It’s frustrating enough for clothes shoppers to waste time trying on outfit after outfit that just doesn’t fit right.
And it’s even more aggravating for online shoppers, who don’t even have the fitting room option. They have to guess at the right size when they order and hope that the shoe – or the shirt or the pants – fits when it finally arrives in the mail.
But now, triMirror, a Buffalo startup is working on a high-tech solution that could help shoppers find their exact fit – even when they shop online.
triMirror is developing a virtual fitting room that lets shoppers to see how clothing fits on a three-dimensional avatar of themselves before they buy.
“There have been quite a few approaches to solve the fitting question,” said Len Charny, CEO and co-founder of triMirror, which came to Buffalo from Toronto this year after winning one of the prizes in the 43North business plan competition. “This is not just about numbers, but it’s about experience and entertainment. People will say ‘this is fun, this is animated.’ ”
Here’s how it works:
It starts when shoppers enter their measurements into the triMirror system, which then creates a personal avatar. Users can even have their own faces scanned onto the avatar.
That creates a computerized image that closely matches the shopper’s own unique shape. That’s an improvement over earlier versions of virtual fitting systems, which relied more heavily on generic measurements.
But that’s only half of the process. Each item of clothing is different, even when they’re the same size, varying from one designer to another and from one brand to another. A medium-sized shirt from one designer might fit loosely on a shopper, while another brand’s size medium shirt might be tight.
To get the fit just right, triMirror also builds a database with precise measurements of the clothes, even allowing users to see how the clothing fits, how it reacts to movement and how it stretches.
The style, fabric type and more are loaded into the system. Users can adjust the size, see where the clothes are fitting tightly or loosely and how the clothing will move in certain situations. For example, triMirror can show how the clothes will fit while the avatar is walking, dancing or golfing. Users also can gesture at the screen to tug at the clothing and see how it stretches.
In the end, triMirror executives said, shoppers should come away with a good sense of just how an article of clothing will fit, even if they’ve never actually seen it in person.
The company held demonstrations of their virtual fitting room over the weekend outside the Microsoft store in the Walden Galleria, and on Thursday they set up again to show the product in action. Users could create their own avatar, either by using pre-set custom sizes or entering their own measurements. Gap and Guess provided clothing that was scanned into the system for the event. The virtual fitting room was showcased on a wide-screen TV outside the store, but all that’s needed to use the product is an Internet browser.
The founders said winning the 43North competition helped, not just with $500,000 in funding, but in providing name recognition and credibility to be able to develop the business. While there are still challenges getting brands to partner with triMirror, the founders said they’ve seen positive reactions from users so far and have made progress in working with other businesses.
“People had some really amazing reactions,” said Jenny Tcharnaia, co-founder and CFO, of seeing mallgoers use the virtual fitting room last weekend. “Sometimes it took a few minutes to get used to the gestures but people had a lot of fun. We had a variety of people, from kids to older customers, and everybody just loved using it.”
Tcharnaia said they initially thought the product would be targeted at people ages 20-40, but they’ve found kids like the interactive aspect of the system and older people have enjoyed using it as well.
The technology was in the research and development phase for about five years, and has been largely completed. The next step is business development, which means finding e-commerce sites and brands to partner with. That’s no small task: Each item of clothing in the virtual fitting room has to be scanned into the triMirror system in intricate detail so the fitting simulations are accurate.
“Now we’re trying to convince brands that it’s worth using this technology,” Charny said. “It’s not an easy task to break through. Big companies don’t really want to take the risk right away, but once we have our first few clients it will be easier.”
So far, triMirror has partnered with a woman in Arizona who is launching a website that will feature multiple brands. In addition, Charny said they’ve partnered with a textile maker in Europe. By starting at the beginning of the clothing design process, prototypes can be built in 3-D, which cuts costs for the manufacturers and can help triMirror integrate brands into its system.
“When you’re just a small startup, it’s difficult to talk to large companies, but if they understand it’s 43North then it’s clearly something bigger than a few people sitting in a garage,” Charny said.