“Do you ever buy clothes online?”
That question was asked to me by Bodymetrics CEO Suran Goonatilake right before a demo (see above video) of his company’s fancy virtual shopping technology at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. It’s a system that lets you try on clothes without actually trying on clothes by leveraging the technology behind Microsoft’s $150 Kinect camera – technology developed by a company called PrimeSense — to create a precise 3D model of your body that mimics your movements as an on-screen avatar. When a particular item of clothing has been mapped in the same way, you’re able to see exactly how it would look on you in real life.
“I buy everything online and I buy it from Amazon, including all my clothes,” I replied, which is a true statement and seemed mildly amusing to Goonatilake and seemed mildly shocking to Bodymetrics Head of Fashion Lainey Sheridan-Young, who told me I was lucky to be able to find clothes online that ended up fitting correctly. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they never fit correctly. She’s in fashion, after all, and Amazon has a good return policy.
Goonatilake’s point was that even though plenty of people shop online, 90% of us, he said, still buy clothes in real-world stores. Why? Because you can never really tell how something’s going to fit without trying it on first (see the second to last sentence of the previous paragraph).
I inadvertently ruined his opening by virtue of the fact that I work from home and wear one of only two pairs of pants I own every single day — $110 Lululemon yoga pants; one pair in grey, one in black, and neither pair ever used for a single yoga pose.
They’re pants I relentlessly and unapologetically mocked for being priced $90 afoul of my rule to never buy pants for more than $20, from a store I relentlessly and unapologetically mocked for having a weird name and using recyclable lunch totes with girl-power sayings all over them as shopping bags. But my wife finally talked me into actually trying the pants on one day, and it turned out that they’re the most comfortable pants in the history of pants.
So if you think about it, I have $220 worth of pants. They just happen to be two pairs of pants. I now also realize I didn’t have to ruin Goonatilake’s intro, because I wouldn’t have bought these pants – a rare non-Amazon purchase for me — had I not tried them on first.
Bodymetrics technology may find its way onto a site like Amazon in the near future so you’ll be able to use a Kinect-style camera to virtually try on clothes in your own home on your own time. The company is betting that new models of Smart TVs will pack Kinect-style cameras right into their screens, which will help propel the adoption of virtual shopping.
For now, the body-mapping system can already be found in Selfridges and New Look stores in the U.K. and it’ll be making its way to the U.S. this summer. Goonatilake wouldn’t divulge which retailers Bodymetrics will be partnering with, except to say it’s a big enough deal that he’ll be relocating to Los Angeles before the launch.
Being able to virtually see how clothes fit is a good first step and should be popular once it finds its way into people’s homes. As for the next challenge, we’ll need technology that lets us virtually feel how clothes fit. I’m pretty sure I’d still be relentlessly and unapologetically mocking these pants I’m wearing right now if I’d only seen them on a 3D avatar of myself. Once Bodymetrics develops a system that can adequately convey the feeling of lightweight, moisture wicking, chafe resistant, breathable pants, I’ll truly have nothing left to mock.