Helping girls conquer the world with STEM … and just the right pair of shoes
“We asked hundreds of girls the question, ‘Do you want to be an engineer?’ The majority said, ‘What’s that?’ or ‘No way!’ Our goal is to ask that question to a room full of girls and get them to say, ‘Yes!’”
Longtime friends Alexa Fleischman and Lauren Wallace are on a mission to make STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) more attractive and relevant to girls between the ages of 6 and 12. As women who were unexpectedly thrust into technical careers, Fleischman and Wallace were surprised to find in their 20s that they had an untapped passion for STEM — and a particularly steep learning curve compared to their male counterparts who had majored in STEM fields in college.
While both women went on to have successful STEM-related careers, they wondered why they had gone two decades thinking it simply wasn’t for them.
“We looked back to our 8-year-old selves and wondered what would’ve made engineering and math seem more cool, interesting, and relevant?” said Fleischman.
Their answer is Savvy Society, a company they founded in 2014 with the goal of getting young girls excited about STEM by tying it into fashion. Girls use Autodesk’s simple 3D modeling tool, Tinkercad, to design shoe accessories known as Savvy Swirls, which are then shared on social media and uploaded to their website. The most popular designs are 3D printed and sold by Savvy Society each month.
Fleischman and Wallace, who are bringing Savvy Society to the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center as a pop-up store this November, sat down with us to talk more about the importance of making STEM pertinent to the way young girls live and learn:
What were the challenges you encountered with STEM in your own careers?
Wallace: I went to Babson College and studied entrepreneurship and marketing. When I graduated, I found myself in a technical operations and finance role at JP Morgan & Chase. I looked around and realized there weren’t a lot of other women there. I started thinking about how much I enjoyed my work and how not enough women were participating in all these interesting conversations. I wondered, “Why weren’t women interested in these fields at a younger age?
Fleischman: I was a communications major at Boston college and I was recruited at a career fair by tech giant EMC. I thought I’d wind up in corporate marketing or PR, but I found out I was joining their business unit and my job was to translate between engineering and sales about product features. I ended up having to go through engineering boot camp — I read all these intimidating textbooks about the ins and outs of data storage. I was totally overwhelmed and thought I needed to find a new job.
But the more I dove into the technology, the more I realized I loved it. EMC made it a point to make sure I always had a female mentor, because nine out of ten times, I was the only girl in the room. I felt very behind, which was frustrating. I spent Saturday nights reading data storage textbooks. I was passionate enough about it to put in the hours, but what happens to women who don’t have mentors or get overwhelmed?
How did you get the idea for Savvy Society?
Wallace: We talked to hundreds of girls about what interests them most, and the answer we got was shoes. They like fashion — glitzy fashion — so we worked backwards to figure out the best way to integrate this with STEM learning.
Fleischman: We went in with an open mind. We weren’t sure what our product was going to be — we just knew our audience. We asked them open-ended questions like, “What’s your ideal birthday gift? If you went shopping for best friend, what would you get?” Based on what they were telling us about their favorite consumer products and experiences, we learned they liked to personalize and collect. Girls 6–12 are very smart, opinionated consumers, which was great for us in terms of finding out what they like.
What kind of response have you been getting?
Wallace: We’ve been getting a great response. We’re actually collaborating with the Girl Scouts for one of the Style Labs in December. They’re as excited as we are about getting girls exposed to cutting edge technology at an early age.
Fleischman: Feedback from moms, in particular, has been great. They actually flat out told us, “Please do shoes — not something that’ll get left at school.” Apparently girls are finicky about shoe shopping, and this is something moms are willing to pull the credit card out for. Our shoes are basic flats with an attachment device, so girls can click on or off their own personal emblems.
But also, nationwide, people understand there’s a gender gap in STEM. They’re excited that we’re using 3D printing — this cutting edge technology — to do something about it.
Come visit the Savvy Society pop-up store at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco (Store hours are Monday — Friday, 11am-6pm, from November 16th through the end of the year at 505 Howard St.) Savvy Society will have shoes and swirls available for sale, along with a station where visitors can learn how their technology works.
Savvy Society will be offering four Style Labs on December 5th and 12th where girls can learn how to create and print their own 3D designs. Register to attend below:
The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is a San Francisco-based non-profit that educates, innovates, and connects current and aspiring entrepreneurs. We provide access to quality resources, including mentors, training, and networking.