Digital fashion: 3D virtual fitting and printing your own dress

Sep 14

Integrating new technologies into retailing is not just about e-commerce and RFID tagging to smooth inventory flow. Recent developments suggest increasing use of tracking technology and high-powered graphics chips to obviate the need to try anything on, and 3D printing combined with liquid fabric to even obviate the need for factories.

This month Isetan Shinjuku is testing a new type of 3D printer that prints fabric. Created by Electroloom, a San Francisco-based firm, the printer can print a seamless, ready-to-wear skirt or top without any additional sewing required. It uses a ‘liquid fabric’ made from a mix of cotton and polyester, which is blasted against a mould.

While Electroloom is in early development, in future the company hopes to collaborate with retailers to allow customers to custom design their own clothes from templates. Isetan, which collaborated on a recent conference around the subject of digital fashion, hopes to increase integration with digital technologies in the future and has set up a team to look at promising projects. This type of instant fashion is ideal for a high density, fashion forward market like Japan.

Another example also shown off in Isetan Shinjuku from late August is a device called MemoryMirrors. The mirrors are a new version of virtual fitting rooms that have begun to proliferate across Japanese fashion stores in the last year. Customers can try an outfit on and get a 360 degree view as well as try different colours and patterns all with a click on the controller – it can even allow the user to compare several styles and colours side by side on the screen. Since the customer can also see the back, the technology is said to improve on traditional mirrors.

The developer, Memomi, claims the big difference between MemoryMirrors and other virtual fitting rooms is the use of tracking technology that makes it appear as if the outfit is actually being worn rather than just superimposed on the customer. Even the wrinkles and folds created by the user’s movement are realistic. Users can share photos of their outfits as well as receive mix and match recommendations from the store based on what they tried on. Isetan says it is now considering trialling the service across its entire chain following an announcement that Neiman Marcus has installed devices in three stores in the USA.

Meanwhile, Sogo Seibu is working with Toppan Printing to introduce its own virtual fitting service into stores. It started last month with a focus on cashmere knitwear for which it offers 28 colour ways. Rather than trying on each colour, customers can simply click on the screen to see how they look in different colours. The displays have been installed in five Sogo Seibu stores.

Automated tracking of customers by age and gender

A start up in Tokyo called Abeja (www.abeja.asia) is developing what it calls “Google Analytics for retailers”, making it possible to track visitors at stores by age and gender.

Abeja, whose investors include NTT Docomo, uses face recognition software and cameras placed around the store to not only track the age and gender of visitors – a technology seen most recently in sci-fi movies – but also to create heat maps that show where visitors spend the most time in stores, and of course analysing this data by age and gender.

Digital signage in the store can also be linked to the data in realtime to display personalised ads suited to different segments.

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