Meet the Bengaluru startup making a splash in international fashion
On June 5, Fashinnovation, a New York-based conference on innovation in the fashion industry, is going to host one of the world’s first “complete digital fashion shows”. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the conference that started in 2018 at the prestigious New York Fashion Week, is happening online this year.
Helping Fashinnovation — which counts marquee brands such as Louis Vuitton and Fast Company as part of its community — put together this virtual fashion show is Bengaluru-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup Bigthinx.
Fashinnovation Co-founder Jordana Guimaraes says, “We have been thinking which company will be leading the 3D virtual runway space since the entire industry is currently speaking of what it will look like. I stumbled across them [Bigthinx] through mutual industry colleagues. I also saw the many awards they’ve received. That, combined with speaking to the founders, who were so genuine and real, I knew this would be the perfect match.”
Co-founded by college friends and husband-wife duo Chandralika Hazarika and Shivang Desai (both 34), Bigthinx was recently selected by iconic fashion house Prada as one of the top 10 fashion tech companies from among 1,200 companies globally for its maiden fashion tech accelerator programme. The startup was also awarded for ‘Best Use of AI in Fashion’ by Awards.ai at its 4th Global Annual AI Awards 2019-20.
Speaking about the Fashinnovation association, Shivang says, “On the first call together, we introduced all our products, including mobile body scanning, 3D avatar generation, digital clothing, and the new products to help retailers through the COVID-19 impact — virtual fashion shows and photo-shoots. Jordana loved the fashion show demo so much that she invited Bigthinx to become a partner and showcase a virtual fashion show, featuring designs from 12 top global fashion designers.”
Chandralika and Shivang, along with their team of 10, have been burning the midnight oil since bagging the project, creating lifelike digital avatars of real-life models, and the clothes and designs for the show.
“It surpassed my thoughts of what is possible when it comes to AR (Augmented Reality). It blew my mind seeing what they were able to assemble when I watched the demo. It’s incredible and I’d be surprised if they are not the leading company in this space,” says Jordana.
Given the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant social distancing norms that are now part of the new normal, this year’s London Fashion Week Men’s — scheduled for the second week of June — is also going digital, and as a gender neutral-platform.
Some designers from the show had approached Bigthinx to help showcase their collection virtually, but due to timelines clashing with the Fashinnovation show, it had to back out, says Chandralika. The startup has also had discussions with designers for the New York Fashion Week.
A fashion revolution
The fashion industry across the globe is going through a complete overhaul in the wake of the pandemic, which has brought the sector to an effective standstill. Recently, Italian fashion house Gucci announced that it will reduce the number of shows it holds each year from five to two. It also called off a show due in September, and instead will broadcast its collection as part of Milan’s digital fashion week in July.
Additionally, Giorgio Armani announced that its men’s and women’s shows will be combined in September. Gucci, too, is keen on following the same path by doing away with the distinction between women’s and men’s wear.
There is a lot of buzz in the industry, suggesting that more fashion brands and fashion weeks will adopt the digital medium to display their collections through virtual experiences post-coronavirus.
In a bid to stay relevant and survive these unprecedented times, the industry is clearly changing its mindset. In late March and April, the Shanghai and the Moscow fashion weeks also went digital.
Bigthinx says it has seen a 5X increase in the number of inquiries for its services since the start of the pandemic. “Out of these, we have secured a few contracts already and many more are in the pipeline, pending the lifting of lockdowns across the world,” says Chadralika, not revealing the names just yet.
Shivang adds that in the virtual runway shows and digital photo-shoots market, the startup is currently in talks with several brands and fashion weeks around the world.
He says, “We have partnered with the Swedish Fashion Council and will soon have a partnership with the Helsinki Fashion Week, and will be showcasing at their future events.”
Making SaaS sassy
Bigthinx’s primary clientele is in the SaaS B2B (Software as a Service, Business to Business) space. These are retail and fashion brands, particularly those selling online.
Chandralika says, “These companies use our body scanning technology to help their shoppers find the right size for themselves, and our 3D avatars and digital clothing to help their shoppers visualise look and fit. Size, look, and fit together account for 90 percent of the reasons that people return clothing purchased online, and we help online retailers to cut these costs dramatically.”
For these services, retailers pay a recurring subscription fee. The startup’s products are API (Application Program Interface) based, which are simple to integrate into existing system architectures. It also provides custom built apps on request for retail brands.
The startup’s focus markets are ecommerce for both fast and luxury fashion. It also has customers in other niches of the fashion industry such as rentals, fashion talent management, made-to-measure, and workwear.
As far as competition is concerned, Bigthinx considers New York-based Body Labs — acquired by Amazon in 2017 — as its closest competitor in terms of technology. For body sizing, it looks at California-based 3DLOOK as its nearest rival, and Amsterdam-based The Fabricant when it comes to digital clothing.
“While several companies are solving different challenges in the fashion industry, what sets us apart is our advanced technology. We are transforming fashion retail with not only digital clothing and virtual avatars, but more importantly, body data,” says Shivang.
The co-founder explains, “This data is very useful in making big changes in the entire supply chain. With just two smartphone photos, our sizing technology gives you 44 precise body measurements that can be linked to any brand and help them reduce returns. Taken further, this data enables brands to change their designs, product specifications, and manufacturing volumes to sell more, reduce wastage, and improve their bottom line.”
Lyflike and Lyfsize
Bigthinx’s Lyfsize, a software that can do 3D body scans with a smartphone, can be used to find out one’s “precise body measurements” and clothing size in any brand, according to the startup.
According to Shivang, “Sixty percent of ecommerce returns are due to incorrect sizing, which can be brought down significantly with our solution, enabling massive cost savings for online retailers. Made-to-measure clothing providers are using this technology to receive their customers’ measurements digitally without the need for an in-store visit.”
Explaining the startup’s other software offering, Lyflike, he says it allows consumers to create a 3D avatar that looks, moves, and measures exactly like them. The co-founder explains, “Consumers can virtually try on any clothing to see how it looks and fits, in-store or online. This technology helps retailers to offer visual solutions for look, size and fit for their entire catalogues, delivering the benefits of an in-store experience completely digitally.”
The coronavirus ‘blessing’
Unlike several other startups which have been adversely hit by the coronavirus crisis, the pandemic has come as a blessing in disguise for Bigthinx as it has caused brands to take a huge leap forward in technology adoption.
“Traditionally, the fashion industry has been resistant to change. The coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for fashion brands to realise that there are better, and more sustainable ways of doing business today, leveraging the power of technology and they are reaching out far more than ever before to adopt products such as ours,” says Shivang.
In the post-COVID-19 world, there will be a lot of hesitation in interacting with objects, especially clothing, that have been touched by unknown persons before. Repeated garment sanitisation and restrictive trials are neither feasible nor economical options for retailers.
From a consumer ecommerce perspective, the common practice of ordering multiple sizes to see what fits best and returning the rest, is also going to become less feasible as people are likely to continue to avoid unnecessary human interaction with strangers as much as possible.
This is where companies like Bigthinx have a big opportunity in making trials contactless and virtual albeit life-like. According to market research firm, MarketsandMarkets, the global AI in fashion market size is expected to grow from $228 million in 2019 to $1,260 million by 2024, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 40.8 percent during the forecast period. Since this was a pre-COVID prediction, the growth rate is likely to be even higher.
“Deep discounting is expected to plague retailers for all of 2020 as mass-consumerism will certainly fall. Brands must find innovative ways to offer value and rethink their business strategies, such as by reducing stock and increasing the value proposition of their products, and creating products only of the size that the market demands,” says Shivang.
He expects reliance on technology such as theirs to become of paramount importance to the way customers shop in the “very near” future.
The origin story
Chandralika and Shivang met in college while studying architecture at The Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) Baroda. The two friends got along famously from the start but went their separate ways after college. While Shivang dabbled in several technology startups (both in India and overseas) and got an MBA from the US at the Case Western Reserve University, Ohio; Chandralika earned an MBA from IISWBM in Kolkata, and went on to become the brand head of a Singapore based multinational company, shuttling between Bengaluru and Singapore.
In 2014, the two friends met again after eight long years. Shivang had sold his healthcare startup in Chicago and moved back to India, looking to start up again.
Chandralika, who was excited about Shivang’s startup idea, which at the time revolved around influencer marketing, began by helping him out.
Although that idea did not take off, as Shivang believes, “it was at least five years ahead of its time, the market was not ready”, the friends soon discovered that they had a “great working relationship and complementary skill-sets”. In 2015, the duo set up Bigthinx.
It was started as a completely different company, focussed on edtech, which did not quite take off. In 2017, the startup pivoted to fashion retail. Since then, it has been a deep-tech company focussing on technology for fashion and retail.
In 2017, it raised angel funding from 9X Media Managing Director and former Times Group President, Pradeep Guha, who is also a partner at Bigthinx. The two co-founders, Shivang and Chandralika, along with Pradeep have invested nearly half a million dollars in the startup until now. It expects to break even in the next two months and is in the market for a Pre-Series A round of investment, to scale and help service the spurt in demand
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta
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