Dior, New Bond Street, London.
In Pictures via Getty Images
Update, June 4, 2020: This post was edited to reflect that Bigthinx was not the first fashion company to host a 3D virtual fashion show. Anifa Mvemba’s Hanifa Official hosted a 3D fashion show on May 22, 2020, and you can read more about it here.
This Friday, Artificial Intelligence fashion startup Bigthinx, in partnership with Fashinnovation, will live stream a fully digital 3D Virtual Fashion Show (including digitised human models), one of the first since the coronavirus pandemic forced the fashion industry online. The ‘virtual’ aspect is that the models and clothes are being created using 3D digital design, rendering, and animation, based on technical data (including garment measurements) and photographs of the models and clothes. The realization that digital fashion will be a critical long-term solution rather than a temporary measure is evident in industry announcements from Helsinki Fashion Week, the first to declare they will show 3D virtual fashion shows for the upcoming season and beyond, before Covid-19 forced Milan, New York and others to follow suit.
In creating this 3D virtual show, with opportunity comes numerous challenges, especially for a technology company known for its ‘body scan’ avatar solution based on just two photos and a selfie from a smartphone. From these images, they calculate “44 precise body measurements and body composition ratios, with over 95% accuracy.” Their B2B business model plugs into retailers’ eCommerce sites so shoppers can explore a range of garment sizes on their avatar before purchasing. They say this is pivotal in solving the problem of high return-rates from online shopping and reducing the likelihood of shoppers buying a product in multiple sizes, where returns are inevitable.
During an interview with the founders, husband and wife partnership Chandralika Hazarika and Shivang Desai, I asked how they found themselves creating a 3D Virtual Fashion Show, given that their bread and butter is AI fitting solutions, primarily for fast fashion eCommerce retailers. “London and New York Fashion Week, and the Swedish Fashion Council have all been in touch and need this,” said Desai. “Model agencies have started reaching out and this is something very new for us, (but) digitizing models is helping agencies with revenue (during lockdown),” Hazarika added. Furthermore, digital models are more affordable and this can “level the playing field” for emerging designers, Desai explained. But what essentially kickstarted their entry into virtual fashion presentations was a request from a client in France, who needed their physical samples digitized due to the closure of their sales showroom.
Bigthinx virtual fashion
There is a clear demand for digital fashion models (as demonstrated by The Bureau) and presentations, but with incumbents, including The Fabricant, Digi-Gxl, founded by Cat Taylor, and Carlings, how are Bigthinx approaching this new challenge, which extends beyond their core area of focus? Having just graduated from the Startup Bootcamp, via which they gained Prada Group backing, Bigthinx has direct access to the fashion industry, with mentors on the program spanning Nike NKE , Givenchy, and Diesel. “While we don’t have the fashion background, what we bring to the table is the ability to adapt and integrate new technology quickly,” said Desai. It is not difficult to see how valuable this could be for brands, as the need for bespoke digital solutions and the likely competition between them will drive the desire for proprietary software and brand-specific experiences. This is where Bigthinx differs from The Fabricant and Carlings, who create stunning digital fashion with the software solutions at their disposal. Desai elaborated: “For the Prada Group this allows us to create bespoke solutions for brands, with eCommerce an obvious target,” outlining their strength as agile software developers.
On the subject of luxury fashion, in particular, one obvious advantage Bigthinx offers, according to Desai, is their body scanning solution which can provide customer measurement data and improve Prada’s understanding of their customer size demographics. This can, in turn, inform future production of sizing that is more in line with their customer base, and targeted according to location. “They (Prada Group) are looking to us to invent things they will need in the future,” said Desai.
In terms of the 3D Virtual Fashion show, the 10-strong Bigthinx team, based in Bangalore, is creating a long runway inspired by World Oceans Day. The pipeline begins with sketches or garment photographs from the fashion designer which are analyzed by the Bigthinx AI engine, which identifies the garment category and basic design features via image recognition. Marvelous Designer is then used to digitize the garment, which is then placed on the 3D model avatar (created from photographs of the model). The next step is applying lighting, final material textures, animation, and rendering. One show collaborator is artist Jason Naylor, whose striking graphic artworks will be applied to a jumpsuit to demonstrate how this type of digital show can foster new partnerships between fashion brands and artists. Other brands involved include a sustainable swimwear label based in Brazil, a contemporary fashion label from Japan, and a bespoke atelier from Nigeria.
Work in progress for Bigthinx X Fashinnovation 3D Virtual Fashion Show.
When asked the challenges they face in creating this show, they explained that the usual way of working for designers and brands is to create garments right up to the minute the show starts. With virtual shows, the design decisions need to be finalized weeks (or more) before the show to allow time for digital creation, animation and rendering. This highlights the need for new workflows and closer collaboration between fashion brands and technology companies if this type of show is to become commonplace. Another challenge is achieving realistic animation. They discussed at length the time it was taking to refine the gait and nuanced movements of the avatars, and this comes as no surprise. The industry standard, if it can be termed as such at this early stage, is to animate on an invisible or featureless avatar (creating realistic hair is particularly difficult), so as not to undermine the realism of the garment in motion. Taking on the animation of avatars created from human models with just a couple of weeks of production time seems a mighty feat.
While this show is a proof-of-concept for the Bigthinx team, they have a powerful AI engine that creates 2D garment construction patterns for each of their 3D garment assets. The accuracy of the measurements and fit of these 2D patterns in a physical product cannot be confirmed, however, and Desai described them as “ad-hoc” at this stage. Given that this runway is a showcase, rather than a sales tool, this does not necessarily pose a problem, as there is no need to produce physical garments afterwards. It is a consideration, however, for brands planning to replace physical shows with virtual ones, as both promotional and sales tools.
The final result will go live at 6:30 pm EDT on Friday 5th June. Register here to watch.
—Disclaimer: Since the publication of this article I have received a number of requests to mention that the Hanifa brand held a digital fashion show using similar techniques, which was streamed on Instagram last month, and was mentioned in a Forbes article two weeks ago. The title of my article has been amended to reflect this, and no offence was intended to the Hanifa brand or their fans.