Berlin - One hand grips their keychain, the other their phone. They keep their heads down as they walk. This is how a lot of women navigate the streets at night - out of fear of potential attackers. Virtually every woman in Germany has experienced harassment and threats on street, in the park or in clubs.
But how can girls and women finally feel safe on the streets? This very question led fashion designer Susana Gomez to launch her design and tech start-up Not Just A Jewel in 2019. The idea is straightforward: A jewellery bracelet that gives the wearer a greater sense of security by enabling them to set off an alarm in a threatening situation.
An emergency bracelet for women
Gomez and co-founder Daria Stepanova are based at MotionLab in Alt-Treptow, a co-working space for young companies in a range of industries. Here, the team of four founders developed prototypes using a 3D printer. Stepanova, responsible for the technology contained in the bracelet, is a rocket scientist and hardware design specialist. From the outset, she was faced with a major challenge: the wristbands had to be as slender as possible and still be big enough to contain an alarm. "The alarm needs a sound box. The batteries take up a lot of space. We worked for months to develop the prototypes," says Gomez.
She places various bracelets on a wooden table. The colourfully designed top side of the bracelets, where the alarm is hidden, is slightly bulkier. In an emergency, the wearer can set off either a silent or a loud alarm on by either pressing a small button or pulling the strap. The alarm can reach a volume of 140 decibels. Gomez demonstrates: "This one goes up to 120 decibels," she says, fastening the bracelet around her wrist. She pushes a small black button on the wristband - it emits a loud, high-pitched, vibrating noise. "Experts say you should be loud to scare off attackers," Gomez explains. "With our bracelet, you're definitely loud."
GPS data sent automatically
Can the alarm be triggered by accident? "No. You have to apply pressure, and we will integrate it even better into the design in further prototypes so that a false alarm is ruled out," says the fashion designer. However, if you're alone on the street or on a lonely path, the alarm alone isn't enough, so the team has built another function into the bracelet. When the alarm is triggered, an SMS with the wearer's GPS coordinates is sent automatically via an app to emergency contacts that have been chosen beforehand. "The bracelet can send the GPS data on its own. You don't need a smartphone," says Gomez. No jewellery bracelet currently on the market combines these two functions, she adds.
The idea came to Gomez in 2019. Gomez has two daughters - one four, the other six. On her 40th birthday, she thought about what it would be like when her daughters were out on their own in Berlin as teenagers. "My wish is for them to feel safe and to be able to protect themselves - without me having to monitor them."
"As a woman, you should be able to move freely in the city without fear," says Gomez. She feels it's important to tackle the problem at its core: "We need awareness campaigns, help with education so that harassment doesn't happen in the first place. But such educational work takes time. And until the problem is solved, the wristbands are a good way for women and other affected people to move around the city more safely."
Seniors and people with illnesses interested
What kind of pricetag will the smart bracelets carry? "At the moment, we estimate the price will be around €290. However, we want to offer different price categories, depending on the material," says Gomez. She stresses the importance of producing high-quality jewellery out of predominantly sustainable materials, such as stainless steel, brass, mother-of-pearl, glass and resin. Colours and sizes will be customisable.
The entrepreneuers have already secured two start-up grants. Although the bracelets won't go on sale until the end of the year, interest is high. Pre-orders are already being taken on the company's website, where people can take a survey which is helping the founders fine-tune their price categories.
Not only women who want to protect themselves from harassment are showing interest in the bracelets. Senior citizens and people with illnesses are contacting the founders, as they need to be able to alert people about emergencies, such as when they have an accidenet while home alone.
"For older people, it's great to wear a nice jewellery bracelet instead of a big emergency button," says Gomez. "It's not like you want to be reminded every day that you need help. The bracelet looks nice. People like to wear it and at the same time it gives people strength."