Does augmented reality have a future in fashion?

On Tuesday evening we found ourselves at Beck’s Digital Salon, listening to and discussing the latest developments in augmented reality. Beck’s Green Box Project is set up to offer funding and support for independent creative projects in the music, fashion and art worlds and incorporates augmented reality (AR); over the next three years Beck’s will be virtually displaying work from over 1000 individuals. Speaking at the event were insiders from Future Human and DigiCave as well as AR artists James Alliban and Dominic Flannigan.

It got us thinking about the way the fashion industry has responded to new AR developments; is it gimmickry or is there real potential?

Augmented reality is the overlaying of the physical with a digital information layer through use of a device (eg. webcam or smartphone). AR has been around for some time; one of its most familiar uses is in sports matches, where footage is overlaid with match statistics and replays, but it’s more recently that things are beginning to get really exciting.

The way we buy and are advertised to has changed; we watch TV with a smartphone, laptop or iPad to hand and AR could act as a way of integrating these devices. By the end of 2011, half of all phones will be smartphones, which suggests a huge audience perceptive to augmented reality. The early adopters amongst fashion brands are cottoning on.

Back in 2010, urban brand Cassette Playa embedded QR codes into their line of t-shirts. When the t-shirt is viewed on a webcam or through a smartphone, a series of images can be seen on its surface. Fast forward a year and Hugo Boss‘ 26-foot media wall at the brand’s new Westfield Stratford store allows passersby to interact with virtual models. Hearst Magazines, who publish Company, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar, have this month teamed up with Zappar to create interactive covers, revealing behind-the-scenes footage of the cover shoot. Forever 21 went for real wow-factor with their early forays into AR, occupying a huge video screen in Times Square, from which a giant model appears to take pictures of the crowd. She then develops the image and shows it to the crowd. Other models come in and appear to pick people up, putting them under their hats, into their bags or simply flicking them away. Clever stuff.

Then there are the retailers which really take AR to the next level and realise its potential to create an online shopping experience which rivals the offline experience. With online return rates being exceptionally high (anywhere between 25-40%), anything which helps the customer arrive at a more informed decision has to be a bonus for the retailer. Banana Flame were quick out of the starting blocks. Their Social Shopper app allows the customer to virtually try garments on, change fit, colour and style and publish their images to Facebook to seek their friend’s approval. Founder Chandra Saria puts it simply, ‘By engaging customers you can achieve more sales’. We couldn’t agree more.

Although current software may be a little rough round the edges, and developers may not be able to fully project how AR is going to change our lives, there is the awareness that a big change is coming. There’s huge scope within branding and advertising too, allowing brands and retailers to add depth to what’s on the page (with print advertising being so expensive, this can only mean better value for money). Geotagged, targeted adverts that know who you are and offer loyalty discounts work in favour of the customer. And being able to quantitatively measure the return for efforts will be of great value to the retailer. Its implications for the fashion industry are mammoth; in a market that’s notoriously difficult to replicate the offline experience online, it could – and will – boost sales drastically.

  • Published 17th November 2011
  • Author Katie Smith
  • Previous post How men shop

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