Online clothing vendors have been around for some time, but as an overall e-commerce segment they have been slow to take off, for obvious reasons. Unlike books or electronics, clothes aren’t standardized – they’re highly personalized and shoppers often like to try them on before buying, which means it’s a field where bricks-and-mortar stores still rule.
That’s finally changing, according to a number of market forecasts and studies. Estimates are pegging the clothing, apparel and accessories segment to grow by around 20% this year, outpacing any other category of goods. Goldman Sachs, for one, expects about $50 billion (U.S.) more in apparel sales to shift online over the next four years.
A big reason for the shift is that a swath of new startups are now harnessing the unique capabilities of internet and mobile technologies. Rather than simply producing online storefronts without the benefit of fitting rooms, this new wave of companies are allowing retailers to add value and create new efficiencies. In many cases, they’re also incorporating the best of both the online and physical environments to create entirely new shopping experiences.
Meet Klothed, a Toronto-based startup that lets men “try on” clothes digitally and share their wardrobe plans with friends.
The idea behind the mobile app—currently available for iOS only—is simple. The user takes a photo of his face, then selects a body type and skin colour. The newly created avatar can then test out various articles of clothing—shirts, pants, shoes—from numerous retailers, to see how they look. It’s like having a virtual mannequin, but with your own face and body shape.
Ensembles can be saved and shared to an online calendar so that friends can see what they’re each planning to wear. That way, they can avoid embarrassing situations where they show up wearing the same thing. The clothes in the app can, of course, be purchased from participating retailers.
Klothed is the brainchild of Barry Fogarty, a serial entrepreneur who has started several software companies, and his business partner Bhupinder Randhawa. The idea germinated one night when Randhawa overheard his daughters planning out what they were going to wear the next day.
Randhawa and Fogarty thought they might be able to create an embarrassment-avoidance tool, but they also saw an opportunity to direct business to retailers. Klothed would get a cut on any sales generated.
The duo got in on a fashion technology competition at Ryerson University’s DMZ incubator, sponsored by retailer Joe Fresh, and placed within the top six. That helped them build the clout they needed to sign on a few retailers, including Joe Fresh, Gotstyle and 18 Waits. They also secured funding from the Ontario Centre of Excellence and Lewie Gonsalves, a Toronto entrepreneur who also co-founded travel company Worldwide Quest.
The plan now, Fogarty says, is to launch an Android app and add more retailers. He believes that, although Klothed has only a limited number of partners so far, it won’t take much for app users to become loyal customers of included brands.
“If someone knows what fits them from a particular label, they’re more comfortable buying from them and they tend to buy more,” he says.
Fogarty is also hoping to add female avatars to the app, although doing so is trickier. The app currently lets men choose from two body types, with a few more in the pipeline, but women will require numerous types and wardrobe permutations.
In either case, Klothed is going to have to iterate its app and business model quickly, he says, to match the speed at which clothing retailers are embracing e-commerce. “It’s happening, and it’s happening fast.”
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