If you work in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field or just have an interest in the areas and want to express your passion for them through what you wear, Boutique Academia offers chic ways for you to do so. Launched in November 2010, one of the reasons founder and CEO Maile Urbancic wanted to create the company was because at the time there weren’t many ways for women to express their STEM interest through fashion. She saw science-themed ties and T-shirts, but most were designed for men. The jewelry she saw available she found to be very expensive or not very wearable because it was “kind of kitschy.” While things have changed somewhat compared to six years ago, at the time Urbancic saw STEM jewelry as “a pretty niche thing.”
“I just thought that it would be nice and empowering for women who had an interest in STEM to be able to show that [and] be able to start conversations about it. Just have the ability to wear things that [represented] what attracted them intellectually,” Urbancic told Blastr. “The other reason was that math and science are just beautiful and I don’t think they get as much credit as they should for the beauty and power that is inherent I think in a lot of the symbolism that comes along with science and math.”
Whether it’s a molecule necklace or Fibonacci earrings, you can add a touch of STEM to your wardrobe with the company’s numerous offerings. The looks range from those most people will recognize to those that might only be recognizable to someone else who is as passionate about the area. When Urbancic is coming up with a design, she will look for symbols that will resonate with people interested in the field and that also mean more for those who are more knowledgeable in the area. With her background in math, that meant many of the pieces she first designed and carried were math-oriented.
“I tried to choose things that were both widely recognized and also had some deeper meaning for people who knew more about it. For instance pi is widely recognized, but the way that I tried to design the piece, which is the pi symbol on top and underneath a disc that has pi to 35 decimal places spiraling around, I tried to capture a little bit of the infinite nature of pi,” she explained. “Of course you can’t really do that, but I tried to put enough of the detail about pi that it would be interesting to people.”
It’s something she brings to the other areas as well. She might not be as familiar with them, but she does the same thing with the symbols she brings to the jewelry, looking for recognizable, interesting and meaningful things for those who work in the area. For example, Urbancic said everybody knows what DNA is and its double helix spirals are also very beautiful and attractive.
“If you’re a geneticist or a doctor and you’re wearing DNA earrings, not only are they pretty but it’s also cool and maybe kind of empowering to have some way of expressing your intellectual interest,” she said.
While Urbancic will personally design many of these pieces, she’ll then partner with artists specializing in the medium she envisions the piece being made in. Urbancic explained that this process allows her to carry a wide range of jewelry types and support small independent artists. Another way she’ll work with artists across the country is if she finds people who created STEM jewelry designs that she thinks would work well with her collection. In those cases she’ll collaborate with the artists and carry their designs. Sometimes purchasing a piece of jewelry from Boutique Academia can also help support an important cause. Urbancic tries to give back to the community by designing pieces to raise money for certain causes, such as donating 50 percent of net proceeds from the solar spectrum necklace to The Trevor Project to support their crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ+ youth. She will also donate items to “school fundraising auctions, and run special fundraisers for STEM related school clubs and organizations.”
The empowerment her pieces offer is certainly an attractive aspect of Boutique Academia’s jewelry. It’s a way for women to show their interest at a time when there still seems to be the lingering stereotype in our culture that women and girls are not interested in STEM, and they’re not fields they should be interested in either. In Urbancic’s own background she’s experienced how the idea that femininity and STEM can’t mix feels.
“In undergrad in math, I felt like in order to be taken seriously I had to not be pretty. I had to be as unfeminine as possible,” she said. “I think things are changing now and luckily I think there’s not the same pressure on girls suggesting that they don’t fit into science or math areas, but I think it is still empowering even if it’s just on the personal level to be able to express outwardly your intellectual interests.”
Urbancic will try to involve her own children in her work because she wants them to know that STEM is for everybody, including girls. She’s a full-time caregiver to her three children and will schedule working on her business when the kids are at school. Her business has grown quite a bit since launching six years ago and according to Urbancic, it doubles every year. With one employee to help, Urbancic said it’s been a challenge learning to delegate as the business has scaled up since she’s used to doing everything herself. Some of the work she’ll delegate involves selling wholesale to physical locations, so in addition to selling pieces online items are also available in places like museums and gift shops in the U.S. and Canada. Boutique Academia will also occasionally be at conventions and small events like She’s Geeky in Seattle. They’ve exhibited at Salt Lake City Comic Con, Wizard World Portland Comic Con, and this month went to their first GeekGirlCon in Seattle.
Another challenge that’s arisen that she’s happy about is that there is now more competition in the realm of STEM jewelry.
“I think in the last 5 years there’s been huge growth in the appreciation for science art or math art, and intellectual things meshed with fashion and design,” she said. “It’s been interesting to watch that and make sure I stay competitive and have really good customer service and reviews and things like that.”
Looking to the future, Urbancic hopes there will be more integrations of fashion or design and STEM symbolism. She believes it’s important for people, especially young people in school, to know it is cool to be smart.
“We need it to be cool to be smart and to be cool to be interested in science and math and these areas that can really change lives and change the world. We need all the talent that we can get,” she said. “I hope there’s more like that not just in jewelry, but also in T-shirts and bags and things like that because I think these symbols that we see around us are meaningful. I think it does influence people what they see around them in fashion and in the media. I think it’s not everything, but I think it’s also not nothing.”
There’s more on the way from Boutique Academia as well, and not just in jewelry. Urbancic said a new line of Women in STEM Christmas ornaments is on the horizon. You can stay up to date on what Boutique Academia is up to by checking the website or following them on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Check out more of Boutique Academia’s stunning pieces in the media gallery below!