E-commerce revolution: virtual try-on startup boosts efficiency for the fashion industry

10 2019 | Issue 35

Text/Ariel Law

When buying clothes online, the biggest problem for consumers could be finding the right size. Online businesses often make disclaimers stating that “there would be an error margin of 2cm to 3cm” to warn the consumers to choose sizes carefully. But the thing is, regardless of the seemingly small margin, clothes that don’t fit simply won’t fit. Getting the wrong size is definitely a waste of money. And it is also not environmentally friendly. Although online businesses generally guarantee refund, the process is nonetheless exhausting. Kevin Tang, founder of Hong Kong-based startup Kalon Couture, saw the business potential in this problem and rolled out virtual try-on and virtual pattern-making service, drastically decreasing refund rate and helping fashion brands save cost in pattern-making.


Virtual try-on service helps to find the right size


Graduating from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Tang drew inspiration from his own online shopping experience and decided to develop a virtual try-on service. The try-on system automatically generates a 3D model of the user in accordance with the user’s facial features and body shape for trying on different clothes. The error margin is controlled to between 0.5cm and 1.0cm, allowing users to even observe the buttons on a shirt to see whether it would be too tight to wear. Founded around two years ago, developing the try-on function alone took Kalon Couture 18 months to complete. From Tang’s perspective, the biggest obstacle that they had faced in terms of R&D was the labour cost. “The labour cost in Hong Kong is relatively high and R&D takes time,” he said, explaining why they decided to open an IT department in Pakistan for some complicated R&D projects. “In addition, at first the market would be cautious towards your product because it is quite a new technology. So we made many demonstrations to appeal to potential clients. This is why brands then became interested in working with us.”


Reducing cost for fashion brands through virtual pattern-making service


Kalon Couture has set up branches in Tokyo, Singapore and Pakistan, etc., catering to clients from all over the world. Besides providing virtual try-on service for shoppers, the company also develops a virtual pattern-making system for fashion companies. “When a fashion brand is designing a fashion item, the designers would try out at least five different fabrics. This means the production line would have to produce five samples using respective fabrics so that the designers can really see what the final products would be like,” Tang introduced. “But with our virtual pattern-making service, fashion brands can produce a 3D version of the final product without wasting any fabric. If modification is needed, the designers can simply make changes on computers conveniently.” In general, it would take two months to produce five or ten samples. Kalon Couture’s virtual pattern-making service shortens the timespan to one or two weeks. This is indeed an interesting technology that is worth trying.


Tailored pattern-making system for fashion brands


At present, the company is mainly catering to businesses. “We would generally design a customised pattern-making solution for our clients based on their unique technical demands,” Tang said, believing that many fashion brands’ marketing department would wish to collect their target audience’s data in this big data era. “Virtual try-on technology enables fashion brands to acquire market data that are beneficial to improving the promotion effect and R&D. When we are collecting sensitive personal data such as our users’ body shape, facial feature, etc., we would pay extra attention to privacy concerns.”


Kalon Couture is now doing active promotion through its clients and participating in exhibitions. The company recently partnered with K11 Mall, a popular shopping complex located in Hong Kong’s bustling Tsim Sha Tsui and has set up a try-on kiosk there. “When consumers are shopping in a mall, they would need to go from store to store to look for T-shirts that fit them. But today fast fashion is very popular, which drives us to increase shopping efficiency and experience so as to bring more consumers in. That is why we set up a try-on kiosk at K11. The shoppers would be able to see what kind of brands and clothes K11 has and instantly try them on using our machine,” Tang further explained.


Technological advancement brings both opportunities and challenges


According to Tang, the threshold that is holding the system back is Internet speed. “Oftentimes it is the Internet speed that is holding us back,” he explained. “When the 5G era finally arrives, we would be able to satisfy many of our clients’ demands. 5G technology will allow us to upload a full-HD model to provide better try-on service.”


A virtual try-on function will be able to help shoppers find the perfect fit, saving brands lots of costs. This is truly a sector that boasts immense business potential. However, rapid technological advancement also brings about changes at an unprecedented speed. Does Tang worry about his product will soon be replaced by a similar and new technology? From his perspective, virtual try-on service has its own strengths. “A lot of startups that focus on virtual try-on services adopt a method called image overlayering. But we develop 3D models using actual cloth samples from different brands so as to provide better simulation through the data we collect,” Tang explained. “This requires lots of time and capital investment in R&D. So we are at least ahead of the industry for the moment.”


Tang also believes that competition is very normal in this line of business. “After all, the fashion industry is a big market. It is unlikely that a particular company would dominate this technology. But we are also hoping that we would be able to solidify our tech system and reach more clients. We want to build up our brand influence,” Tang concluded.

Kalon Couture