The fashion industry is tailor-made for an augmented reality explosion. Just picture yourself trying on different shirts digitally; it’s too good. From virtual try-ons, to detailed product inspection, to camera activated logos, to what my mom calls “bright and shiny” camera filters – what we wear will come to life in the virtual world.
Snapchat was the first to discover the power of augmenting the selfie. It’s easy to dismiss this as a Gen Z fad, but put a toddler in front of Snap lenses and you will see – there is something inherently human about the joy of doing stuff to your face. People love it – you probably will too if you give it a try.
It’s no mystery why the first major branded uses of AR were in cosmetics. Map the face, throw different lipstick on – simple and brilliant. Why go to the glaring and diseptic cosmetics counter anymore? But selfies aren’t just for the face, augmenting the body will become a major part of our lives and will be as addictive as Snap face lenses today (for toddlers and you).
I have learned my lesson about shopping online – somehow I end up wearing jeggings instead of the slacks I’m shopping for. Then I return the jeggings. According to Statista, online returns will become a $550 billion problem for retailers this year due to the rise in online shopping. That’s a monstrous issue. Maybe if I could see the fit on my person instead of some random model, I could better judge my purchasing decision? Affecting customer understanding of size and fit before purchase is a necessary solution for online shopping. The largest brands will push the tech to ameliorate the elephantine return issue. The virtual try-on is the future.
A current impediment for this reality is consistent image recognition. The platforms that run your cameras can’t distinguish all the body parts with good enough accuracy. The problem is rather difficult, your arms and legs allow for many shapes, sizes, and poses. Consistent recognition of these different body aspects is necessary to avoid frustrating experiences. The face is more stable, not as many positions or shapes as the full body. Thus makeup, glasses and hats are all available with virtual try-ons. There are already very powerful examples. Large glasses and apparel brands like Warby Parker, Ray-Ban and soon Bolle have already jumped into the space.
Once cameras can recognize the different features of the body and apply lifelike clothes with naturally appearing movement, fashion will never be the same. This is not far off. Google, Snapchat, and Facebook are quickly ticking off the parts of the body their camera can recognize. Brands will be quick to create experiences showcasing their items for try-on. Their owned and operated sites will also become virtual stores, like those being offered by Next Retail, with items linked to high-end 3D models that seamlessly fit (or not) to your body. Adoption will be swift.
3D Product Inspection
Before the full virtual try-on becomes a part of our lives, there are intermediate steps that will start to appear. For instance, we have become quite used to flipping through pictures to study clothes from different angles. Shoes are where you see this the most – here’s the sole, here’s the side view, here’s the top view…That’s dead in the water. Today, brands can throw 3D models of their shoes into a seamless online viewer and voila – a single experience to fully check all aspects of the shoes. Why this hasn’t caught on yet is a mystery.
The details you can achieve with 3D models will also create a new product transparency. The ubiquitous and disorienting UI of the “spyglass” to check fabrics and details goes away. Just zoom in with a finger gesture or a scroll. It’s a 3D model, you can view it from any angle, at any distance. What you see will more often be what you get.
Another solution is turning your mirror into a smart shopping device. They could become the portal to view your whole body selfie. Imagine the mirror like a monitor with apps and the web and such – they function as a full body augmented reality shopping experience that puts the outfit on you. Just open the Chanel site on your mirror and see how great their new blazer looks on you – then decide if you can afford it (and don’t worry about the hassle of returning it). Your mirror interacting with you may seem like sci-fi, but it’s quickly becoming a reality.
There will have to be a level of trust from consumers when it comes to the mirror. Elaine Benes from Seinfeld made famous the “skinny mirrors” from Barney’s. When a mirror can augment you, it’s no longer the impartial arbiter it once was (or claimed to be). And obviously putting cameras into your mirror brings all sorts of privacy issues. You will most certainly be in compromising situations.
Clothing as a Content Platform
Similarly, the clothes themselves will become feedback loops and provide a platform for continued messaging to customers. Apple, Google, Facebook and Snap are all working on image recognition AI capabilities in their cameras. The best example of this today is probably the Google Lens on the Pixel, which can recognize a shocking amount of objects in the world. Just opening your camera and pointing will open a digital layer of AR on the world, activated by specific image markers.
So imagine a Polo Ralph Lauren collared shirt. It’s a cool shirt and you want to know more. Open your camera, point at the logo on the shirt and it will recognize the object and overlay new branded content in your field of view. Buy right then and there if you like what you see. Brands will no longer lose contact with the customer after they purchase; the item itself will be a continual messaging platform.
What Happens Today
We need not wait for this near-future to see the power of augmented reality in fashion, however. With each new advancement in AR capabilities, fashion brands have stepped in to test and acclimate their customers.
One of the first 3D Instagram filters was a Dior lens that put beautifying stylized sequins all over your face. Louis Vuitton used Snap’s image recognition to augment postcards to showcase a new bag. In the app universe, Wannaby created the Wanna Kicks app that tracks your foot and throws shoes on your feet – a prelude to the full clothes shopping future discussed above.
Once web-based AR became available, Chanel created their iconic holiday snow globe in lifelike augmented reality. Users could view the experience on Snapchat and shake to activate the snowing. If they didn’t have Snap, the user got pushed to the web experience on a microsite. These are just a few examples of the most elite fashion brands experimenting with a technology that is obviously not just a crown and dog ear generator.
Most of the elements necessary for AR fashion explosion are here today. Newer phones have depth-sensing cameras to better map the world and place objects correctly. Lifelike 3D modeling is available to showcase your product in super high fidelity, in file sizes acceptable for augmented realityfasha. There is web-based AR and the social channels are iterating on their technologies almost monthly.
Technological Advancements Needed
There are some technological advancements needed to achieve this shopping panacea described above. More of the body must be reliably mapped – as discussed above. Even if you can map anybody reliably, it doesn’t help much if you place a static 3D model on them.
People don’t want the stick figure in a t-shirt experience; it’s not particularly helpful. When customers try on items, they move in them, they look at different angles, they flex and primp and look, look, look. This requires adaptive animation mirroring the bodies’ movements so the clothes will move with them. This is hard – I actually don’t even know how hard, but hard.
That mirror discussed before doesn’t really exist yet. We need watches on wrists and necklaces on necks and bags on shoulders and pants on legs. Each of these is its own challenge. If the rate of AR technological growth stays on its trajectory, however, expect them in…2021.Guest Post
About the Guest Author(s)
Mike Cadoux is the General Manager of QReal (formerly Kabaq.io), a 3D and augmented reality content creation and distribution platform that usher's brands into the immersive media world. Previously, Mike worked as the Managing Director and Co-owner of Peak Organic Beer Company. He graduated from Pomona College.