INTERVIEW BY ZIQI WANG
PHOTOS BY GRACE CHEN
Interview with Erin Winick, Founder and CEO of Sci Chic
Erin Winick, a 4th year mechanical engineering student at the University of Florida, is the co-founder and CEO of Sci Chic, a company that uses 3D printing and laser cutting technologies to make science-inspired jewelry.
What inspired you to create Sci Chic?
Last year, I was president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) here at UF, and we did something called 3D printing outreach day. It was the first time we ever held that event. We brought 60 middle school kids, primarily girls, and taught them how to do 3D modeling and 3D printing. It was really an inspiration for me to see how they responded to this use of technology in this new way, and an inspiration to see them spend time with it. I really wanted to continue with my love of 3D printing and fashion, and I just felt [creating this Sci Chic] was a really cool chance for me to combine all that. I got my own 3D printer over the summer, and my friend Emily, who is the current president of SWE, built her own 3D printer over the summer. When I found that out, I was like, “Hey, do you want to do this with me?” And that’s how it started. We started modeling some stuff and we launched in October.
What are the day-to-day operations like as CEO of Sci Chic?
With any entrepreneur, I think it ranges a lot. With me right now, I do a lot of publicity and media-focused things. Since there’s currently only three of us working on Sci Chic, I do everything from the website design to organizing the sales, shipping, and to printing and assembling, as well as taking photographs of the jewelry. For the day to day, it’s really whatever the company needs at the time. That’s what I like about it personally, and since I’m the weird engineer who likes to write, I get to do everything from writing blog posts to editing YouTube videos. I get to hone those different skills and also educate people about 3D printing and science, which is something that I don’t think I would get to do otherwise.
So how do you think that being an engineer has helped you in this role as CEO of Sci Chic?
Well, engineering at its heart is really problem solving, and you learn how to solve problems as an engineer. I feel like, as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly facing new problems (“How are we going to get this out in time? How are we going to fill this big order and increase our production?”), so engineering has really given me a new way of looking at it. On top of that, I’ve always loved making things. Growing up, I did everything from sewing to building Rube Goldberg machines from LEGOS, which is kind of what got me to become a mechanical engineer. At the same time, I can now make jewelry and fashion and apply my engineering skills to those areas.
What kinds of things did you make as a kid that led you to this?
I’ve always sewn since I was little. My mom taught me how to sew, and I even sewed my own Halloween costumes as a kid. That got me into doing some more fashion design on my own. At its heart, sewing is about transforming something 2D into a 3D product that you can wear, and that’s what this is too: I’m transforming 2D images into something 3D that people can wear. On top of that, my love of 3D printing, which I’ve done previously, transferred over to it as well.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered balancing your work as an engineer and CEO of a brand new company?
I definitely have to make sacrifices, according to what’s important at the time in regards classes and starting a company. Some people would say, “Why would you do that?” But, to be honest, I did this because I’m passionate about what I’m doing and so that I can get education in the areas of entrepreneurship and business, and what better way to get experience than to actually do it? Most of all, success is about time management and being willing to give up some other things in life. It’s worth it to me because I enjoy all the time I spend on it.
Where do you see Sci Chic going in 5 or 10 years?
We definitely want to get into more retail spaces. We’re actually now looking to go into museums, teacher shops, and things like that, as well as places where jewelry is sold, and not just with a science focus. Our goal is to make Sci Chic fashionable, and then when people see the fashion, they go, “Hmm—I wonder what this is based on.” We’ll then be able to educate the public more in that area. I’d love for it to be in a lot more stores and e-commerce places.
Do you see Sci Chic going beyond just jewelry and also having an educational side?
Oh, definitely. All of our products are paired with educational descriptions about the science behind them. We’re creating content about 3D printing in YouTube videos, and we also want to work on putting up some free lesson plans. We actually plan on releasing some of our models for free so if someone has a 3D printer, they can go and do it themselves. Obviously, it’s not the most profitable decision, but we feel like it’s out of good will. If someone has a 3D printer and they want to learn, we can offer them opportunities to do that. The whole idea of the jewelry being customizable is educational as well.
Can you foresee a future where everyone has 3D printers and is printing their own jewelry? Where would Sci Chic be in that world?
I want that to be the case, but in the current state of 3D printing, I can’t see it happening. Right now, 3D printing does require some extra knowledge and involvement of the person doing it. I think if we make 3D printers simpler and faster, it can happen, but those technological advances have to happen before we can get a 3D printer in every house. If that does happen, we would adapt with the new technologies, and I would love to continue to use the newest, cutting edge technology to make our jewelry, as well as selling our designs online, so that anyone can print them at their house. 3D printing requires knowledge of CAD (computer aided design), and I would love if that was something taught in every school. That would be fantastic.
How are Sci Chic pieces currently designed and manufactured?
First, we decide what area of science we want to target. We’re trying to get a wide variety of sciences, and we have everything from mechanical engineering to electrical and civil engineering to biology, in addition to doing customized jewelry in different areas of science for people. We currently design them on computer-aided design software, which you learn how to use as a mechanical engineer. We use everything from Tinkercad, which is really simplistic software, to Solidworks, which is very engineering-heavy software. We work on it, design it on there, and then do test prints on our 3D printers. Then, we do what looks best based on sizes and other factors like that. Usually, Emily and I do some consulting on it, and after that we write the science descriptions behind our jewelry models.
Why did you choose to 3D print your pieces?
Personally, because it gives us a chance to educate people about 3D printing, which is something that is getting very popular right now. I also think it’s a great chance to educate people on how they could do it themselves and use this technology. It’s a very easy way to manufacture pieces, and it’d be more difficult to try to do it on a mass production scale or something that’s more of a casting process. It was the cheapest way to do it, and it was something that we both had experience in, so it was a natural transition for us.
What’s the difference between 3D printing and laser cutting?
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process, which means that layers and layers of plastic are built up on top of each other. It’s then melted down and built up. Laser cutting takes a piece of material and cuts a shape out of it. It’s much more limiting in design, but you can get an interesting look from it too. 3D printing can make more intricate and different shapes as opposed to laser cutting.
Where do you get the inspiration for the design of Sci Chic pieces?
Some of them, honestly, from our engineering classes. The class that I met Emily in — one of our designs is based on that class. I’m a huge fan of science in general, and we get a lot of inspiration from our personal experience in science. In a lot of the events that we go to, people give us ideas of what they want to see and we definitely take those to heart and do some research on it.
What formative experiences did you have that led you to this love of science?
Well, my family values science a lot. My grandfather, who died before I was born, worked on space shuttle program as well as the Saturn V program. My whole family has this big appreciation for space. Many people in my family are also teachers, so that love of education in my family led me to going to the library as a kid to rent stacks of Bill Nye DVDs. It was always just part of my life.
What is your personal favorite out of the collection?
I would say it’s our Apollo 11-inspired trajectory necklace. The Apollo 11 one has the Earth and the Moon sized to scale and then the path that the Saturn V Rocket took to get from the Earth to the Moon. The distance between the two is not scaled accurately, because then the necklace would have to be very large, but it was one of our first designs and something that I felt was unique and not out there yet. It always generates a lot of interest in people wanting to learn about it.
Is there anything you want people to know or feel when wearing Sci Chic pieces?
What we would really love is for our pieces to spark conversations about science. You know, if someone sees it and goes, “Oh, that’s really pretty!” And then they go, “Oh, that’s inspired by science? That’s really cool,” and then they’ll want to learn about it. And once they learn about it, they can pass that information on to the next person. Our hope is that it’s a way to spread science literacy and allow people to be proud of science. People are proud of their sports teams and wear sports jerseys, so why not let people be proud of science and wear Sci Chic jewelry?