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Awakening: Augmented Reality in Fashion

Meta: Augmented Reality in fashion designs: Is AR the answer for boosting sales during the pandemic, saving money in manufacturing and increasing sustainability?

The closed-off realm of luxury fashion and the fashion industry calls for a change. But the leaders of the fashion world have been reluctant to take action, even though the trends have changed. The next generation of consumers is environmentally conscious and advocates sustainability.

For real change to happen, one needs something better than what was before, and now, with the constantly evolving virtual reality, we have just that. Fashion is a visual industry, so when paired with Virtual, Mixed and/or Augmented Reality the possibilities are endless.

Amidst the pandemic and compulsory social distancing, finally, the fashion industry has gotten its wake-up call. With all the runway shows on hold, and the stores closed to survive, it has to reform and implement new technologies to reach customers. There have been many attempts to incorporate augmented reality into the fashion industry, from fashion Augmented Reality runway shows to try-on applications, and the time has come to take another step.

What redesigned Augmented Reality can offer the fashion world

First let’s define augmented reality:

“Augmented reality refers to any technology that ‘augments’ the user’s visual (and in some case auditory) perception of their environment. Typically, digital information is superimposed over a natural existing environment. Information is tailored to the user’s physical position as well as the context of the task, thereby helping the user to solve the problem and complete the task.” – The Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance

Augmented reality is more than entertainment. It can be a tool to increase brand awareness, to save on expenses, and to boost customers’ interest if used correctly. AR in the fashion industry can reduce waste and emission, and contribute to a more sustainable future. 

Some might argue that the extra hardware and software precludes mainstream adoption of AR, but that’s no longer the issue it used to be. Many applications are supported by smartphones and work well with 5G, and on the more immersive end, goggles are becoming cheaper. The exception is the goggles used for Mixed Reality (MX headsets), which can still cost more than 2000$, but MR presentations are used mainly for B2B applications. (This hardware can produce life-sized holograms and mind-blowing visuals.) By contrast, consumer-level AR is more and more accessible on regular devices.

In the next 4 sections let’s explore the possibilities hidden in AR applications that are bound to change the fashion industry as we know it today:

  • AR fashion shows
  • enhanced e-commerce
  • sustainability
  • digital fashion

Augmented Reality fashion shows, for better customer experience

Many experiments have been done in the past few years as the technology to create virtual reality has evolved. At the beginning of 2019, there was a Mixed Reality fashion show held in London, a collaboration between Magic Leap and up-and-coming designer Gerrit Jacob. This was a physical runway fashion show with an extra digital layer to enhance attendees’ experience. The crew created a whole digital background to complement the collection and the show was a great success.

But there is so much more that can be done! AR runway shows transport the models into your living room. Virtual reality democratizes the fashion world because runway shows can become a first-row experience for anyone who buys the goggles and fashion software. It won’t be accessible only for the privileged celebrities who are invited or the few who can pay the exorbitant entrance fees.

“People are beginning to question the reason for a physical show and the value of a physical show when the technology exists to reach a much bigger audience through a digital space.” 

– said Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, and it is true. Due to COVID-19, the fashion events of 2020 were held online, and with success. London Fashion Week and Helsinki Fashion Week were both held in front of an online audience. The Moscow Fashion Show had 830.000 viewers!

There are numerous benefits of AR runway shows. They can serve larger audiences and bring in more consumers. They’re accessible to all devoted fashion lovers, and with an added digital layer, a show fascinates customers and drives virality. A digital fashion show has reduced costs and also allows organizers to monitor the audience and gather useful data about preferences and trends.

How can Augmented Reality in fashion enhance e-commerce?

Virtual try-on is an emerging trend. This feature is incredibly useful, particularly when social distancing is necessary and we try to avoid going into brick and mortar stores. When purchasing clothes online, the biggest challenge is to imagine what they might look like when wearing them. Augmented reality is a great solution to this problem: by using personalized 3D human models, customers can try on the clothes before purchasing them. This opens new possibilities for e-commerce stores, enhances user experience and will surely save a lot of money on customer returns. (15-40% of clothes purchased online are returned to retailers). Luxury brands like Gucci and Burberry have created applications for try-on and a virtual showroom experience as an answer to the growing trend.

Another creative application of augmented reality in fashion is lenses. These filters can be downloaded on Snapchat or social media and let users try on accessories or cosmetics on a branded and themed background. This is a great way to market new items and a good branding strategy. Luxury brands like Dior, Gucci, Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent are already using this Augmented Reality feature.

How AR technology can assist the fashion industry to create a sustainable future

The fashion industry generates a lot of waste:

  • Millions of tons of clothes are thrown away every year
  • Pre-consumer phase (before the products even hit the shelves): ~7 billion dollars per year are spent on physical sampling. These clothes are samples that get developed into clothes, collections. But with the quickly changing trends, the vast majority of them are never used, just thrown away
  • The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global emissions per year

Millenials and Gen Z are more and more environmentally conscious; this growing trend is reflected in their purchase decisions too. Many choose to buy second-hand clothes or clothes made of recycled materials. Another emerging trend that has gained popularity is to keep your wardrobe minimal, to reduce waste.

Luckily AR technology has solutions that can reduce waste, cut costs for companies, and ultimately appeal to the new generation of customers, by showcasing new environmentally friendly production methods.

Samples can be replaced by AR design that offers 3D photorealistic renders of the garments. There have already been attempts to swap out physical sampling with digital ones, but the technology wasn’t quite there yet. So the compromise has been to have a certain percent of physical samples together with digital ones, and this method has proved very profitable:

  • Target implemented AR technology and replaced 65% of its physical samples with digital ones
  • a luxury brand reduced the average time to market per style from 3 months to 2 weeks by implementing AR technology into fashion sampling

But now, the technology is mature enough to create the perfect digital sample. An emerging startup company (ARe fashion) designs digital clothing, not from photos but patterns; the items thus designed are not only similar but a perfect copy of the original dress, down to the last stitch. With digital samples waste produced by the fashion industry can be reduced. This method also saves money for companies and saves time when it comes to producing new collections.

Applying AR technology in the fashion industry, with virtual try-on applications, might decrease the need to go to brick and mortar stores to try on the clothes before purchasing, thus reducing carbon emissions. AR runway shows have the same effect by reducing the need to travel. Digital sampling doesn’t need couriers and saves time and money on production, making it a big step towards sustainability for the fashion industry.

The biggest, and probably the most unusual, step towards a greener future in fashion is digital couture.

The emerging dragon: Digital Couture

Digital Fashion is an emerging trend. As people spend more and more time online for work, meetings, gaming or because of social distancing, our virtual selves become increasingly important. Because they represent people in the virtual space there is a demand for personalizing that avatar.

Older generations likely won’t care, but the younger generation spend their time mostly in the virtual space. They will spend their money buying digital clothes or “skins” for their online selves rather than their physical one.

While this idea might sound strange, it is already happening: the popular game Fortnite has a monthly income of 300 million dollars, and 60% of that income comes from “skins,” the clothes worn in-game.

It’s not just about gaming, though. The shift towards Zoom meetings caused by the pandemic could be partly permanent now that workers are familiar with the technology and accustomed to the convenience of travel-free meetings. Would it be so strange to buy digital clothes for Zoom? As working remotely or online becomes ever more common, why would someone buy clothes for work, if those clothes only hang in the closet? Wouldn’t a digital wardrobe suffice?

As the saying goes, we have different pictures for our Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. Is the idea of wearing a virtual Zegna suit for our LinkedIn profile so far-fetched?

Digital clothing is like a personalized filter for social media or certain applications. And it is becoming increasingly popular as we spend more time online.

Last year, a digital dress by the name of Iridescence was produced by The Fabricant, and it was sold on the blockchain for 9500$. Many believe that digital couture is an asset; it has value because of its scarcity and because it can be sold and shared. It is a form of investment.

The luxury brand Gucci saw the possibilities of virtual clothing and started to experiment with avatars in 2018. Their motto is: “Gucci wants to dress you and your avatar.”

Gucci is onto something, because 2,5 million people play online games and are present online, and this number is only increasing. On average, these players are 33 years old and upper-middle class, which is exactly Gucci’s target audience. These players spend an average of 7 hours a week online and collectively spend 100 billion dollars on virtual goods. This is certainly not a niche one should ignore. Gucci launched an application called Genie where you can dress your avatar in Gucci and visualize wearing the item. The brand also launched an application where you can design Gucci sneakers. The products are entirely virtual, with no physical counterpart. This is also a great tactic to raise brand awareness, because you have to admit: co-creating with Gucci has a nice ring to it.

Many brands are jumping in to follow the trend, leading to successful collaborations between brands and games: Fortnite paired up with Jordan and League of Legends partnered with luxury brand Louis Vuitton, at the same time the latter released their capsule collection. The same collaboration happened between the Sims and Moschino: they released in-game skins together with Moschino’s capsule collection of the time.

Digital couture is a growing trend one should not ignore, especially since the pandemic has changed our way of life. We work online, we socialize online, now everything happens in the virtual space, so it makes sense to spend on digital fashion rather than physical clothes. Just apply them as a filter and be fashionable, without having to dress up and prepare for hours, in any situation, anytime. Digital clothing offers a great alternative to buying the “must-have” pieces every season (these are the clothes we buy only for posing on Instagram). Afterwards, those clothes end up exiled to the depths of our closet and ultimately on the landfill, mostly because they are not practical or we don’t really go places we can wear them. Digital clothing offers the option of being trendy and environmentally conscious too.

Digital fashion has another great advantage: it reduces waste as well as emissions, but helps brands keep their margin the same.

ARe fashion

With the emerging trend of incorporating Augmented Reality into fashion, new startups are also on the rise, coming up with the technology and applications on demand. One of those emerging startups is ARe fashion.

ARe fashion is unique in its approach: it does not create the 3D models based on the pictures but based on the original pattern. This new way of creating digital clothes excels in quality, goes beyond “something like the original” and designs the same clothing in the digital space. Digital clothing created by ARe fashion is exactly the same as the original, down to the last stitch, and it can vary in size and can be animated if needed. 

And ARe fashion does not stop here: it does not only deliver a flawless digital product but also assists the buyer in incorporating this digital product into his business. This saves the buyer the trouble of contracting with a developer team to build an application to integrate the product into their business.

And the most notable feature of ARe fashion is that their digital product and the application that comes with it is compatible with 85% of the smartphones currently on the market. On both iOS and Android, ARe fashion delivers digital clothing in the best quality. This is a surprisingly high number given the novelty of the product and technology, and it leaves the competition far behind. 

The future is already here; with the emerging trends, the solution for the industry of fashion Augmented Reality has appeared.

Summary

Emerging trends and technology like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are becoming more and more popular because they can help solve many of the sustainability problems of the fashion industry. COVID-19 has accelerated the trend of digitization in every industry, including fashion. Social distancing, lockdown and the need for sustainability calls for a new approach and using Augmented and Virtual Reality in fashion offers viable solutions. New startups emerge every day with innovative ideas and results. It’s best to keep an eye on the novelties and plan carefully with the new solutions in mind. AR and VR might be the answer to all the troubles that have arisen due to social distancing and travel restrictions, while also holding the key to a sustainable future.