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Fashion Weeks: Digital & Physical Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

A fashion show is an artistic expression of a collection, which creates exposure and an emotional impact that entices audiences.

fashion + TECH

Identifying the Disconnect in Fashion+Tech

by V. Michael Bove, Jr. 13 oct 2020

“Fashion+Tech is the intersection of design and
scientific innovation where these two industries
crossover to redefine the way we experience the
fashion industry.”

Nicole Reader, CEO Modern Mirror

Behind the scenes: Fashion+Tech

It was 15 years ago when Modern Mirror’s CEO, Nicole Reader, was mocked at investor and tech conferences for her conviction that two of the world’s most powerful industries -- fashion and technology -- would collide to create a future that we now know as fashion+tech.

Nicole’s vision wasn’t simply speculation, it was based on her experience of working in the fashion industry, and seeing inefficient operating processes and a need that wasn’t being met. Each day seemed to have more barriers than the previous, whether it was less foot traffic in the stores as online shopping gained traction, or the increased amount of unsold and discounted merchandise due to high return rates from online shopping. She recognized this would be a problem for years to come and developed a concept that would increase sales, lower the amount of returns, increase client loyalty and longevity, improve efficiencies, reduce waste in the apparel distribution cycles and increase profits for all global luxury brands.

Resulting from Nicole’s observations was the founding of Modern Mirror, which offers a unique, automated end-to-end virtual try-on system. It begins with a brand's clothing design process and ending with a compelling, fit-accurate and visually-high-quality user experience whether in-store or on-line, with all aspects of an offering integrated into a brand's look, feel, culture and processes.

Since then fashion+tech has ceased to be controversial, it has grown and become popular, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Industry leaders publicly recognize the critical role technology plays in their success, and by adopting technological innovation have seen significant growth and impact within their companies. Technology has enabled fashion brands to connect with their global consumers more effectively and provide them with a deeper inside look at brands and their legacies. This increased reach between brands and their clientele has begun to shape and expand the global fashion market.

Fashion+tech startups, and innovation departments of established companies, have explored many different dimensions of technology to remake the industry in terms of design, manufacturing, distribution, sales channels, and retail:

  • E-Commerce
  • Augmented/Virtual Reality
  • Data Analytics
  • Shoppable Videos
  • Mobile Apps & Gaming
  • VTO (Virtual Try-On) Solutions
  • Social Media and Messaging
  • Discovery Platforms
  • Digital Marketing
  • Wearable Technologies
  • Sustainability Tech
  • Materials Tech
  • 3D Printing

The recent pandemic has placed even more emphasis on technology, turning nice-to-have technology deployments into must-haves, especially in terms of e-commerce and VTO, convincing many fashion+tech companies that they may have the golden ticket. After years and billions of dollars invested, many of these companies are still struggling, and only a very few platforms have managed to obtain even a small degree of adoption throughout the fashion industry, even in the face of COVID-19… but why? What essential elements are missing?

But sometimes when discussing virtual try-on solutions we are asked what makes a system stand out from the proliferation of VTO solutions that have appeared (and often quickly disappeared) in recent years. Let's consider the necessary features in detail and examine why they matter to you, whether you are a brand looking to add virtual try-on to your in-store and online experiences, or are a fashion customer wondering whether you could confidently make a garment purchase using such a system in place of trying on physical garments.

Accuracy and ease-of-use of body measurements and imaging

In order to generate precise fit recommendations and realistic visualizations that will lead to purchaser confidence in virtual try-on, the 3D imaging process has to create a geometrically and visually precise model of the customer’s body. And in order for customers to be willing to use the system the process must also be quick and simple.

While promotional materials and press coverage of some VTO mobile apps have made it sound as if the imaging process is essentially taking a selfie, user evaluations of many of these solutions have found them less than ideal. First, the accuracy of any measurement system that relies on only a few mobile phone photos is typically in the range of 1 to 3 centimeters at best, which can translate to being off by one size for fit recommendation and also is not accurate enough for made-to-measure garments. Second, the image capture process is often not as simple as described, requiring the help of a friend to walk around the user shooting video or else needing to find an uncluttered space and lean the phone against the base of the wall. Even then, sometimes multiple tries are required to create a usable result, and it’s not uncommon for users to give up before getting the process to work. In several such apps the result is not even a real model of the user’s body but rather a generic avatar proportioned to match the user, with the user’s face applied.

What luxury brands are looking for when it comes to 3D imaging is a quick, easy, and automatic process providing an engagement and lasting experience for their clientele. Where the client steps into a custom 3D-imaging fitting room, and the process only takes a fraction of a second and produces submillimeter accurate measurements everywhere on the body. Resulting in photorealistic imagery rather than looking like a video-game character. In-store body scanner solutions in the marketplace are slow and sometimes require the user to remain stationary for tens of seconds, are often far less accurate and the majority of the time do not produce a photorealistic image or 3D model of the client.

Quality of digital garment models

Though it sounds compelling when a VTO supplier says that it’s possible to create garment models using only existing 2D merchandise photos, the visual results of using such digital garments are inevitably disappointing and have an unrealistic “paper-doll cutout” appearance. Or in the case of at least one system the input images need to be a set of 360-degree turntable photos taken under rather specific circumstances. In any event, creating models from photos means that the garments already have to have been made before they can be modeled, which can lead to unacceptable delays in availability of the digital garments.

A more effective system would integrate into brands’ design processes, creating 3D garment models from the CAD files or paper patterns used in sample making, providing 3D models in every size even before the first physical sample. Specialized processes (which can’t be done from just an ordinary photo) are needed to capture the physical and optical properties of fabrics and notions. The resulting digital garments can then be physically accurate, fitting, draping and moving identically to their physical counterparts. Complex features like beading and reflectance effects are modeled precisely.

For complex garments in particular it’s necessary to model each size separately, not to morph a single model into other sizes, as is often done in other VTO systems, and results in inaccuracy of fit, drape, fabric patterns, and other details. The 3D garment digitization process individually models each size using the designer’s original specifications, leading to far more realism in the visualization and more accurate size analysis and recommendations.

Visualization experience

Showing video-game-quality graphics, even if embedded within a playful environment, will not convince buyers to confidently make a fashion purchase. Whether on a mobile device or in-store on an immersive ultra-high-definition 2D or 3D screen, customers are looking for an unrivalled visual experience. Garments need to be presented not only photorealistically but dynamically, as an animation showing how the garment moves with the wearer. This level of realism is needed to ensure customers have confidence in finding the perfect fit and look, and to properly portray the craftsmanship of luxury fashion brands. To create an even more personalized experience, the customer should be able to see visualizations of alterations, customization, and made-to-measure items.

Retail integration

Fashion+tech companies ideally need to be brand partners, solving problems throughout a brand’s operations, not just vendors of an app or a cloud service. Many VTO solutions center on only one element, either a mobile app, or a widget that can be added to a web page, or an in-store “magic mirror.” And typically the offering has a fixed appearance that doesn’t match the visual language of the fashion brand. Fashion brands are looking for a comprehensive solution that creates a bespoke experience crafted to take on the look, feel, and operation of their online platforms and store architectures, and an application that will merge seamlessly into existing websites’ digital platforms. Such a system should also be able to be integrated into other aspects of a brand’s operations including existing systems for inventory, production planning and management, and customer relationship management.

Security and privacy

As discussed in another recent post, Fashion+Tech+Security: Cyber Beware VTO systems have to manage sensitive data including customers’ body models and preferences, and brands’ design files and patterns for unreleased collections. When considering a VTO system, whether from the perspective of a brand or a client, it’s essential to be confident in the supplier’s technology and policies for cybersecurity and privacy. An ideal system is designed around medical-grade security and privacy protection, and customers have total control over the use of their information.

Understanding what “FASHION” means in fashion+tech

Many top fashion labels such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel, Prada, Balenciaga, and Gucci are at least a century old, some over a century and a half, and have survived world wars, global depressions, and previous pandemics. While a certain degree of audacity has always been a respected part of the fashion world, recent declarations from some fashion+tech companies that “the world no longer needs physical clothing,” and that not moving to a “digital-first” model in which craftsmanship and in-person experiences are replaced by social-media pixels represents “old-world thinking,” are unlikely to resonate with either the artists and artisans who give the fashion world its lasting appeal or to the clients who make up their audience.

Expertise

Creating technology for the luxury fashion industry requires a breadth of knowledge and experience that few startups can assemble. With a history of being fashion innovators and inventors our team brings a combined 100+ years of experience and intellect in identifying the needs and processes of the industry as well as leading minds in 3D body scanning, motion capture, 3D CAD modeling, simulation of garment drape, and holographic imaging. VTO suppliers who originate solely in the technology world and lack substantial practical luxury fashion background are unlikely to be able to create and deploy product offerings that meet the exacting aesthetic and experiential requirements of luxury designers and their clientele.

While there are numerous VTO offerings on the market, most of them have similar (and similarly limited) offerings that can't easily be differentiated one from another. The fashion industry recognizes that technology plays a critical role in their success, and they’re just waiting for the right technology to come along that will provide them with the necessary quality and efficiency. There is ample evidence that luxury apparel retailers will spend generously on visualization technologies to create “wow” experiences for their clientele if they see them as an appropriate match to their culture and requirements.

Modern Mirror is uniquely positioned to cater to the needs of the luxury fashion market, providing bespoke in-store and online experiences that capture the true measurements and images of the consumers and showcase accurate and realistic drape of complex garments in real time. The result is a system that inspires unequalled confidence on the part of both luxury brands and luxury buyers and is only a glimpse of what will be possible when fashion embraces the technologies of tomorrow.

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V. Michael Bove, Jr

modern mirror

Advisor & Investor

V. Michael Bove, Jr. has degrees from MIT in Electrical Engineering, Visual Studies, and Media Arts and Sciences, is an inventor on 30 patents, and has served as co-founder, advisor, and/or investor for multiple startups.

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