Inspirational Woman I Jenny Griffiths, Computer Scientist and Founder & CEO of Snap Fashion

Jenny Griffiths, Computer Scientist and Founder & CEO of Snap Fashion was interested in Science and ICT, as well as Music and English, but before she went to university she thought she would have to choose to either pursue an Arts or Science career.

She never thought she would invent something which would enable her to keep up with all of her interests and skills – Snap Fashion. The Snap Fashion app and website allows people to take a photo of an item of clothing they like that they see in a magazine or in person, and then the use the app’s visual search technology to find a similar item available they can go and buy on the high street or online. Jenny is currently acting as a spokesperson for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious campaign, and acts as a role model to encourage more girls into STEM careers.

How did you find studying science school?Snap.fashion.high.res-4

Science was definitely one of my favourite subjects at school. I preferred Physics but generally really enjoyed the practical side of all of the Sciences and having the chance to be a bit more hands-on and experimental in lessons. I looked forward to Maths and IT classes but also to English and Music, which I studied during my A Levels – I found I could be creative with all of these subjects, just in different ways.

At what age did you first become interested in technology and what was it that excited you?

I’ve always been interested in science and technology, ever since my father took my sister and me on family trips to the Science Museum in London. My parents were never pushy when I was younger – they let me do and learn about what I enjoyed and I think this helped nurture my passion for science. I used to do home experiments and make my own stop motion animation with a friend as I’d always thought I would become an Animator. I think it’s for this reason that I’ve always viewed science and technology as quite playful.

What was your peers’ attitude towards Science, Technology, ICT and Maths when you were growing up?

I did find that as we progressed through school that quite a few girls dropped Maths – I’m not quite sure why – but this didn’t dissuade me from continuing to study it. I gravitated towards something I was good at which is why I studied Science and Maths at school and beyond.

What made you decide to take science subjects for A Level?

It was a no brainer as I really enjoyed these subjects at school. One rule I have always lived by is to ‘know your strengths’, so it made total sense for me to take Maths and Physics, as well as English and Music, on to A Level. By studying Arts and Sciences I also knew I was keeping my options open and could go on to study a variety of courses at university and apply these skills to a range of careers.

Who were your role models when you were growing up?

One person I have always regarded as a role model is British Engineer James Dyson. Over the years he has taken a range of everyday and household products and improved their design and functionality. He has the ability to look at something you didn’t think was broken or could be improved upon and make them so much simpler and more effective.

Did these role models differ from other girls’ your age?

When I was younger I think my role models were very similar to those of other girls my age. I was very into Brit pop and indie music when I was growing up and didn’t necessarily look up to them but enjoyed going to gigs and watching bands have fun on stage, do what they love and produce amazing music all at the same time. That was really inspirational to me and I think it helped drive me to ensuring my future career was something I felt truly passionate about.

What led you to study a technology subject at university?

 I studied Physics, Maths, English and Music at school and so when it came to choosing my degree I was concerned I might have to choose between studying science or a more Arts-related subject. I had also had it at the back of my mind from a young age that I might like to become an Animator or inventor so was interested in finding out what I could do in this area. After researching the science courses on offer at university and what was involved, I became interested in Engineering. As a discipline it involves designing and inventing, which would then allow me to use both my creative and practical skills. I decided Computer Science was the engineering course for me and would get me one step closer to my dream job.

What was the gender split like for your university course?

The gender split at university was definitely skewed towards men – there were 4 or 5 girls and about 100 in my undergraduate degree and 2 girls and 30 boys in my master’s degree! I found at university Computer Science had one of the worst gender biases of all the science subjects and I have never understood why. I was never intimidated by this bit did find it a bit of a culture shock initially.

When you chose your degree did you have a specific career goal in mind?

When I started my course I thought I wanted to become an Animator or become and inventor and create something totally new – I just wasn’t sure what that would be. I studied a wide range of subjects at school so I could keep my options open and thought Computer Science would help open the door to a wide range of possibilities.

Did you ever feel the pressure to study more traditionally ‘girly’ subjects?

I’m not sure you can really call any subject girly or for boys – you should definitely always study and continue to enjoy what you love. I was always good at Science so it was assumed I would go on to study Medicine or Veterinary Science however I always knew that engineering was more me. My enthusiasm for the subject meant that my friends, school and family were all really supportive of my decision.

Were you ever intimidated by the idea that these subjects are traditionally ‘male’?

When I started at university I was slightly surprised by the abilities and skills of the students on my course. A number of the boys had been interested in coding for several years whereas I was starting afresh so it meant I had a lot to learn quite quickly. I didn’t find this intimidating though – I have always known that I and all other girls are just as capable as boys. We all use technology every day and should be able to influence new innovations and developments just as much as boys do. Everyone wants products to be well-designed and to work quickly and girls can bring fresh new approaches and ideas to the fore.

Were you ever tempted to go into a non-technology related career?

I love to write so had considered studying English Literature at university and working towards becoming a journalist. I think this is what I might have done had I gone down an arts-related path at university.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

There haven’t been many barriers during my career however as there aren’t many women in technology there have been times when I have stood out. I’ve always been able to turn this on its head and use it to my advantage throughout my career and have become good friends with other women in technology who are all very supportive of each other. I do think it’s important for girls to disregard stereotypes and to continue to do what they like. There will only be more women in technology and science if girls who enjoy it stick with it!

What inspired you to create the app and when did you decide it could be a good idea?

I was inspired to create my app Snap Fashion initially for entirely selfish reasons! I wanted to know where people bought their clothes from and where I could find items to complement the clothes I already had but realised there was no pre-existing easy way to do this. And with everyone carrying smartphones with powerful cameras everywhere with them the raw materials were all already there for me to invent it. I discussed the idea with friends who all said they would download and use the app when it became available, so it was then I knew that I was on my way to creating something that would fill a gap in the market.

What pushed you into working on the app full time?

After university I began working as a Project Manager at an Engineering company which I really enjoyed, and was busy creating the codes and algorithms needed to make my app during the weekends. After winning a competition led by Innovate UK, I knew it was time to start working permanently on my app. I moved to London, began recruiting a team and it was then that my invention became a proper reality rather than just a hobby.

When did you realise you could have a career in technology that combined an unrelated industry like fashion?

I realised quite quickly when I was working on my master’s thesis that there was the potential to design the fashion app I wanted to create – all it required was the right data and coding. I’m so lucky to now be able to code during the day and attend London Fashion Week parties at night. The fashion industry is very pro-technology and is integrating it more and more into the store experience, doing some really cool things on the catwalk and creating new materials and designs using the latest technology.

Who are your female role models within the technology industry?

There are an increasing amount of female technology founders out there that I find inspirational such as Bethany Koby, founder of Technology Will Save Us and Vivian Chan, Co-founder of Sparrho, to name but a few. I consider these women and others within the technology space my role models because they pursued something they were good at and have invented something amazing.

What’s your proudest career moment so far?

My proudest career moment to date has to be receiving an MBE at the end of last year, followed closely by winning the Cisco British Innovation Award the day after I launched Snap Fashion, which was an incredible experience.

How do you think the technology industry will change over the next ten years?

I think things will become much, much faster over the next ten years – just think of the possibilities 3D-printing and smartphone technology bring now and how much things have developed over the past ten years. I think technology will take us places we can’t even imagine and hope more women will be at the forefront inspiring these changes.

For girls who feel science subjects aren’t for them, what would your advice be?

It’s important not to force yourself to do something you fundamentally don’t enjoy, stick to what you’re good at and learn where your strengths lie. That said, it’s important to keep your options open and make sure you definitely don’t like something before you discount it! Science and technology are such broad subjects areas that there is bound to be an area which appeals to you so I would recommend persevering and identifying what areas you like the most.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

A lot of people have told me that if you start a company, even if it fails, ‘that will look good on your CV’. That whole approach to life, not being afraid of failure, has encouraged me to throw myself into a wide range of activities and opportunities because you never know where the skills you accrue might come in handy.

What would be your top five tips for girls wanting to pursue a similar career in Technology?

Know your strengths. I knew I enjoyed and was good at physics so it’s important to identify what you’re good at, stick at it and most important of all, enjoy it.

Always do Maths. Maths is at the root of absolutely everything so I can’t recommend it enough – it helped my create my app but has also greatly helped me run my business.

Don’t be put off by stereotypes. Enjoying science or technology doesn’t make you weird – just make sure you go for what you enjoy.

Keep your options open. I didn’t even know it was possible to have the career that I had when I was growing up. Don’t turn down opportunities to experience and learn about new things as you never know where it may lead.

Find people who want to do it with you. It makes the journey a whole lot easier – it’s hard to succeed as a lone ranger. It’s important to have like-minded people with different skill sets around you to bounce ideas off.

Jenny Griffiths is a 28 year old computer scientist and founder of Snap Fashion, a visual search engine for fashion. Jenny invented Snap Fashion’s fashion-finding technology whilst studying for her Masters in Computer Science at Bristol University, going on to launch the app officially a few years after she graduated in 2012. The Snap Fashion app and website allows people to take a photo of an item of clothing they like that they see in a magazine or in person, and then the use the app’s visual search technology to find a similar item available they can go and buy on the high street or online.

Snap Fashion has already attracted a huge following and receives 250,000 Snaps per month. Plus in August this year, Time Inc, the magazine publisher that’s home to titles such as Marie Claire, invested in Snap Fashion for an undisclosed sum. The app has won a whole raft of awards including Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway Award and Jenny herself received an MBE for her services to Innovation in the Digital Fashion Industry.