In creating a virtual fitting room, PhiSix Fashion Labs, a company co-founded by Jon Su Ph.D. ’11, Jatin Chhugani and Mihir Naware, may have solved a common problem facing online shoppers.
PhiSix’s technology generates an avatar, based on the consumer’s measurements, that can virtually try on more than 10,000 articles of clothing that have been digitized by PhiSix. The team has created more than 6,000 avatars to test the system, which has been made commercially available for website integration.
While PhiSix currently works with 12 companies, including Le Tote and Tie Society, Naware said that the company’s goal is to “try and have our technology used by pretty much everybody that buys clothes online in the U.S.”
According to Su, the company’s creation was motivated by the co-founders’ difficulties with shopping online. Su, whose doctoral thesis was focused on physics-based animation and cloth simulation, framed PhiSix — and in particular the creation of accurate avatars — as a practical application of his research
“The test users have liked it a lot,” Su said. “The initial worry that most people have is that the avatar is not an identical match for your body, but it’s pretty close and provides way more information than looking off a size chart. It’s a much better experience than current online shopping.”
While Su’s doctoral research expedited the process of developing the initial product, the PhiSix team still faced a variety of challenges, as Naware noted that creating an avatar that could closely mimic the shopper’s body was particularly difficult.
“At the outset, the problem is pretty simple — digitize clothes and put them on the bodies of avatars,” Naware said. “But it’s actually a very complex problem that requires lots of computer science knowledge to solve.”
Su cited the team’s relative inexperience with the clothing industry as another barrier that has yet to be entirely overcome.
“I think the biggest challenge is that we’re trying to get into ‘fashion’ as a bunch of computer science guys,” Su said.
Both Su and Naware agreed that though the company is fulfilling a need for consumers, PhiSix may face a short-term struggle in expanding the number of businesses that use the product. The company is also looking to increase its employee base in order to digitize more clothing and further develop the avatars.
“It’s not a problem of finding consumers that would use our product, but getting companies to buy it,” Su said. “Another [goal] is to raise some capital — investment capital — to hire a bunch of people.”
Naware said that PhiSix is currently attempting to develop a mobile application that would allow the user to input their size, style and budget, and view clothing options on their smartphone, which he believes would further expand PhiSix’s user base.
While technology in fashion is an emerging field, Su expressed confidence that the online clothing industry will embrace PhiSix’s new technologies.
“The problem itself is pretty apparent… there is this aversion to technology in the fashion world,” Su said. “But, people are buying everything online these days. The fashion industry knows that they’re kind of behind in that, so they’ll do anything to catch up.”