Virtual changing room

Updated: 2013-04-25 05:42

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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 Virtual changing room

A visitor tries on a satin gown by couture designer Guo Pei at the designer's virtual dressing room created for the China International Clothing and Accessories Fair in Beijing. Wang Jing / China Daily

The fashion industry is increasingly using 'augmented reality' to market its products. AR allows customers to try on clothes and accessories virtually, before deciding their purchase. Tiffany Tan provides the details.

After two hours of scanning booth after booth at the China International Clothing and Accessories Fair, Tian Xueqin finally finds her mirror. Standing before it, she tries on a floor-length, body-hugging gold satin gown created by couture designer Guo Pei. Tian raises her arms out to the sides to see how the dress moves. She looks at the way it sits at the waist, then turns around to check out the back. When she's done, Tian steps away from the mirror and the dress vanishes.

Magic? Not exactly. The wood-framed, full-length mirror is actually an LCD screen that allows people to try on two of Guo's bridal designs virtually. When the user enters the frame, the dress "snaps" onto her body and moves with her, as if she were really wearing it.

The technology, called augmented reality, has been used in the international and domestic fashion industries for at least two years now, but few in China know about it. No wonder crowds formed around Guo's virtual dressing room, created for last month's fair by 360Fashion Network, a fashion technology company in Beijing.

"At least 300 people tried on the clothes today," a woman assisting visitors on the first day says. "About half of them were men."

360Fashion is marketing the application - which it calls TryLive - to fashion designers, clothing retailers and event organizers, saying the setup is perfect for today's busy consumers. "Fashion shoppers can now try anything on, without taking anything off, anywhere," a sign outside the virtual dressing room reads.

360Fashion Network debuted its AR products in March 2012, when it put up an exhibition chronicling the history of CHIC, or the China International Clothing and Accessories Fair, says company founder and CEO Anina Trepte. Using the 360AR app on their mobile phones or tablets, visitors could see videos, graphics and more photos appear on top of the photos on exhibit.

"We display a digital layer on top of physical objects in the real world," Trepte, a model turned entrepreneur from the United States Midwest, says, explaining AR's basic concept.

Virtual changing room

Her company has also created AR for fashion publications, where video clips, animation and online links seem to pop out of pages. Its booth at the recent CHIC fair also showcased an eyewear fitting counter, where visitors could virtually try on eyeglasses and sunglasses with just a click of a mouse.

"These worlds of the digital and physical are starting to merge and give us new forms of information," Trepte says, "and this will drive sales."

Last summer, Swarovski set up an exhibition in Shanghai, which featured "mirrors" that enabled visitors to virtually try on its jewelry and crystal-encrusted shoes. A few months later, Buick publicized in China the upcoming launch of a new car model by creating an AR-based win-a-car contest.

In China, where middle-class consumers and Internet users are quickly increasing, augmented reality is expected to grow as a marketing tool.

"AR is a good way to tap the young generation of mobile-savvy Chinese consumers, who are now spending less and less time on PCs and more on mobile devices," says Emma Li, research lead at L2, a New York think tank for digital innovation among consumer brands.

Of the 1.35 billion mainland Chinese, 564 million use the Internet, and 74.5 percent do so through their mobile devices. Many Chinese also like shopping from the comfort of their homes.

Last year, Shanghai PR and marketing firm Going86 partnered with Zugara, the Los Angeles-based creator of the Webcam Social Shopper, to bring the virtual dressing room software to China. The WSS, used by e-commerce sites like Shopify and Magento, is still looking for its first client in China, but Going86 believes such applications will become the future of fashion retail.

"Given the already high online transaction rates and normalcy of shopping online for fashion in China, we think it is only a matter of time before AR-based technologies become a commonly used tool to engage Chinese consumers," Robert Rankin, the firm's managing director, says.

Zugara, meanwhile, has been upfront about what a virtual dressing room is - and what it isn't.

The WSS is designed to help shoppers evaluate the color and style of a garment to make a better purchase decision, says Matthew Szymczyk, Zugara's CEO. As a result, he says, the software helps online retailers increase online purchases and reduce return rates.

"However," Szymczyk says, "our software is not designed to help with fit given current limitations with 2-D/3-D camera technology ."

This side of AR is now pretty clear to Tian Xueqin, who spent hours looking for couture designer Guo Pei's virtual dressing room at last month's CHIC fair.

"It's not like actually putting on the dress," says the Beijing fashion executive. "You can't see how well it fits your body."

But at the neighboring counter, she seemed thrilled to try on several eyeglasses and shades - without having to take off her own metal-framed glasses. Shopping has clearly entered a new dimension.

Contact the writer at tiffany@chinadaily.com.cn.

 Virtual changing room

Augmented reality technology has been used to tap mobile-savvy consumers. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 04/25/2013 page18)

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