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Thursday, December 1, 2022
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From Virtual Clothes to Virtual Stores: XR in Fashion Retail

A look at virtual try-on and virtual stores from Walmart to Vogue.

 

Fashion is physical. Right? While clothing has always been material, expression has always been something more. And, digital fashion brands have been exploring that intersection. Even physical fashion brands are using XR technology to sell their hard-copy clothing. Though some are selling soft-copy clothing too. From virtual clothes to virtual stores, there’s a lot to see.

How to Bring the Human Into Virtual Try-On

Before we get to full-on virtual stores, let’s start off with physical fashion retailers using XR technology. What’s the worst part of buying clothes? Trying them on, right?

We’re all in agreement about that? The lines, the time, and the hassle? The… it’s just awkward, right? But, you want to know what the clothes will look like on you. This is where XR comes in. But, it turns out it’s still awkward. Or, at least, it can be.

Reactive Reality

In September, Reactive Reality announced the launch of a physical “smart mirror” for virtual try-on in brick-and-mortar stores. That might sound familiar to some ARPost readers. The launch of the original PICTOFiT was one of our most popular articles last year. That iteration was an interface through e-commerce apps and sites. The smart mirror is different.

Reactive Reality - Magic Mirror

“We’re super proud to launch it on the market,” co-founder Stefan Hauswiesner told ARPost. “It’s a first, and we hope that it gives shoppers both online and offline more confidence.”

Both projects involve the creation of an avatar by the user by inputting a few body measurements. This creates a virtual model without using a photograph while being more valuable to the user than other solutions.

The avatar can look kind of like a virtual store mannequin, but can also have a user’s face, hair, and skin tone. The user can even share screenshots of their avatar wearing yet-unpurchased ensembles in different virtual backgrounds.

“Sometimes, they screenshot things, send them to friends, ask for advice, so it’s gamified in that way,” said Hauswiesner. “Initially, as a company, we hadn’t set out to do just that.”

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The solution can work with 2D product images, but retailers get more out of the process if they have 3D assets. That includes AB testing options before making garments.

“We always set out to work with the real-life data that retailers have on hand. To this day, eight-and-a-half years later, this is our main competitive advantage,” said Hauswiesner. “Now, we can dress models and people with garments that have yet to be manufactured.”

Even earlier models were mini-volumetric scanning set-ups but required the user to be “practically naked,” which many weren’t comfortable with.

Be Your Own Model

Last year, Walmart acquired Zeekit – a “virtual fitting room platform.” Around the time that Hauswiesner and I were talking about the pros and cons of uploading photographs of oneself practically naked, Walmart announced the fruits of the Zeekit acquisition. It’s a solution called “Be Your Own Model.”

Be Your Own Model - Walmart - virtual try-on experience

The process is potentially more user-friendly than PICTOFiT in that there are no input requirements for measurements – user’s don’t necessarily need to know their sizes, let alone their inseams. However, they do need to upload a photo of themselves… lightly clad.

Rather than generating a 3D model, the solution uses machine learning to generate a “topographical map” of the user, clothed with photo-based assets featuring realistic folds, textures, and lighting. This replaces Walmart’s previous generation of at-home clothing previews, which allowed users to select a representative model from some seventy options.

“These features work together to create a unique experience that is incredibly simple for our customers to use, and it will be available at an unprecedented size and scale, with more than 270K items,” Walmart New Businesses & Emerging Tech SVP, Cheryl Ainoa, said on LinkedIn. “I can’t help but imagine how far Be Your Own Model’s tech-powered features will go.”

Like Reactive Reality, Walmart is hoping to see users sharing their “Be Your Own Model” experiences on social media, as well as trying on clothes that may not be available at the physical location closest to them – entering into that “virtual store” utility.

Complete Virtual Stores

So far, we’ve looked at solutions putting physical goods on virtual bodies. But, there are also solutions for bringing virtual people into virtual stores. Rather than a relatively simple adaptation of mobile-based online shopping, these solutions take advantage of the average person’s spending more and more time in virtual worlds.

Emperia and Bloomingdale’s

This spring, ARPost introduced our readers to Emperia. At the time, the focus was on an immersive e-commerce solution switching from shorter-term specific activations to always-on virtual stores. The story remains a touchstone for the sustained interest in changing the ways that we encounter brands and merchandise.

More recently, Emperia announced another milestone. The company created an experience for Bloomingdale’s for the retailer’s 150th anniversary. The virtual store consisted of three separate rooms where users remotely browsed items by Polo Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and others.

Bloomingdale's virtual store Emperia

“We are honored that Bloomingdale’s chose to partner with Emperia during a time where the company is marking its 150-year celebration, highlighting its historic achievements and contributions to the fashion world through their unique retail approach,” Emperia co-founder and CEO Olga Dogadkina said in a release shared with ARPost.

The activation wasn’t just a 3D catalog. It featured specially-designed items, games, and a video showcasing the history of Bloomingdale’s. And, when Bloomingdale’s is done with their celebration, they can change the collection and even the decorations in their virtual store.

“Highlighting their continued mark on the fashion industry, they keep pushing the limits of innovation, serving as an example of how to use cutting-edge technology that creates a highly- engaging, memorable online shopping experience,” said Dogadkina.

In-store and print advertising by Bloomingdale’s was also augmented through work by 8th Wall and ROSE. Whether in-store or rising out of a print catalog, live models showed shoppers fashions in their environments through their phones. This kind of activation is becoming a signature for ROSE in particular, who have created similar activations for KHAITE and others.

Bloomingdale’s ROSE WebAR

Walmart Returns

As this article was being written, Walmart returned with another virtual commerce activation, this time in Roblox. The activation consists of two separate spaces, one more gamified and the other more obviously advertorial. Not virtual stores exactly, neither of the spaces actually enable the purchasing of items or services whether from Walmart or in the Roblox ecosystem.

The Roblox activations are reportedly a testing ground for future virtual world initiatives by the retail giant. These gamified virtual experiences will reportedly play host to further events like concerts in the future. And, probably, virtual storefronts at some point.

Vogue in Virtual Worlds

Walmart isn’t the only familiar name in virtual stores, and they certainly aren’t the deepest in the pool. As this article was being written, Vogue Business held the “Metaverse Atelier” in a virtual world created by Journee and powered by Epic Games.

Vogue Business Metaverse Atelier virtual world

This second immersive event by the company showcased seven pieces of virtual fashion as well as holographic interviews with some of the driving forces behind the experience and other virtual fashion pioneers like DRESSX and The Fabricant. A few weeks earlier, ARPost spoke with Spatial co-founder and CPO, Jinha Lee, about a Vogue Singapore issue launch in that platform.

“We’ve been hearing from designers who are involved in building some of these assets that can now be used in Spatial,” said Lee. “It allows designers to express themselves more freely. … The design process becomes much more iterative and interactive.”

Late last year, Spatial pivoted from enterprise to consumer service. Lee attributed the move to more casual users looking for ways to interact in meaningful ways during the pandemic. But he says that this trend has significantly accelerated since the company began working with cross-platform avatar generator Ready Player Me this summer.

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“We became more of a lifestyle company when everyone could be represented in that full way,” said Lee. “Before, our clients were technical artists and now we can speak to a lifestyle client like Vogue.”

The Mall

MetaVRse has been working on “The Mall” for what feels like forever. Growing out of their virtual showroom technology, The Mall is an in-development virtual store and social space that potentially makes The Mall of America look like a rural convenience store. The virtual world is 100 stories tall, with each story covering a million square feet of virtual real estate.

While the company has been issuing controlled releases about the progress of The Mall for months now, we got the biggest sneak peek yet at the WebXR Brand Summit. We didn’t just see a sneak peek of what the virtual store will look like, but also its avatar system, games within the virtual world, and news about cryptocurrency interfaces within the retail space.

“We named it ‘The Mall.’ It’s not ‘The Metaverse Mall,’ or ‘The MetaMall,’ or anything like that,” Alan Smithson, MetaVRse co-founder, said during his demo. “It’s just ‘The Mall.’ The only mall that matters.”

Try It On!

Whether you’re looking for virtual fashion, virtual stores, or just an easier way to expand your physical wardrobe, XR fashion is blazing new trails in this once inherently physical industry. So what are you waiting for? Try something on.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.