How AR’s Road to Fashion becomes real

While the reality of increasing retail has literally brought virtual try-ons to the forefront for makeup, sneakers, eyewear and furniture buyers, the consumer proposition for clothing is really just getting started. The challenges are great, but interest in AR apparel has accelerated in recent years, especially as NFTs and metaverse mania have drawn attention to 3D digital fashion.

These factors provide a potential influx of virtual fashion try-on experiences in the coming years, if not sooner, as the technology and the brands using it gear up to make their mark.

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One of the most visible players in this space is social media giant Snap Inc., as its investments for Snapchat double the fabric simulation and body tracking technology† The company revealed that it worked on these efforts last year, and it’s clear that these are the top priorities as it has refined them and expanded the scope of materials.

The result is already creating new experiences that entertain users. But that’s not the only motivation. Snap is also focused on how AR can boost fashion retail.

“I think a huge area that we’ve really invested in is not just bringing these incredible technologies to Snapchatters, but how we can help partner with businesses and brands, and our technology to their own applications and websites,” Carolina Arguelles, Snap’s global AR product strategy and product marketing leader, told WWD.

This vision is apparently so big that it’s jumping the fence to reach retail on its own turf, not just the platform.

“It’s really meeting customers [with] the mindset of shopping and help bring a shopping camera to cameras everywhere, not just the Snapchat camera,” she added.

Enticing people to buy products is a definite benefit if you let them try goods on, and then making that easier by letting them experience the experience at home is likely to boost sales. But that’s not the only goal in retail.

The company released new data this month that uses 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 products after using AR. As for fashion, nearly three-quarters said they would likely buy clothes in the future after using AR. The figure for beauty, where AR is already well established for trying on makeup, is 69 percent.

Of course, the tech company has a vested interest in touting the technology. But with the scope and reach of the report, the results look meaningful. The survey surveyed more than 4,000 shoppers aged 13 to 49 in the US, UK, France and Saudi Arabia.

And Snapchat is far from alone.

From a technical perspective, countless vendors and platforms have honed their 3D chops by digitally interpreting clothing for design, collaboration and prototyping. Many of those companies look to the landscape, while others pick up experts in the field at gaming and entertainment companies — Pixar actually employs tailors and simulation artists for its animated works — to develop and deploy solutions.

The range of efforts includes initiatives from well-known providers such as Threekit and 3DLook to Walmart, which launched virtual fitting rooms thanks to its acquisition of Zeekit. That just scratches the surface. There are many more entering the space, offering everything from turnkey solutions to custom collaborations for the fashion world. Avataar, an AI and computer vision platform, closed a $45 million Series B funding round earlier this year, and this month it launched a new self-service platform to automate 3D AR functions for merchants.

AR startup Zero10 wants to take on Snapchat.

Products, such as Barragan's 'Oil Dress', are available through augmented reality in Zero10.  - Credit: Courtesy Photo

Products, such as Barragan’s “Oil Dress”, are available through augmented reality in Zero10. – Credit: Courtesy Photo

Courtesy photo

The Oil Dress in Zero10's iPhone app.  - Credit: Courtesy Image

The Oil Dress in Zero10’s iPhone app. – Credit: Courtesy Image

Courtesy Image

In an exclusive, the company told WWD it is about to release details about a new launch that will bring 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, chief executive officer, explained that it was a matter of control: “We spoke to Snapchat, maybe a year ago, and they asked us to use their SDK,” he explained to WWD. “But we can’t control it. It’s very important to have control over what you do, so we have a huge technical and 3D team. All our teams are in-house and we are solely focused on digital fashion.”

Having built from the $2 million investment from angel investors, it is working on a seed round, while also preparing to launch a cloth simulation and body tracking software development kit. It is also developing a solution to advance AR in brick-and-mortar retail.

The main difference between Snap and Zero10’s solutions is body-fit data. It’s not available for the latter today, although it may come in a future release. Meanwhile, it’s a big 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 made it clear. The social media giant announced a 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 a culmination of 10 years of AR development for the company. To better understand that journey, Arguelles will participate in a session on augmented reality in fashion at WWD later this month.

The stakes are high. It is estimated that the global retail augmented reality market will be worth about $2.36 billion this year, with growth expected to reach something close to $23 billion by the end of 2032. on metaverse applications.

Yashin envisions that, too, and he’s already considering how his augmented reality technology might fit in with those immersive environments, he teased WWD. It’s an ambitious roadmap, but the fashion tech executive seems unafraid. Having previously founded Gen Z fashion brand ZNY, he knows the challenges of fashion, and in terms of technology, his legion of developers and engineers is up to the task.

With the enormous push behind fashion AR applications, it’s more than likely that someone will soon figure out how to crack it, whether that’s Yashin, Arguelles, or any of the countless other providers that have landed in this space or on about to enter. And that means AR for fashion can finally come, ready to connect the massive real-world business of retail and fashion with the emerging virtual world.

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