t have the proper fabrics and the first underwire prototypes were quite bad,” Stefanakou said.

That’s what turned Stefanakou onto the idea of 3D printing the underwire for the bra.

The result, used in the market-ready Anesi bra, was a flexible and conformable underwire that moves with wearers rather than lying flat and stiff on the body. This adaptability is one of Anesi’s biggest selling features – the bra can expand up to two cup sizes and two band sizes, fitting a woman through weight loss or gain.

“You don’t see the feature, you just get the benefit out of it,” Stefanakou said.

This graphic breaks down the different design features of the Anesi bra, including the cooling gel straps and antimicrobial textiles.
The Anesi bra makes use of the latest and greatest innovations in “smart” materials and wearable technology. (Photo courtesy of House of Anesi)

The hidden benefits of House of Anesi’s applied science stretch beyond the underwire. The Anesi bra is made with antimicrobial and moisture-wicking textiles that extend the lifespan of the garment and make it more breathable and comfortable than a standard bra. By design, it’s meant to act like a “second skin,” says Stefanakou.

“Any company that’s tried to make any wearable technology where you can see it, it gets adopted only by innovators and early adopters and then it’s dropped after six months,” she said. “In order for wearable tech to get out in the mass market, it cannot be visible and it has to be passive, as long as people know that it’s been made with some type of emerging technology and it can benefit them in some way but it doesn’t make them feel like a robot.”

Evidently, people are fans of the idea. In less than a week, the team has raised over $25,000 toward their $65,000 goal on Kickstarter. Their early success only serves as additional proof of the growing desire for this kind of “responsive” clothing and it’s a trend that the industry is backing.

SKIIN team at CES 2018
Tony Chahine (second from left) and members of the Myant and SKIIN teams at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2018 in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Myant)

Tony Chahine, the CEO of Toronto-based apparel and textile manufacturer Myant, says the second skin appeal inspired his company’s newest consumer brand SKIIN.

Like House of Anesi, Myant wanted to incorporate emerging technological trends into everyday clothing. SKIIN’s form-fitting bras and underwear have sensors knitted into the fabric that can track what’s happening in your body – your heart rate, breathing patterns, hydration levels and more – and allow consumers to respond accordingly. The sensors communicate with a mobile app using Bluetooth technology to provide the data readings.

Consumers can make use of the information to recognize when they may need medical attention or should seek medical advice.

“It is extremely important that the technology be passive because it is the only way we can get a person to use it in a continuous manner and have reliable data,” Chahine said.

The SKIIN garments as seen on product models. (Photo courtesy of Myant)

Whereas some garments provide a specific data reading, each SKIIN garment features several capabilities. Chahine says that the underwear, for example, will be able to detect stress levels, sleep quality and activity levels and they are working to have the garments connect with in-home technologies. Picture your Nest thermostat adjusting itself based on your body temperature or Spotify putting on a playlist that matches your mood.

Chahine says the aim is not to change people’s everyday habits, but instead to improve them.

“It is time to use [this technology] to augment our wellbeing,” he said.

Following their expected fall launch, SKIIN hopes to expand the reach of their technology with wearable tech leggings, sleep masks, socks and bed sheets.

As House of Anesi’s Al-Taher puts it, both startups pride themselves on offering undergarments that are mass produced yet give a tailored fit to the customer. That observation is reflective of wearable technology’s purpose – increased comfort and personalization for every target consumer.

(Header photos courtesy of House of Anesi and Myant)

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