Natasha Williams is CEO of Impactwear.

Can you tell me about the wearable tech you've come up with? What does it do?

We've developed a garment that uses advanced material technology to provide impact protection to help prevent a fall-related hip fracture.

Where did the idea come from, and what was the genesis of the company?

Hip protection garments have been around for some years but they haven't been widely used because the products have generally been unattractive and uncomfortable; old-style hip protectors use hard shields or large bulky foam padding to provide protection.

I bought a company about six years ago that previously sold a hard hip protector, but we saw the need and opportunity to innovate. I was looking at what was going on in the global healthcare space and you could see a heap of trends on the horizon - an aging global population; a focus in the healthcare and insurance industries on prevention rather than providing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff; and the consumerisation of healthcare, with people using technology to manage their own health to keep active and living in their own homes for longer.

The problem with the old style hard hip protectors is not that they don't work, it's that people don't always want to use them because they can be bulky or uncomfortable or difficult to sleep in. So I said, well let's look at what's out there and design the perfect product.

So we took on an extensive product redevelopment project. What I wanted was what I called a 'hard soft material' and we started looking at materials technology available in New Zealand and around the world. I was very fortunate in my search to find a company in the US that had developed a new technology to deal with the exact issues we were facing, but in sports.

They sent me some samples and it was my hard soft material; soft, light, flexible and very thin - so it was comfortable to wear - but on impact it instantly stiffens for a brief moment to hugely reduce the force of the impact, so it becomes hard when you need it to.

Another thing that's amazing about this material is that it goes through the washing machine and dryer so you don't have to do anything special to launder it.

What kind of markets are there for this sort of technology? And where are you at in terms of commercialising it?


We're focusing on the hip protection market - so that's anyone who's at risk of an impact-related hip fracture either due to age or an underlying medical condition like osteoporosis. Our garments are available globally; we launched in New Zealand early last year, in Australia near the end of 2014 and have been selling in the US since mid-2014.

In the US there's a huge opportunity. But the market for hip protectors is very different because there's very little understanding of hip protectors as they haven't been as widely used as they have in New Zealand, Australia or parts of Europe.

So, for example, in the consumer space there are 10 million people in the US diagnosed with osteoporosis and 40 million who are at risk of developing it. The market size creates the opportunity for a consumer brand. We're also working with aged care facilities across the US with implementation similar to New Zealand where the facilities understand the benefit of protecting their residents.

Wearable tech is a really new industry, especially here in New Zealand. What are some of the challenges of working in a nascent field like this?

We see wearable tech as just one of three global megatrends that we're at the intersection of. The other two are the aging population and the consumerisation of healthcare. These are all pretty recent and because of that our biggest challenges are around building awareness in a global market with limited budgets.

Also, because the material we use is such a massive leap forward from materials that have been used before, it's sometimes hard for people to believe that a product like this can actually provide the high levels of protection that it does. One thing we've done to help with this is have our shields independently tested at a biomechanics laboratory in San Francisco, which confirms its effectiveness, and the study has now been published in an international medical journal.

What's next for the company, and what would you ultimately like to see it become?

This year we're focusing on the existing growth in the Australian and US markets and we'll also be looking to Europe and Asia. Hip protectors are our first product offering but we have a number of ideas for future products to further extend our wearable technology into the healthcare and wellness space.