Boutiques in Your Phones: How Has Technology Changed the Fashion Industry?

How Has Technology Changed the Fashion Industry

Advanced technology has profoundly reshaped the fashion industry.

Before the internet was first established nearly forty years ago, shopping online was probably as surreal and mind-blowing as magic spells at Hogwarts. Technology advancement now allows everyone to be a magician and shop online on either their phones or computers. With just a few clicks, merchandise is all set to be delivered directly to your doorstep.

Over the past few years, online stores have strived to provide customer-oriented intelligent services to shoppers using innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. These technologies not only advance customers’ shopping experience but also appear to solve the issue of not being able to try on clothes to see if they fit when you shop online. Check out the following case studies to learn more about how the fashion industry utilizes technology and flourishes.

Amazon’s Outfit-VITON

Leading multinational technology and retail companies, such as Amazon and Walmart, have been applying AI alongside big data for their apparel businesses. At Amazon’s Lab126, researchers have put together an AI-powered virtual clothing try-on system called Outfit-VITON.

The system helps process query images (photos of the user) that serve as the template for the final image (photos of the user wearing the garments virtually). The system will integrate the query images with the reference garments while maintaining the clothes’ texture and details during the process, thus visualizing how outfits might look on a person.

Walmart’s “Choose My Model” function

Similarly, Walmart also leverages technology to provide better shopping experiences for their customers. When you first think of Walmart, you might just consider it a retail company that operates a chain of supercenters, department stores and grocery stores. However, Walmart is also home to a team of technology experts in its Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), which is researching and developing the application of AI to enhance customers’ in-store experience. 

Besides tracking product inventory and availability with AI, Walmart has also added the AI-powered “Choose My Model” try-on function to their app and their website. This function provides customers with a wide range of models who have different builds, skin tones and even hairstyles to choose from for trying on the clothes virtually. In May 2021, Walmart announced its acquisition of digital styling startup company Zeekit and launched virtual clothing try-on services on their website and mobile app.

The new feature leverages the combined power of computer vision, which is a field of AI that empowers computers to extract information from images, videos and other visual inputs; real-time image processing (a system that processes images to obtain data that are useful in face, gesture and motion recognition); recommendation algorithms and many other AI related technologies. 

Presize and deepsense.ai’s virtual fitting room

Besides Zeekit, the AI-powered virtual clothing try-on services invented by other AI companies, such as Presize and deepsense.ai, can also be integrated directly into online fashion stores, which helps boost sales. Unlike the “Choose My Model” function supported by Walmart, the AI technologies invented by Presize and deepsense.

ai allow customers to try on clothes on their “body” after going through a video scan. This helps customers get a clear idea of how the clothes fit on their actual bodies. By training the AI-fueled algorithm with data of many human shapes, customers can try on different clothes in the virtual fitting room while considering whether said clothes match their builds and personal styles.

How do we benefit from virtual clothing try-on services?

Business perspective: profit maximization

According to National Retail Federation (NRF) and Appriss Retail, the average rate of returns for online purchases was 20.8% in 2021. Among the major types of merchandise, apparel has the second-highest return rate of 12.2%, following auto parts. With AI and other advanced technologies, such as AR, deep learning (a subfield of machine learning) and big data, customers are more likely to purchase clothes that suit their size and style, reducing the return rate.

The reduction in returns can, in turn, reduce the amount of money retailers have to spend on settling refunds or offering vouchers for compensation. Moreover, if customers are satisfied with the products, they are more likely to buy from the same brand again, which subsequently builds customer loyalty in the long run.

Economic perspective: impulse buying inhibition

If you are an impulse buyer who cannot help buying clothes that you often regret afterward, virtual try-on technology is here to the rescue. Online shopping done through virtual try-on technology provides you more time to make your purchase decision. Now, you can test out different outfits without being hurried by the salespersons or the people in the queue outside fitting rooms.

With the technology, your home can be your exclusive fitting room where you can think more than twice before you make a purchase, so no more excuses for not having the chance to try on the clothes before buying!

Environmental perspective: carbon reduction

Not only does impulse buying put a dent in your wallet, but it also adversely affects the environment. According to the World Wide Fund (WWF), the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world due to its release of untreated water with toxic chemicals into water bodies and the generation of non-biodegradable microplastics.

The garment production process, including cleaning and dyeing clothing pieces and running the factory in general, requires an immense amount of natural resources. Needless to say, the bulk production of clothing in fast fashion companies only creates more environmental damage.

Clearly, the provision of virtual try-on services is not the ultimate remedy for the detrimental environmental impacts generated by the fashion industry. Nevertheless, they can still minimize the chances of customers buying ill-fitting clothes that end up in landfills or incinerators.

Buying clothes can be an enjoyable thing to do. It can help you find creative ways to express yourself or just feel comfortable in your skin. However, it is only when you purchase suitable clothes that you experience the true joy of purchasing a new clothing item. It is also vital for us to remember that both money and natural resources are limited, so both companies and consumers need to make conscious choices in how clothes are produced and consumed.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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