An unusual STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concept combined with some fashionable know-how creates a unique brand of technology-based fashion business.
Svaha USA is a STEAM-themed clothing and accessories brand whose online store is changing the face of women’s and children’s clothing. Svaha celebrates women in all fields of endeavor and challenges gender stereotypes with bright, fun clothes to set children’s imaginations soaring.
In 2015, founder Jaya Iyer’s two-year-old daughter was desperate for some planet-themed clothing to help her dream of flying into space as an astronaut. But nothing related to space existed in the clothing departments.
Using her knowledge of fashion merchandising, Iyer created a specialty clothing brand for her STEAM-themed range that challenges gender stereotypes. These efforts have resulted in one of the world’s most successful STEAM fashion brands for children and adults.
“I wanted to inspire my daughter’s passion and other girls with similar interests in the best way I know how – through clothes! I realized there was a missing market for kids who like non-traditional things,” Iyer told TechNewsWorld.
The difference an “A” makes
Jaya Iyer, founder of Svaha USA, and her daughter Svaha, the company’s namesake. Jaya moved from India to the United States with nothing but a backpack and ambition. She earned her PhD in Fashion Merchandising from Iowa State University, taught fashion buying and wrote a textbook on emerging market fashion that is now used in universities.
In doing so, Iyer connected academic STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies with a previously neglected recognition of the role of the arts and humanities.
“I believe there is no STEM without A [art]. Art is part of science, technology, engineering, and even mathematics.”
One of her biggest obstacles was being able to make the clothing designs technically accurate. But working with women in the field helped her overcome that obstacle.
“We are now working to get our products in front of more women so they can wear these clothes and show their love for tech-themed clothes,” said Iyer.
From dreams to reality
According to the US Census Bureau, today 25% of computer scientists and 15% of engineers are women. Iyer hopes to change that with his fashion offering. He is very responsive to customer suggestions and has developed about 95% of designs based on customer input.
“Our customers really like our products! Teachers enjoy wearing our clothes when teaching the concept behind our clothing design. Professionals like to wear them to work and to various conferences. We have a very loyal customer base who keep coming back to buy our products,” said Iyer.
STEAM influencer Dr. Arlyne Simon is a biomedical engineer who invented a blood test that detects when cancer patients reject bone marrow transplants. He is also the founder of Abby Inventor, a multicultural children’s product company that helps inspire young inventors.
Dr. Arlyne Simon is a biomedical engineer, patented inventor and author. Simon created the Medical Marvels Hedy Dress design, which features African print inspiration and biomedical engineering symbols.
Simon is all too aware of being the “only female” or “only black” engineer in the room. Her creative approach helps close the gender gap in STEM, makes science fun and trendy, and empowers girls and women to pursue STEM careers.
“If you wear it, it can be. Give a girl a spacesuit and she’ll imagine herself as an astronaut. Give him a biomedical engineering outfit and he imagines creating life-saving healthcare technologies,” Simon told TechNewsWorld.
This level of identity is life changing. Ask a girl to draw a scientist, and more than likely she’ll draw an old guy in a lab coat, he noted.
“If girls aren’t exposed to female scientists, they can’t imagine themselves in those roles. But maybe all it takes for a girl to fall in love with space is for a teacher to talk about the Solar System while Svaha spins in her Rings of Saturn skirt,” he added.
This kind of grassroots support is essential to the advancement of women in technology. Science t-shirts and dresses are conversation starters and dialogue between girls and their moms/guardians.
“Tell me about your clothes” can lead to a conversation about how epidemiological mathematical models predict the spread of Covid-19. Because every Svaha dress is named after a famous female scientist, girls are introduced to famous women like Hedy Lamarr and Marie Curie,” she said
Ladies in space pursuit
Svaha launched its collections in collaboration with women who are making a difference in the STEAM field today. Contributors include former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg.
Astronaut Karen Nyberg, aboard the International Space Station, holds her son’s handmade dinosaur that inspired a “space fashion” collection.
In her free time on the International Space Station, Nyberg made handmade objects from discarded supplies and filmed them floating around the station in zero gravity as gifts for her son Jack.
Her first doodad was a fabric dinosaur made with fabric lining from Russian food containers. She stuffed it with strips of fabric cut from one of her used t-shirts, which she hand-stitched on the deck with ivory thread.
Iyer and Nyberg teamed up to come up with a dinosaur-themed outfit. To do this, Nyberg took advantage of Jack’s strong knowledge of dinosaurs.
Her elementary school-age son, still a dinosaur lover and aspiring to be a paleontologist, gave his mother “dino advice” for planning Svaha USA. He chose four of his favorite dinosaurs to include in the design and gave him an accurate representation of each in his Dinos in Space collection.
The birth of the concept
Jaya Iyer’s young daughter was already focused on becoming an astronaut when Jaya started her clothing company seven years ago. Named after Iyer’s daughter, the company developed its first product line by launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that was partially funded and raised more than $30,000.
Iyer later expanded the product line following customer suggestions for women’s clothing called Smart Dresses for Smart Women. He funded this style of clothing again with a second Kickstarter campaign that raised over $57,000.
Some of Iyer’s products came from Nyberg’s passion for creating souvenirs for his son while orbiting the earth.
New York Times best-selling author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky is another Svaha USA collaborator who has combined her technological expertise with a new computing apparel collection based on her own science-based artwork and her book The History of the Computer.
“We were able to refine the plans together with women working in the STEM field. However, reaching more people is still a work in progress. We have made a lot of progress… but we still have a long way to go,” he noted.
The connection between STEM and STEAM is a key driver for Iyer and his followers. Incorporating the arts and humanities into her clothing line has provided something for all non-STEM professionals.
“We create literature, music and library-themed products that appeal to a very different set of customers,” noted Iyer.
According to Iyer, the fact that art is an integral part of STEM is being accepted more and more. If people can be educated about the importance of different areas of the arts in STEM education and professions, adoption becomes much easier.
“We try to do that through our clothing and social media. But more people need to understand the importance of art in our lives,” he said.
Kallie Moore, Paleontology Collections Manager at the University of Montana, collaborated with Svaha USA to design the Velociraptor A-Line Skirt.
Iyer’s clothing collections allow scientists to tap into their inner Ms. Frizzle. They feel like a kind of “broader effect,” noted Kallie Moore, a fossil librarian, science communicator and manager of the paleontology collection at the University of Montana. The company recently launched its Velociraptor design collection.
“By wearing science, you ask questions and make comments. I have all kinds of interactions wearing Svaha USA pieces. It’s another opportunity to spread my love for paleontology,” he told TechNewsWorld.
It’s great for kids to have heroes. But it can often be difficult to contact them. Moore offered that having someone in her community at her level and more successful in supporting women in STEM is more tangible.
“Jaya works with real scientists and it’s fun to see what they do for themselves. I hope it inspires others to create STEM-focused clothing for people who identify as women,” she said.
Coming from paleontology, where art is so intertwined with science, art is a huge asset. In paleontology, art helps us imagine what ancient creatures and ecosystems might have been like, Moore continued. This allows us to get closer to our past. “Obviously it’s a plus to look really, really good while you’re totally freaking out,” she said.
STEAM wear at a glance
According to Iyer, Svaha USA’s high-quality, 100% organic, super-soft clothing has a touch of geek and pockets