Shopping for clothes can be incredibly frustrating. It’s hard enough to find something that looks good; but then it has to fit. Former Mozilla designer Crystal Beasley knows this problem well. Like many of us, she’s hunted through rack after rack at brick-and-mortar stores for clothes that fit, only to leave empty-handed. To fix this problem, she launched Qcut to help women find one of the most elusive perfect fits: a snug pair of jeans.
Beasley is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who see an opportunity for digital tailoring. Customization and ordering clothes to precise specifications via the Web continues to get more sophisticated, and a variety of startups like Beasley’s are finding new ways for things like cameras and algorithms to exploit the limitations of mass production and human tailors to make better-fitting clothes.
“For a lot of people, the dressing room actually feels like a torture chamber.”
Qcut uses algorithms that take personal measurements into account to match the shopper with the right pair of jeans. Why jeans? Beasley says they tend to be the item most frequently cited as a disappointment over the poor fit. Helping convince her of the idea’s market potential: Qcut’s crowdfunding campaign, which had a goal of $75,000, ended up pulling in $90,000 from more than 700 backers.
“For a lot of people, the dressing room actually feels like a torture chamber,” Beasley tells Digital Trends, referring to things like how the industry average sees women try on at least 11 jeans before settling for a fit they’re satisfied to wear. Standing in front of the mirror, Beasley explains, you’re literally staring at a reminder that the standard sizing system for clothes is broken. Everything is either too tight, too short, this side too long, that side too baggy — the Goldilocks quality of “just right” is almost impossible to find.
“My first big a-ha moment was in talking to a lot of women and realizing that it wasn’t just me,” said Beasley, who quit her job in April to pursue her vision. “I was actually surprised that almost every woman I talked to said some version of the same thing – ‘I’m hard to fit.’ But it can’t be true for everyone. The clothes on the rack have to fit at least somebody! Yet there’s always one thing that keeps it from being a good fit.”
Qcut’s plan is to make jeans in a few hundred different sizes. All the company needs is a few specific data points from a customer, like height, weight, shoe size and bra size, to determine the best fit.
“Since I’m a designer, I always thought if I had a magic wand, what would I want?” Beasley said. “I would just like it to fit me! I want things like the pockets placed correctly for my feet. You can’t just hack off the bottom. I myself am short, I’m 5-2, and everything is always cut for women taller than me. When I explain how this works to women, their eyes get big, so I knew I had something that would resonate. What’s different about jeans is the fit is very critical in a pant to make it flattering, and no system accounts for all the different shapes women have.”
Her company’s jeans are cut on cue – Qcut, get it? – and made when they’re ordered. (Qcut is closed for orders at the moment as they work to fulfill the orders they have.) Beasley adds that a big part of the money the company has raised will be used to pay data scientists to redevelop Qcut’s algorithm and make it even better.
Fit Analytics and Protos Eyewear
Fit Analytics is a Berlin-based venture with two products like Qcut. One is a measurement app that lets users get measured via a standard webcam. The second product is a big data-based size advisor, which is Fit Analytics’ main product. Retailers can use it as a website plugin to recommend clothing sizes for customers.
“Some of the biggest retailers in the world are in discussions with us to try and license our technology.”
“Fit Analytics began when our founders became frustrated by their experiences buying clothes online,” explains Steffen Poralla, Fit Analytics head of operations. “They had to return a lot of items, or – if bought on eBay – had to give them away for free to family and friends. So they decided to do something about it.”
“A year ago, we decided to split operations, because (the webcam measuring application and the online size advisor) address very different markets. Whereas the online size advisor is used by online fashion retailers and brands, the webcam measurement technology is mainly used by bespoke tailors in several countries and a fitness gym that allows its customers to keep track of their body dimensions.”
Then there’s Protos Eyewear, a company with a similar mission. It uses an algorithm to tailor eyeglasses to a customer’s unique features and uses images of the customers to help with the customization. Protos founding partner Richart Ruddie tells Digital Trends the venture was created by a group of industrial designers and architects at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
“With our customizable aspect, we are able to take a new technology and improve (a process) that many glasses owners can relate to,” he said. “Some of the biggest retailers in the world are in discussions with us to try and license our technology as we continue to perfect our custom-fitted algorithm, that is not currently automated and goes by a few metrics, such as the measurements we determine from photographs received from our clients.”
Fashion brands jump in
Established fashion companies have also rolled out new technological advancements that suggest how they could give customers a more tailored experience.
New York brand Rebecca Minkoff is one example. Her new San Francisco boutique, like its New York location, comes complete with innovations like a “touch wall” fitted with technology by eBay. Using this wall, shoppers can search through available items and ask the staff to fetch and deliver a specific item to their dressing room. Nordstrom is trying something similar in its Seattle and San Jose stores, with full-length touchscreen mirrors. It’s not hard to imagine a retailer making the leap from such technology to something more, since they’re already following the lead of e-commerce companies that offer a wide range of personalized touches and services.
“We are partnering with eBay on a small test of the digital fitting-room mirror,” said Nordstrom spokesman Dan Evans. “It’s one of many ideas we have going on at any one time to see what works and what doesn’t work for our customers. It’s an example of Nordstrom using technology to enhance the customer-service experience. The way customers shop has evolved a great deal over the last 10 to 15 years – lots more ways to decide and buy. [So the question is] how can we take what’s great about the e-commerce experience and add it in to the dressing room, and see if we can make it a more compelling experience.”
With retailers embracing more customization and online businesses popping up to fill the growing desire for easier clothing shopping, 2015 could be a big year for tailored fitting as technology bridges the gap between cloth and customer.