For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

A second driver to consider is usability. Anyone who tried the ZOZO suit would know that for all of its clever (and accurate, in my case) 12-stage ‘clock-face’ photography process, the requirement of a special cardboard stand for the phone that had to be set a specific distance from the user and carefully angled in order to capture the photos accurately meant that it definitely wasn’t ‘foolproof’. Whilst it was a great leap forward in terms of giving consumers control over the fit regardless of ‘size’, it did not offer the measurement accuracy of Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D technology solution – or AR try-on. It has to be said that to try on the clothes virtually, it is necessary to do the 40-second video of the user, and the brand you want to try on virtually has to have been rendered in Pictofit 3D – so this collaboration should be considered a ‘proof-of-concept’.

For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

Getting down to the practicalities of use, the 3D avatar is a great tool for determining measurements and whether garments will fit, so do we need the AR try-on? Our behaviour suggests we do, and so does the strain on the planet due to garment returns and unsustainable consumption. We are not just shopping online more, we are shopping on mobile more, driven by the pull and shopability of mobile platforms like Instagram. It’s probably impossible to overestimate the importance and symbiosis of mobile retail and user-generated content, and Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D solution has the potential to nail this, with exceptional render quality of the garment and highly realistic user avatars – giving rise to try-on that you might actually want to screengrab and share.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

On a sustainability level, garment return rates are soaring because of ill-fitting clothing and the difficulty of determining fit from standard e-commerce tools. If you’ve grappled with a tape measure and an online retailer size chart recently you’ll know what I mean. Additional to fit is the concept of style – which is how you want to wear your clothes. ‘Fit’ means baggy to some people and second-skin to others. It certainly looks like the only viable solution for considering both fit and style is trying on the clothing – either digitally or physically. If getting to the physical version is impractical, or not in line with consumption patterns, Pictofit 3D offers a total solution.

Of course technology like this lives and breathes when fashion brands engage with it, hence Reactive Reality’s recent partnership with 
Charli Cohen, facilitated and driven by the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. The FIA is an enterprise-facing innovation team driving the union of cutting-edge technology companies with fashion brands and designers. But why Charli Cohen? The FIA explained that as a “digital-first” brand, Charli Cohen relies heavily on e-commerce, which for the reasons explained above, needs to provide greater digital attention to detail and fabric quality to satisfy modern online customers. The FIA explained that Reactive Reality’s technology bypasses the need to sell in a physical store where you can touch/interact with the garment because their AR clothing is exceptionally realistic. Cohen was keen to work with the FIA and Reactive Reality to allow her online customers to get the closest thing to a physical experience of her products, digitally.   Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation agency said “the rapid digitisation of both product and people offers extraordinary possibilities for the fashion industry. From virtual product and virtual try-on to future bespoke experiences, we are creating entirely new ways for consumers to engage.”

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, augmented reality has been a buzzword for some time, but it has been hampered by teething problems and an uncompromising fashion audience. It has taken brave, pioneering designers, including 
Sabinna and Fyodor Golan, to make the first steps towards getting the AR experience to where it needs to be for the fashion crowd and consumers. Charli Cohen, CEO of her eponymous brand said “we have long seen AR as a really exciting way to create an immersive experience for our customers, but it has lacked much practicality beyond a fun novelty. This technology from Reactive Reality, however, is incredibly practical and helps to emulate an important aspect of the physical in-store experience for digital, in a truly immersive and interactive way.”

With the current version of Pictofit 3D still in development, it is not yet ready for consumers but is of huge interest to brands looking to expand into offering virtual try-on.  The brands have been put off in the past by substandard imagery and usability, often referred to as “uncanny valley” gaming-like imagery. When I spoke to Arjun Thomke, Director of Business Development at Reactive Reality about the adoption of their technology by fashion brands, he said there are “two big drivers – reducing return rate by offering the correct fit at first purchase. The second piece is user engagement and sales conversions.” Expanding on this, he explained that in an increasingly brand agnostic world, why would consumers choose one brand over the other? How can brands draw consumers in so that they become more involved with the products, thereby increasing dwell time and, as a result, an increase in sales.” He says he has sales figures to back this up, but can’t share them as they are under an NDA.

When I asked about their nearest competitors, Thomke listed 
Zeekit and Metail, who provide fashion try-on, 8i who provide photorealistic avatars and ZOZO suit (no longer available to consumers), Body Labs and others with respect to creating precise body measurements.  It appears that there are no competitors providing all three solutions together.  Thomke said he has received the feedback that their competitors “never give a live demo [in the first pitch]- they show slides.” Highlighting the jewel in their tech crown, he explained that the fast algorithmic calculations of their solution provide photo-realistic 3D models in around 37 minutes with regular wifi access – no competitor can match the speed or detailed image output.  In a follow-up email after our conversation, Thomke added “our artificial intelligence algorithms will bring this down to a matter of a few minutes in the coming months”. 

“Reactive Reality’s technology enables users to try-on different accessories (e.g. purses, shoes), which gives retailers + brands the opportunity to cross-sell products. Again, other solutions do not generate 3D models of all your products. We go even further than generating the 3D models; users can virtually open a purse and place objects (e.g. mobile phone) inside to see if they will fit.”

So which fashion companies are adopting this technology? Many are choosing to partner with Reactive Reality to test all the elements of their offer and run initial pilots. The brands Reactive Reality are working with span luxury and fast fashion – he can’t say who they are, due to NDAs. He did elaborate to say of the 3D avatar and garment capture process that these fashion companies already have the studio set up to take photographs of models and products, so this technology solution simply allows them to better leverage this facility by creating photorealistic 3D assets – without the need for 3D digital design or CAD software.

We are in contact with a major retailer that invested significant resources into a ‘computer-game like’ avatar solution, and recently shut it down.  Customers reacted poorly to seeing an ‘unrealistic’ 3D avatar.”

Thomke says they are “constantly in touch with larger players in the valley.” The avatar creation of their platform has a powerful potential in gaming, teleconferencing and social media. He astutely points out that the “biggest problem in AR and VR is content – where is it? Most AR and VR experiences are PR related, rather than improving the consumer shopping experience.”  Pictofit 3D seeks to change that.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

Which brands are on their ‘most wanted client’ list? “By region, Japan has a huge interest and is very tech-savvy – they are very mobile-driven”. He says they are “aggressively pushing these types of solutions.”

Broadly speaking, he said “some fashion companies are developing a 3D strategy and AR and VR are still extremely new areas for fashion. The luxury customer and high-street customer will be very different so we work with the brands to present a unique experience.” Differentiating between the market segments, he said “luxury is very interested [in the technology] because of the realism [and detail in garment stitching and fabrics]. Fast fashion is interested in scalability.”

The current business model is a fixed fee for pilot projects but subscription-based for integrated solutions, where Reactive Reality charge a fee per monthly active users. Last year Reactive Reality partnered with 
YOOX Net A Porter to offer at 2.5D frontal try-on with a parallax effect using the retailer’s existing images, but their new 3D tool is a huge leap beyond that. The recent implementation of AR solutions at ASOS, Nike, Zara, Gap (the list goes on) suggests that once Pictofit 3D is rolled out by brands it may be the first window into your truly personalised virtual shopping future.