Getting the right fit in trying times (Sponsored Content)

By Arup Chakraborty

The pandemic has clearly changed the way we work, play and live. With the government- and self-imposed quarantines coupled with physical distancing, it's not only the aviation sector but also the retail sector that is undergoing a radical transformation.

For one, consumer behaviour is changing and the shopping experience is no longer remain the same, regardless of whether you're an individual, a retail store or a mall. In zones where the virus is still spreading, retail outlets (except grocery stores and pharmacies) are reluctant to open their shutters. Other areas are witnessing a huge reduction in physical footfalls in retail outlets and malls since many people fear contracting Covid-19 in crowded areas.

All these factors have taken a heavy toll on the retail sector. Twenty-one private and public retailers including Brook Brothers and the Ascena Retail Group filed for Chapter 11 this year, according to BankruptcyData.com. The figure is more than twice the number filed for the same time period last year, according to a July 27 CNN article. Further, many small and big retail outlets have let go of hundreds of employees.

Our own data reveals that as businesses and retail shops and malls gradually begin operations, people are resuming the cycle of buying clothes for themselves, their family and children. Besides, as talks of schools resuming start, parents will have to buy uniforms for their children--the uniform market alone is globally pegged at about $16 billion. Medical staff, too, will require a steady supply of dresses. Besides, the $3 trillion fashion industry would require a range of costumes and designs.

What will the 'New Normal' look like?

For one, hygiene concerns are necessitating a new approach. They will assume a lot of significance when purchasing apparel since both retailers and shoppers won't be comfortable with customers trying apparel in physical fitting rooms that could potentially have contaminated surfaces. These concerns are bound to discourage trials in offline fitting rooms.

Consequently, brands will have to ensure that they provide a safe shopping environment to reinforce the confidence that shoppers will need to shop in their stores, making way for virtual fitting rooms. Besides, manufacturers would be soon be forced to make anti-bacterial fabric, without compromising on style or fashion. Last, but not the least, every store will have to ensure compliance with safety requirements--they may need a compliance certificate.

Some retailers have been quick to adapt to this 'New Normal'.

For instance, retailers like Levi’s, Metro Shoes and Fab Alley have launched initiatives such as ‘home visits’ and ‘stores on wheel’ to tackle the issue of fewer footfalls in stores, according to a July 26 article in Financial Express. Levi’s vans, the article notes, are reaching out to housing societies to allow consumers to try out garments at their homes. The team also takes measurements for alterations. The final product, after being modified at the nearest store, is dropped back to the customer. 

Footwear brand Bata India, too, is setting up mobile shops at apartment complexes. FabAlley, has introduced its ‘Indya by Appointment’ service for its ethnic wear brand, wherein the company shares its catalogue with customers through WhatsApp and then delivers the products to their homes, the article notes. Metro Brands has adopted a similar approach.

Technology is also playing a significant role in helping retail outlets innovate.

Gap, for instance, uses the 'DressingRoom'--an augmented reality (AR) app that lets customers try on clothes anywhere using a Google Tango-enabled device. Wannaby’s Wanna Kicks is another AR iOS app that enables customers to try on different pairs of sneakers from the 3D models available.

While big technology companies like Microsoft, IBM, Google, Facebook and Adobe are in the online fashion game, smaller companies such as Stitch Fix, Wide Eyes and our own Mirrorsize, too, have similar and reasonably-priced technology options.

Even in these tough times, we have seen a doubling of its business. In the last couple months, we have sealed more than 20 deals, mostly from North America, Europe and Australia. Till date, we have signed up customers from geographies as diverse as the US, Europe, Australia, Pakistan, Morocco and India.

All these clients are bespoke merchants--they do custom tailoring for men, women or even both. In these times of mandates for physical distancing and self-isolation, neither they can go to their customers, nor can the latter come to them to get measured. They all face one problem: "How to customize apparel for customers if they can't measure them?"

This month, for instance, we bagged a multi-year contract from Turkey-headquartered Dressbest--one of the world’s largest providers of corporate clothing solutions and uniforms. As part of this deal, we will use our artificial intelligence (AI)-powered 3D scanning platform to help Dressbest digitize its uniform business and cater to clients who now insist on contactless measurements to avoid contracting Covid-19.

Prior to this pandemic, Dressbest would send staff with sets of sizes to do trials at the customers' sites. Their clients would, then, call their employees to check out these sizes at the scheduled time. This would lead to more time being spent at the site. Besides, Dressbest had to deal with employee absenteeism that could delay projects.

Located in İstanbul, Turkey with an integrated manufacturing plant, Dressbest works with the local supply chains to optimise cost and time. The pandemic has made contactless measurements imperative. Dressbest performed extensive trials with many companies but the accuracy of our Mirrorsize app helped us seal the deal.

Our 3D body measurement solution uses AI, advanced computer vision, deep learning models, and mesh processing to instantly provide precise body measurements. Its patent-pending technology makes it the only company in the world to allow a user to wear skin tight or regular clothing while using the app. It does so by using a combination of image processing and data analytics to display accurate body measurements.

 With our MS SIZe2Fit (Mobile based size recommendation) and MS QuickSize (BMI based size recommendation) apps, suppliers can run their entire uniform business from their laptop. Neither do the customers of the Uniform Suppliers nor do the suppliers have to make any investment. Mirrorsize offers retailers a free trial and even in this lean period, has had many inquiries for the app since it can help retailers align costs by automating many processes.

The global school uniform market is valued at US $19.63 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach US $ 32.32 billion by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 7.3% during 2021-2026, according to Cole Market Research. The global medical clothing market size was USD 63.3 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 99.9 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 5.9% during the forecast period, according to Fortune Business Insights.

Given the huge market potential, retailers who get their technology act together will do well even in these trying times.