While the reality of the rise of retail has literally put virtual fittings front and center for shoppers in makeup, sneakers, eyewear and furniture, the consumer proposition for apparel is just getting started. The challenges are great, but interest in augmented reality apparel has been gaining traction in recent years, especially as NFTs and metaverse craze have put 3D digital fashion in the spotlight.
These factors add to a potential influx of virtual fashion experimentation experiences in the years to come, if not sooner, as technology and the brands that embrace it prepare to make their mark.
One of the most visible players in this space is social media giant Snap Inc., as its investments in Snapchat double in fabric simulation and body tracking technology. The company revealed that it has been working on these efforts for the past year and it is clear that they are top priorities as it has refined them and expanded the scope of materials.
The result is already creating new experiences that entertain users. But this is not the only motivation. Snap is also focused on how AR can drive fashion retail.
“I think, for us, a big area that we’ve really invested in is not just bringing these amazing technologies to Snapchatters, but actually how we can help partner with companies and brands and bring our technology to their own apps and websites. .” Carolina Arguelles, Snap’s global AR product strategy and product marketing lead, told WWD.
This vision is apparently so big that it jumps the fence to reach retail in its home turf, not just on the platform.
“It’s really about serving customers. [with] the shopping mindset and helping bring a shopping camera to cameras everywhere, not just the Snapchat camera,” he added.
Enticing people to buy products is an obvious benefit of letting them try the products, and so facilitating that by letting them check out the experience at home is likely to increase sales. But that’s not the only goal in retail.
The company released new data this month that casts AR as a highly effective tool for reducing product returns. A survey conducted by Alter Agents on behalf of Snap and Publicis Media found that two-thirds of consumers are less likely to return goods after using AR. As for fashion, nearly three-quarters said they would likely buy clothes after using AR in the future. The beauty number, where AR is already well established for makeup testing, is 69%.
Naturally, the technology company has an interest in publicizing the technology. But with the scope and scope of the report, the results seem significant. The survey surveyed more than 4,000 shoppers aged between 13 and 49 in the US, UK, France and Saudi Arabia.
And Snapchat is far from the only one.
From a technology perspective, various vendors and platforms have been honing their 3D skills, digitally interpreting clothing for design, collaboration, and prototyping. Many of these companies are keeping an eye on the landscape, while others bring together experts in the field of gaming and entertainment companies – Pixar actually employs tailoring and simulation artists for their animated works – to develop and deploy solutions.
The series of efforts spans initiatives from well-known vendors like Threekit and 3DLook to Walmart, which launched virtual fitting rooms courtesy of its acquisition of Zeekit. This just scratches the surface. Many more are entering the space, offering everything from turnkey solutions to custom collaborations for the fashion world. Avatar, an AI and computer vision platform, closed a $45 million Series B funding round earlier this year, and this month launched a new self-service platform to automate 3D AR capabilities for merchants.
AR startup Zero10 aims to take on Snapchat head-on.
In an exclusive, the company told WWD that it is about to release details about a new release that brings AR-powered shopping to the Maisie Wilen brand. Zero10 has also worked with emerging and established brands such as Alexandra Sipa, Tommy Cash, Barragan and Edward Crutchley.
When asked why Zero10 chose to develop its own solution rather than relying on Snap or another partner, George Yashin, CEO, explained that it was a matter of control: “We talked to Snapchat maybe a year ago, and they asked us to use their SDK,” he explained to WWD. “But we have no control over that. It’s very important to have control over what you do, that’s why we have a huge technology and 3D team. All of our teams are at home and we are focused exclusively on digital fashion.”
After building with its $2 million investment from angel investors, it is working on a seed round, while also preparing to release a software development kit for tissue simulation and body tracking. It is also developing a solution to boost AR in physical retail.
The main differentiation between the Snap and Zero10 solutions is the body fit data. It’s not available for the latter today, although it might come in a future release. Meanwhile, it’s very much part of the equation for the former.
Snap’s acquisition of Fit Analytics last year signaled its intentions, and if that wasn’t clear, the company’s recent partner summit has clarified it. The social media giant announced the size prediction among a slew of new features in April, and the work won’t stop there.
Where it goes next, only Snap knows. But it will be the culmination of 10 years of AR development for the company. To better understand this trajectory, Arguelles will join WWD in a session on augmented reality in fashion later this month.
The stakes are high. Estimates suggest that the global retail augmented reality market will be worth around $2.36 billion this year, with growth projected to reach somewhere around $23 billion by the end of 2032. Fashion’s share will likely depend, at least in part, in metaverse applications.
Yashin predicts this too, and he’s already evaluating how his augmented reality technology can connect to these immersive environments, he teased WWD. It’s an ambitious roadmap, but the fashion tech exec doesn’t seem intimidated. Having previously founded Generation Z fashion brand ZNY, he knows the challenges on the fashion front and, in terms of technology, his legion of developers and engineers are up to the task.
With the massive push behind AR apps for fashion, it’s more than likely that someone will figure out how to crack it in no time, whether it’s Yashin, Arguelles, or one of the countless other vendors that have landed in this space or are about to enter. And that means AR for fashion can finally arrive, ready to connect the massive real-world retail and fashion businesses with the emerging virtual world.