It’s hard to believe now, but there were those in the fashion industry who didn’t believe online clothing sales would work. People wouldn’t buy clothes they couldn’t try on first, they reasoned. How wrong they were. According to The Telegraph, last year 4.3 billion worth of clothes were bought over the internet. That’s equivalent to growth of 152% in the last five years.

I-Gizmo's demo of Holition's augmented reality watch fitting for TAG Heuer

Internet shopping is here to stay. Fashion brands have built up online empires, with music, video and interactive everything. You can become a member, receive a newsletter and share things with your friends. Everything that you can get from a real shopping experience is available online, even a stylist and bitchy comments from strangers. However, that last bit of the puzzle, the fitting room, is still missing. Some online companies such as ASOS have chosen to offer a free returns service,so the customer at least has the reassurance that goods can be returned if they don’t fit. But if you’re in a rush to get something new for a party, holiday or business trip then an unsuitable item isn’t an option.

Ray-Ban's Virtual Mirror

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Try on Hannah Martin's new range via the Holition augmented reality fitting

The solution is augmented reality, which can provide a virtual fitting room that allows you to try before you buy wherever you are. The future of online clothing sales is fast becoming a reality. Or, at least, a mixture of reality and some major 3D technology. Augmented reality uses real time light reflecting technology, a print out paper encoded strip that you wrap around your wrist or finger, depending on what you are trying on, and your computer screen will basically act as a mirror, with the product appearing on you in real time. The Swiss watch company TAG Heuer have teamed up with augmented retail specialists Holition to enable customers to try on watches in 3D. You can select different models, straps and faces as well as trying out different functions.

The instant digital retail experience appeals to online shoppers, but it’s also going to become a fixture in real world stores too. Don’t have time to try on the blue, violet, red and mauve versions of a T-shirt? You don’t have to. Augmented reality means you can see which looks best in seconds. And, if early reports are to be believed, it works. When another watch brand, Tissot, tried augmented reality in Selfridges for two weeks last year it increased sales by 85%.At present, the majority of augmented reality retail is focused on accessories. The technology for whole body outfits is taking longer to develop. Some full body virtual fitting rooms do exist, but they’re awkward experiences consisting of static 2D images which you strategically position yourself behind via your webcam. You end up looking like you’re wearing paper doll’s clothes. However, Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of Holiton, says his company are working on a much more sophisticated, 3D virtual fitting experience. He thinks the technology is not too far off. “Perhaps another year, I’m not sure,” he says. “It’s got to be done well. The beginning of augmented reality was all about a gimmick and grabbing people’s attention, which is an important part of it. But there is so much more you can do with it. We’re working on being able to allow the user to try a top on and they can really see the fit of it. Whatever body shape you have it will cling and crease in the right places. It’s all about being able to pull back and turn around, and see how you feel in the clothing.”

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The Sampler Converse App which allows the user to try on different shoes when viewing their feet through their iPhone

The online world is all about interaction. People want to see things move and have everything as crisp as real life. The potential benefits for fashion retail in providing this kind of experience are huge. “When the technology is ready, it will have the potential to be a very powerful tool,” says Chippindale. “When you think about great internet success stories, you don’t tend to think about fashion brands. You think about Facebook and other social networking sights. But even just thinking about your own circle of friends you have on the internet, and how fast something can travel, I think it will be really interesting to see what happens. It’s going to be companies with the foresight to really bring this all together that will gain its benefits. It’s so early in the augmented reality journey that people haven’t really discovered it or grasped its full potential yet.”

Text: Polly Braithwaite


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