In part one of “Fashion Goes Virtual” I addressed the topic of virtual dressing for product development. In part two, I’m shifting gears to highlight some of the emerging strategies for on-line and in-store shopping. In the apparel shopping environment, retailers are looking for ways to enhance the consumer in-store experience and e-tailers have been challenged to accurately communicate garment style and fit to the consumer over the web. Virtual dressing technologies are being developed as an approach to these needs. The current selection of virtual dressing systems can be placed into categories based on the strategy for rendering and interacting with the virtual garment sample.
The first approach involves providing dynamic product content that includes presentation of real life garments on a generic model. Using digital capture methods, the garment images are accurate and high quality representations of the product. In some instances, the model and garment images are captured through digital photography and solution providers offer opportunity for the consumer to interact with the 2D information. In the case of the Looklet system, the consumer can customize the model’s appearance and select garments and accessories from the on-line store for the model to wear. The user can swap out components to create an outfit and obtain a sense of style and coordination for the items selected. Some companies use video technology rather than still images so that consumers can view garments from a variety of angles and in more of a fashion modeling manner. Check out the ladies jeans area of the JC Penney website for an example of this approach.
By some standards, the renderings I’ve just described are not really virtual try-on systems. However, I include them in this discussion as examples of how companies are attempting to move away from the static garment photograph and offer a more dynamic and informative consumer interface. The primary benefit of such systems is the ability to provide attractive and photographic representation of the real-life product. On the down side, these solutions do not provide the consumer with a sense of what the garment will look like on his/her own body. However, where model customization is possible, the consumer may be able to create a model he/she looks like or wishes to look like.
The second category of technology for consumer based virtual dressing includes virtual or magic mirror systems. A number of solutions of this type have entered the market to date and retailers including Macy’s are using these technologies for apparel shopping. The magic mirror strategy involves the use of large digital displays within the retail environment. Consumers stand in front of the display and are able to see themselves life size as if looking into a mirror. They are able to interact with the display through touch or gesture recognition to select clothing items and place them over their bodies to get a sense of style and color. In some cases, retailers can use electronic product codes or RFID to link product in the store to the virtual mirror system.
Although the magic mirror garments are photographic, the approach is paper doll like in that the photographs remain flat and do not currently morph to the shape of the underlying body. From a consumer standpoint, the ability to interact with a life size display is appealing, particularly where gestures can be used as the means of garment selection. Related strategies have been developed for mobile settings. Check out the eBay Fashion application for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch devices. This application allows the user to work with his/her own photograph as the background and the user can select items from the closet to place in the photograph.
The third group of systems for virtual dressing can be classified as true 3D technologies. One of the challenges for development of 3D systems has been the ability to provide low cost, real-time solutions suitable for web use. The other challenge has been the ability to rapidly generate avatars that are life-like representations of individual consumers. Companies including OptiTex, Tukatech and [TC]2 have been engaged in development of 3D technologies in this area. OptiTex and Tukatech are harnessing the capabilities of their 3D product development technologies for parallel web-based systems. These solutions enable presentation of draped, 3D garments on avatars that can be morphed to custom body dimensions and shapes. One of the benefits of this parallel strategy is the development of 3D garments from 2D patterns. This connection offers the potential to link the visualized style to garment size and fit specifications.
[TC]2 offers a virtual fashion system that channels the value of a database of 3D body scanning for the real time generation of personal avatars. Within this virtual fashion system, the consumer obtains his/her avatar through the 3D body scanning procedure or by entering a handful of body measurement and shape characteristics into the on-line or in-store system. Personal avatars are created by rapidly morphing an existing avatar to the shape and dimension of the scan. When using the measurement input strategy, the software engine references the SizeUSA database to drive the morphing. In both cases, the results are generated in a few moments and the avatars are highly representative of the consumer’s individual body type. [TC]2 is also developing a system for generating avatars through body scanning with the Microsoft Kinect device. This device is in a broad adoption phase among consumers for the home gaming environment and a logical solution for low cost and in-home scanning.
Once the personal avatar has been generated, the consumer can begin the virtual try-on process. 3D garment content can be imported into the system for this purpose. The virtual garments can be developed using product development solutions previously described. Once imported, the garments can be morphed to the shape of the avatar to support visualization of style on the consumer’s unique body. In this case, the 3D garment content is linked to 2D patterns as the original source and there is opportunity to offer a size prediction. Using garment creation technology from VDresser, it’s also possible to rapidly develop 3D fashion content from front and back photographs of the garment. The VDresser approach offers a quick solution and 3D garment content can now be created for under ten dollars per garment. This low cost method of generating photographic quality 3D renderings is crucial for high-volume consumer visualization. However, a link to garment sizing and fit must be established separately.
In summary, virtual fashion technologies are coming of age for both product development and consumer purposes. Watch the technology reference area for information regarding technology advancement as well as adoption. Shifting focus, look for posts in June and July to spotlight digital textile and garment printing. This is a rapidly emerging technology area of relevance to the cotton industry. So, check back for the latest information on this and don’t forget to send us your comments and questions!