DNA Interactif Fashion
In 2006, a customer approached Dirk Ghekiere, a civil engineer and founder of DZine—a leading digital signage company—asking for a digital solution for his fashion store. This request inspired Dirk to imagine a store where customers did not need to physically try on the clothing. A digital system would help the customer virtually fit and select clothes. To advance his vision, Dirk partnered with Eyetronics, a Belgian company that specialized in 3D scanning. He subsequently presented his idea to IWT, the agency for Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (Belgium). IWT granted approval for a feasibility study, but the project subsequently stalled since Ghekiere and the team at Eyetronics had no clear plan of how to proceed.
Two years later, in 2008, Ghekiere met Huub Fijen. Fijen had a background in ICT, had founded several companies, and was looking for a new challenge. When he heard about Ghekiere’s idea, he was motivated immediately. He compiled a video about the idea and how they could further roll out the project. His idea was to develop a specific 3D scanner that would create a virtual avatar of each customer. That avatar could then be dressed using virtual clothing that was available for purchase at the store’s warehouse. This way, the customer would no longer need to physically try on outfit after outfit. Instead, the customer would see on a screen how the clothes looked while the avatar was walking on a catwalk. Dirk Ghekiere and Dirk Callaert from Eyetronics were very enthusiastic about Huub Fijen’s vision and asked him to implement the findings from the IWT feasibility study. Shortly thereafter, DNA Interactif Fashion was founded, and Fijen started conducting interviews with store managers, sales people, designers, and customers. With each interview, he looked for the potential added value for every possible partner. He found that retailers would save a considerable amount of expensive store space because they would no longer need large shops. Designers would save money by not having to invest in samples of their clothes for customers to try on. Customers would be able to avoid buying clothes they would never wear.
However, after several failed attempts, it became clear that Eyetronics was not able to develop the scanner it envisioned. The equipment they developed was the size of a room and was so expensive that the investment would be prohibitive for potential customers. Fijen continued to look for alternate solutions. Soon Eyetronics was bought out, and Fijen sought another partner. Eventually, he joined with an American nonprofit organization funded by the clothing industry. They had already developed a scanner the size of a fitting room, and DNA Interactif Fashion secured an exclusive distribution contract for the equipment in the worldwide fashion market. Now, they were ready to develop their concept further.
The concept was called iStyling and featured several components. From a technological viewpoint, the scanner itself was the most innovative worldwide. Customers would enter the scanner room and the computer then compiled a virtual avatar of the customer onto which all available clothes could be fitted.
In practice, the customer’s avatar was projected onto a 3D screen and could be viewed from different angles and in motion. Hairstyle, skin color, and other details could be adjusted so that the avatar resembled the customer. A stylist was present during the entire process and advised the customer on which colors complement the customer’s features and what styles were most flattering. The stylist also analyzed the customer’s body shape and selected clothing that would be a perfect match.
By 2010, Fijen and Ghekiere started to roll out a business plan and kept different options open. They wanted to sell the complete iStyling concept, but were also willing to sell the scanner separately. For example, they envisioned selling scanners that would be used for scientific research or for other applications that were not related to fashion.
One challenge for developers was the digitalization of the patterns of the clothes. To start up the project, DNA Interactif Fashion needed access to patterns within a clothing collection. Brands were very reluctant to share patterns, because this is a traditional control point against imitation. But Fijen found partners in Offshore Legends, an upcoming Belgian brand; Scabal, a suit maker; and Scapa, another Belgian brand that was enjoying international success. Initially, styles from these companies were uploaded into the system by dressing a mannequin and creating a 3D scan of the clothes. This process was very time-intensive and expensive. Consequently, the team took another approach: A computer-aided design system was used to transform 2D patterns into 3D patterns. This method was faster, but most brands were still not willing to release their patterns. Eventually, the developers devised a software system that could generate 3D patterns using a front and back picture of the clothing. This process was less expensive than the previous methods. In pursuit of continuous innovative solutions, by 2015 the company was also using CAD systems from the manufacturers to make 3D objects. Another option was to develop a superior design of the garments that really gave the impression of an artist designing the garments. Compared to what it had been in 2010, the quality of presentation of the garments on screen was improved greatly by 2015.
In March 2011, the DNA Interactif Fashion team launched the first iStyling Boutique in the newly built K in Kortrijk shopping mall, one of the largest shopping centers in Belgium. By this time, the scanning time was reduced from 58 seconds in 2009 to 20 seconds, and the system could generate a 3D face for the avatar. One month later, a second iStyling Boutique opened in another shopping mall, the Inno in Ghent, Belgium. In the boutique, customers paid €75 for a scan and complete advice from a stylist. Customers and the shopping mall managers were enthusiastic: Inno calculated that the average amount customers spent in the mall increased from €50 to €450 when they had a body scan.
Although the rollout of iStyling and the installation of scanners was progressing in several European countries, Fijen observed that the fashion industry was more conservative than expected and therefore slow to adopt this innovation. As the somewhat slow take-up in Europe required an adaptation in strategy, Fijen started to expand DNA Interactif Fashion globally. In 2013, DNA Interactif Fashion made a joint venture in United States with a company called [TC]² and the joint venture was given the name [TC]² DNA Holdings. [TC]² is a specialist in the sewn products industry with a network of industry experts and focuses on advancements of new technologies that have the potential to change the industry. The joint venture was very beneficial for iStyling as the American market picked up the idea quickly. [TC]² DNA Holdings later entered into another joint venture with the YIN Science and Technology Company of China to manufacture and distribute the body scanners and iStyling systems in China, Korea, and Japan. The joint venture is named as YDT, which in Mandarin means “perfectly dressed”. YIN is one of the biggest suppliers to the made-to-measure fashion industry, selling cutting machines and CAD systems; it therefore offers a great connection to the Asian market.
These two joint ventures were instrumental in grabbing global market share. An increasing number of customers were enrolled in the iStyling system in Europe, the United States and the Far East. With the advancements in technology, the scan time was further reduced to just 7 seconds, making it more attractive to retailers. In 2015, the company was working on a new technology that would further reduce the scanning time to just a few seconds. The offered products were customized per region to cater for the cultural aspects and they were manufactured and distributed within the region. By 2015 the company had database centers in Europe, the United States and China.
According to Fijen, iStyling will become more important for the fashion industry as retailers are increasingly under pressure. He identified three ways in which iStyling can help solve their challenges. First, their rent is high while sale prices are getting lower. iStyling could help them in making stores smaller as more goods could be stored in a smaller area and fewer clothes would need to be displayed in the stores. Second, customers shop more and more online and retailers also embrace online sales. However, 50% of all online clothing sales are returned. iStyling can help the retailer by knowing the customer’s correct size, which could reduce the return rate from 50% to only 6%. The cost of returns is high—about $35 per garment—because returned clothes need to be dry cleaned, repackaged, and have their etiquettes reattached if missing; they then have to be put back on the right shelf in the warehouse. Third, iStyling allows retailers to to approach the market proactively. Normally, retailers work in a reactive way: They wait for a customer to come into the store, and she may be looking for a trouser, which may be sold out. With iStyling, retailers can work the other way around: If there is still an unsold stock of trousers of a particular size, they can use the iStyling customer database to look for the women with this size and contact them proactively to sell their unsold clothes. Thus, iStyling can offer many advantages to retailers.
To capitalize on the increasing use of the Internet, iStyling enables customers to view and order clothing online as well. The customer creates a profile by getting physically scanned from any of the designated stores. The profile is then uploaded, making it accessible from anywhere through the Internet or a smartphone application. People can also look at collections and fit clothes virtually in the shop using a mirror or a console. Alternatively they can do that at home using a smartphone app or via Internet. Customers can also order online, for both ready-to-wear and made-to-measure garments, and can request delivery from the retailer. The retailer can immediately ship the ready-to-wear dress to the customer. This is a nice alternative to the traditional and time-consuming purchasing of clothes where customers have to go to the store to select, place an order for an item that is not in stock, and pick up the desired clothing after it arrives at the store. If the customer wants a made-to-measure garment, the iStyling order is forwarded to the manufacturing site with the desired patterns and exact measurements. The manufacturer makes the garment using the selected fabric and tailored to the measurements of the avatar, and ships it to the customer.
The team is also planning to develop some additional projects, though the priority remains to disseminate the iStyling concept globally. This becomes more challenging due to the involvement of various partners. For Fijen and Ghekiere, the management of the partners is one of the crucial tasks to keep all the noses in the same direction. The company is eagerly staying abreast of the latest technologies to keep the iStyling concept ahead of potential competition. One of the possibilities is to digitize a customer’s entire wardrobe; another is to include several brands to offer customers a wider shopping experience. So far, DNA-Interactif Fashion has not faced any real competition. By 2015, several scanner manufacturers had entered the market and online sales of fashion goods were expanding rapidly, but there were as yet no other companies with a similar offering that would include the entire range of aspects of the iStyling offering.
Figure 1: The shopping experience business model of DNA-Interactif
Source: http://www.tc2.com/fashion.html [accessed 23/03/2016]
Figure 2: The business model process of DNA-Interactif
Source: http://www.tc2.com/fashion.html [accessed 23/03/2016]