Fitiquette is a virtual fitting room, but virtual custom tailor may be more accurate. Recently featured in the SF Chronicle, Fitiquette has unique technology that takes the virtual fitting room concept to a new level. What makes it so unique? With Fitiquette, shoppers create a virtual imitation of themselves to try-on and buy their clothing online. No cutting and pasting flat images, Fitiquette is true to form sizing based on a series of measurements that match your body.
1. What inspired you to develop FITIQUETTE?
My co-founder, Anant Kumar and I were both working for Cisco. A particular Cisco commercial struck us. A woman is in a clothing store, standing before a screen/mirror. With the wave of a hand or the flick of a finger, she could change the dress her image was trying on, or the color or the size.
This fascinated and intrigued us – we could buy clothes from the comfort of our own homes, knowing that they fit well! We started researching this technology and market, on our own time.
There is $30B market for online clothing. Turns out, as a percentage of total sales (10%), this come nowhere near the online books/computers sales (50%). Also, return rates for clothes bought online are 3 times those for clothes bought in brick and mortar stores. This is a problem for all in the supply chain – designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and of course the consumer. It also represents a serious inefficiency in how the business of fashion is conducted. We set out to understand the competitive landscape and see how we could solve this problem.
For over 2 years, we researched the market and technology. After several false starts, we settled on the technology, a little over a year ago. Since then, we have been refining the technology and have defined our business strategy. The technology and the strategy continue to evolve but the foundation is in place.
2. There are a few virtual dressing room startups out there, what makes FITIQUETTE different (i.e. what’s the secret sauce)?
Virtual Fitting room has been in the fashion industry’s wish-list ever since Internet commerce began. Quite a few attempts have been made, over the last decade or so, to solve the virtual fitting problem. The attempts we saw were either cumbersome or not-scalable. We decided this was an open marketplace, for us to disrupt. From the get-go, we knew we wanted our members to have a simple, elegant experience. Our UI reflects that.
• Model creation is a simple process. No webcams, scanners, mechanical parts and complex measurements are needed. 3 simple clicks and you are done!
• While most of our competition focuses on patching images of clothes (sometimes stretching images to fit) on the photograph of a preset model, we focus on accurate size and drape representation of clothes, on the user-created model.
• Our members see a 3D representation of their model and the clothes they try on, from all 360 degrees.
• We do not tell our members which size they should buy – people do not like that. We show them visually how the different sizes of a garment fit their body, side-by-side. They choose which fit they prefer.
3. What are the benefits of FITIQUETTE’s technology to consumers and to retailers?
There is total chaos, when it comes to sizing of clothes, in the marketplace.
• Every design-house designs to different measurement schemes (grading scales), based on their own aggregated understanding of their target market segment.
• This implies that the same size label, across different brands (sometimes across different collections within the same brand) represents different dimensions and body shapes.
• Different markets label clothes differently. Europe has a different convention, so does the North American market as does Asia-Pac.
• Within the same market, different clothes (skirts, pants, jeans, tops, dresses etc.) are labeled differently.
• To add insult to injury, all brands indulge in what is termed ‘vanity sizing’. The same size label, over the years, grows in actual dimensions.
This leaves the consumer totally confused. They know how a particular size fits them, from a given brand, in a given collection, in a given year. When they go to buy 1) a foreign brand, 2) an unfamiliar US brand, 3) a different line within a familiar brand, or 4) a different clothing item/type within a familiar line and brand, they are not sure of the sizing.
They evolve one of several buying behavior.
• Never buy online.
• Buy online but only familiar brands and lines.
• Buy unfamiliar brands online, but if they don’t fit well, exchange the item for a different size that might fit better. Rinse, repeat!
• Buy unfamiliar brands online, but if they don’t fit well, return the item bought and never shop there again.
• Buy multiple sizes. Use your bedroom as a fitting room and return sizes that don’t fit well.
Each of these behaviors present pain points for the consumer and the retailer/designer.
• Online sales are low. As mentioned the percentage of clothes sold online is only 10% of total sales. This means retailers continue to operate out of brick-n-mortar locations and are unable to take advantage of the efficiencies of having a virtual storefront. Consumers need to take time off their busy schedules to go to the physical store, to try-on clothes and then buy. Some obviously enjoy this. In our increasingly busy lives, most would rather shop in their own physical space, at a time convenient to them, knowing that the clothes will fit the way they would like.
• High return rates: For the retailer/designer, this means re-stocking expenses and having to re-sell inventory, possibly returned at the end of a season. If the retailer offers free shipping/returns, that represents additional expense as well. For the consumer, this means the hassle of re-packaging clothes bought online and taking the package to USPS/UPS/FedEx etc. This is definitely less hassle than going to a store but still requires some extra work that the consumer would rather not do. In addition, if they have to pay for shipping, that is an added expense.
In addition, low online sales imply that retailers and designers do not have the opportunity to capture data about the consumer. This data could help them understand their target markets better, make their supply chain more efficient and green out the entire production process.
New mechanisms during the pre-production phase, enabled by widespread online shopping, could allow designers to further optimize their design process and eliminate excess inventory that needs to be sold at discount prices at the end of every season.
4. FITIQUETTE has access to some powerful data. We know you can’t give us all the good stuff, but can you highlight some important or surprising insights for us?
When we launched our invite-only beta, there were 2 prime questions that we needed to answer:
• Will the shoppers give us their dimensions? Over 80% of shoppers that have activated their account have created their digital model. We now have access to their aggregate dimensions and can study them to understand how to curate for our consumer-base. This is very powerful data for designer brands as well. The trends are even more fascinating when we overlay rough geo-location data. For example, we have seen increasing mismatch in the demand and supply for particular sizes in particular area. Smaller sizes are getting sold out quickly in the many parts of SF Bay Area.
• Will the shoppers engage? We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of try-ons we have seen in last 5 weeks we have been operating. We can use this data to curate and ultimately personalize our collection, for each individual member. For example we now can see correlations between height/dimensions of our shoppers and the type of clothes they try-on and buy. We also see higher engagement in terms of try-ons before they purchase an item.
5. Are you working with any brands, if so, which ones, and how can brands leverage FITIQUETTE to drive traffic and maximize sales?
We are currently working with urban chic designer brands such as Dolce Vita, FACTORY by Erik Hart, Harputs Own and B B Dakota. We are talking to other brands including a Project Runway winner. Gus Harput of Harputs Own is an active supporter of ours.
We are engaging with our customers on all social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. For example FACTORY by Erik Hart has re-tweeted our tweets to their followers, to alert their consumer base of our virtual fitting room. They and other designers can direct their fan and consumer base to our platform, to virtually try-on their designs.
6. What are some of the types of partnerships you’re trying to build and what are your future plans?
FITIQUETTE sits at the cusp of fashion and technology. We enable the consumer to obviate one of the biggest pain points in the online shopping experience – unknown fit. We allow the consumer to engage during the design process, providing the designer with the ultimate customer insight, straight from the figurative horse’s mouth.
We are obviously looking to build partnerships with fashion designers and retailers to enable the above. In addition, we see ourselves as an integral part of the community and ecosystem engaged in the business of fashion, viz. designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, trade shows and the media. We can be valuable partners at each of these stages of the fashion business with our strong technology, customer focus and of course data collection and analysis strategy.
7. Outside of FITIQUETTE, what other technologies at the intersection of fashion and technology personally excite you?
We are big fans of several fashion and tech technologies and products outside of FITIQUETTE. The first that comes to mind is “peer-to-peer commerce”. FITIQUETTE potentially eliminates inefficiencies in the supply chain, so we don’t have excess inventory at the end of the season that retailers must now discount. Poshmark, for example, works at it from the other end. It enables peer-to-peer mobile device based shopping, making it a fun experience.
The second that excites us at FITIQUETTE is “discovery”. For example Like.com (acquired by Google) enabled consumers to search visually similar items. This technology allows the consumer to curate their own outfits, discovering varying yet similar pieces, potentially refining and narrowing down their selection, culminating in the right buy.
The third technology that we think has tremendous potential but is currently still in its consumer-infancy, is webcam based scanners. Free-standing 3D scanners have been used in the film industry and in the gaming world for a long time. These scanners are increasingly accurate and provide 3D renderings of objects (human bodies). However, they are also expensive. Since they are expensive, they can only be deployed in limited geographies limiting access to select few uesrs. They are, hence, not very scalable. User error can still mean inaccuracies in the dimensions gathered and hence creation of the model.
We are watching these technologies and would love to work with them as and when appropriate.
While on the topic, let me tell you about one technology we are not fans of. Augmented reality based photo-patching technologies that claim to be virtual fitting rooms! We all know different sizes of the same garment will drape differently on the same body. Stretching an image, so it follows the contours of a customer, is not an accurate representation of how a garment will look and fit on someone’s body!
By Charles Belle, contact Charles by email: email@example.com.