This Spring, SUPA rolls out a limited line of fashion-forward, health tracking sports bras. But the garments themselves are merely window dressing for the main event – biometric sensors that send data to the SUPA app on your smartphone or Apple Watch. We caught up with SUPA founder Sabine Seymour during crunch time to talk about health sensors, dance party marketing and why SUPA is like a Japanese zipper maker. Interview by Logan Plaster
TelemedMag: You’re in go mode for your Spring roll-out. How’s it going?
Sabine Seymour: Pretty good. Crunching, crunching, making sure that the launch works and then raising [funds]and being a little crazy.
TelemedMag: How would you describe SUPA? You market SUPA as “biometrics + sports + fashion + artificial intelligence in a onesie at a dance party.” Are you selling software or actual health-tracking sensors?
Seymour: It’s a combination. Our product is 80 percent A.I./software/algorithm and 20 percent textile-based sensors. The sensors that we develop with our partners and sell as “trims” to integrate into their apparel. A fashion brand or sports brand doesn’t have to do anything but just integrate it. And the consumer uses the SUPA app for any apparel or any SUPA-approved device where you will see the “SUPA S.” It’s like anything that has an Intel inside – we’re SUPA Powered.
TelemedMag: What kind of data are you going to get from the sports bra that launches this season that you might not be able to get with a typical wearable?
Seymour: For starters, we have the ability to gather more data because it’s so easy. You wear a bra. You don’t have to wear a bracelet or any other gadget. Another advantage with SUPA is the accuracy and the ability to attach additional sensors over time. And then the third aspect of it is that the app itself not only integrates the biometrics but it creates a personalized module for you. Let’s say you’re a runner, plus you’re a female, plus you train 24/7 for your marathon, and on top of it you have asthma. We basically create a module for you that allows you to pick what you’d like to achieve.
TelemedMag: What exactly is launching and when?
Seymour: We are launching in the app store for IOS and for the Apple Watch soon. We also have SUPA-powered apparel online for sale. We are not a fashion brand per se, but we collaborated with a fashion design company to bring our health-tracking sports bra to the market. At the same time we are internally working with B2B customers to disseminate SUPA.
TelemedMag: Can a patient dial up their health data that you’ve tracked and share it with a physician?
Seymour: That is the idea, that that data will be available to healthcare professionals, but that is the next phase. The first phase right now is to focus on the consumer.
TelemedMag: You make a point when you get interviewed about talking about how SUPA is fashion agnostic and it can be incorporated into any apparel. Do you have any fear that by coming out with a sports bra and jump suit you’ll get confused as a company that’s producing a specific type of apparel?
Seymour: Honestly, I would have never come out with our own product but investors liked the idea, and consumers really liked the designs. So we decided we could showcase what we can do with a limited edition run of the SUPA-powered sports bra. The app will launch in tandem with the apparel, so that consumers can actually get the two together if they want. The Apple Watch app is a great way for us to showcase that we are agnostic, that you can use SUPA without apparel, with just a watch. That we can integrate other devices and also other datasets that you get through your phone, whether that is the weather or pollution levels and pretty much anything that influences your body.
TelemedMag: What are some challenges of working within the fashion industry?
Seymour: Fashion collaborations always take much longer than you expect. I’ve been in this game for a long time, so I know 18 months is short for a life cycle production of a garment, in particular for sports garments.
TelemedMag: You can tell immediately from your marketing that you’re trying to give health sensors a more youthful face. You’re trying to make them hip. So talk to me about the ethos behind trying to get younger people interested in health tracking.
Seymour: It’s because we need to create large sample sizes. Now you’re 16 but then suddenly there’s something going on with you when you’re 25, or 55, or 65. We do not have any data that we can use to look at you individually, where you have been. We need to know about your environmental health factors, how much you move, what you’ve eaten, how much you’ve been sitting in front of a screen. We cannot right now get all this data from somebody who is 65, 70 or 80 years old because we just don’t have enough datasets. But now a generation is starting to use biosensors who will need that data 20 years from now when they need a bionic leg. It’s this sentiment that I want to put forth. It’s not necessarily about tracking health data that is needed right now. But if we get people in that age group to actually start using these types of devices, it will benefit us down the road. For me it’s much more interesting to actually get this larger sampling size of digital health data from a generation that is currently not necessarily sick or considered sick. A lot of health companies and a lot of people are focusing on the aging population. That’s fantastic but that is not what I’m focusing on. What we at SUPA focus on is that generation that will become old and will be used to digital data and will want to actually use digital health in the future.
If we don’t have the data, we can’t fix you. So we need to actually create a system to engage young people. And that demographic is engaged through dance battles and parties and extreme sports. So that’s how you get people involved in that space.
TelemedMag: How do you succeed with this younger demographic? What’s the strategy?
Seymour: The plan right now is to work strategically with brands to create experiences for young people to engage with health data. We bring in gamification, which helps build a posse or tribe around the idea. We are working with the brands that are already doing this successfully.
TelemedMag: It sounds like you’re trying to sell young people something that they don’t need right now but will be good for them later. Is that an uphill battle?
Seymour: That’s not our message to the consumer. I don’t tell the 16-year-old that they need to use SUPA because they’re going to get sick in 30 years. I sell them on the fact that they want to win that dance battle or have a million followers on Instagram showing the SUPA move in that crazy cool outfit that actually shows some type of visual interface. It’s a different way of thinking about health data.
TelemedMag: Was reaching out to this younger demographic a natural fit for you? Is that a world that you’re already comfortable in?
Seymour: This all comes from personal experience for me, from knowing that you need a lot of data in order to support your health. I come from extreme sports. I’ve been doing sports my entire life. I surf. I’ve been snowboarding and skiing forever. I’ve been a long boarder, a skateboarder, and I got my set of injuries. And even right now I’m getting a knee MRI done, and they can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. But after skiing powder for four days, my knee is as big as a balloon. And I’m doing all the rehab and everything. But you know what I mean? It’s an injury I endured when I was 16 years old. And then I’m starting to move differently because the knee is hurting me, and I have a back thing going on.
I also come from the digital media experience space. I’ve been doing multi-media installations and party dancing, all of that, so to me understanding that space is extremely important.
A lot of times we can do prevention in a fun way. We just need to get people to move more. How do you get a young person to move? Well, get them to a party.
TelemedMag: Compared with many companies, you’re taking an extremely long view of digital health. Given the pace of market changes, does that put you at risk? What are the odds that the data that you’re gathering is going to still be around and useful 40 years from now?
Seymour: Oh, it’s raw data. It’s the grain, not the actual plant itself.
TelemedMag: And will the consumer own that data if they want to move it elsewhere and continue to have longitudinal data?
Seymour: We will have the raw data in our SUPA Cloud. Because what we need are a lot of datasets to be able to correlate and to create a Smart A.I. Right now an A.I. is dumb. They’re in the infant stages, and we want to get it up at least to a teenage phase. So that’s why we need to have data across the spectrum. That data, however, is not only owned by the actual consumer but it is also residing completely anonymized as a dataset, because that’s basically what we are interested in.
However, I’m not interested in you as an individual consumer. That is yours. That’s why we are also offering users the option of carrying their data forward to somebody else in order to receive care.
TelemedMag: How did you get into health tracking sensors and A.I.?
Seymour: I started my first company in 1998. That’s when I was focusing only on mobile and wearables. My first game controller was a helmet in ’96. I’ve been doing what people call wearables since the mid 90s. I wrote a few books on the topic, have been consulting with the likes of North Face and Intel. I’ve been doing this for 20-odd years.
TelemedMag: After decades in gaming and sports, why branch into health tech now?
Seymour: This is just perfect timing. A.I. is finally coming around. I’ve talked about the body as a node in a network system for the last decade. Plus, recent advances in sensor technologies are incredible. You now have fabrics that we can pick up and make into intelligent systems. Not to mention advances in social media and data distribution in general. Everything is aligned right now. I just want to make sure that this space actually grows and doesn’t go through the same problems that wearables went through a few years back.
TelemedMag: You’re starting with a sports bra. What do you feel is the optimal garment for health tracking?
Seymour: The ideal scenario is that whatever data you need to get from the skin you get through base layers like underwear, socks and undershirts. If you need to have it on your actual body, it’s a clip on or it’s maybe a small little button. It has all to do with the antenna technologies. So if we can start getting away from Blue Tooth and find a smaller antenna that we can just print on: boom, here we go. What you do is you basically create a mesh network. And then you use the data from your car, from your house, your Nest, your external environmental. That’s basically what we’ve built. That’s what SUPA does.
TelemedMag: Do you envision the SUPA sensors moving beyond garments to the general internet of things?
Seymour: It’s already happening. We are curating the right sensors. We don’t build all of them ourselves. Think about how a car is built. The body and the design and some of the interior and some of the features are designed by the automobile company. But everything else is coming from OEM.