How Fit Tech Is Changing Online Shopping With Whitney Cathcart


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Whitney Cathcart


January 3, 2023


Whitney Cathcart  00:02

Pulling out my heartstrings, because that's why I got into this. Yeah, I love the term algorithmic retailing. And I think that the opportunities in merchandising over the next decade to use body data to really flip the model and be a much more consumer centric industry where instead of creating products and hoping that consumers fit in them, we're actually creating products because we understand what the customer looks like.


Emily Lane  00:44

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily Lane.


Bret Schnitker  00:51

And I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.


Emily Lane  01:00

Clothing Coulture is produced by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience.


Emily Lane  01:10

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today we are talking about one of the biggest problems that retailers face returns, returns have great impact on business, it affects customer satisfaction. It also reduces that bottom line profitability in a big way. There are some wonderful technology innovations underway that are available that can really help improve this overall situation for retailers. So we brought an expert, Whitney Cathcart, to talk more about some of this new amazing technology that's available that really helps add transparency behind honestly one of the top causes for returns fit. Whitney, welcome to our show.


Whitney Cathcart  01:55

Emily. Bret, great to see you today. Thank you for having me. I'm super excited to be here and talk about a topic that is important to the industry and important to me.


Emily Lane  02:05

Well, you definitely have some strong credits behind you. I applaud you for being known as one of the top women in IT, you were just recently awarded women in IT award in 2022. You're one of the top six women to watch and fashion technology by Inside Retail, your accolades go on. And on. So congratulations,


Bret Schnitker  02:28

Nobel Peace Prize is to come. I know there's so much ferocity over fit. It's it's kind of amazing. We met a time flies holy smoke, we met with Ukrainian event and Tezpur, I think months ago, seems like it was just yesterday. And there were these two fireflies that lit up the room. And I'd say it's you, Whitney and Deb. And we've had Deb on there and I was just shocked at the energy that you guys just emanated in that room. And and and I think both of you have a lot of reason to have that great energy, you guys are on the you've got a tiger by the tail with your your organization. And as Emily has kind of talked about, you know, returns and exchanges. We've talked a lot about these things on episodes, because it's, you know, it's a lightning rod for the industry. You know, as I mentioned, you know, it's I think the industry is talking between 20 and 40% returns and exchanges online. We see continued growth online, it's a huge issue and AI and AR weighing in, I always like to say adversity breeds technology, great minds come up with solutions for challenges. And so we've talked a little bit about, you know, I'd like to hear a little bit about kind of an overview of 3D Look. And then what other solutions do you think weigh in, you know, with 3Ds benefit to our industry, in addition to those certainly big glaring issues?


Whitney Cathcart  03:49

Yeah, I mean, fit certainly over the last couple of years is moved to the forefront of, you know, problems within the the industry and really negatively impact p&l and profit. So it's been interesting to watch, you know, we're six and a half years old now. And it's been interesting just in conversations with brands and retailers, how they have just organically changed over the last certainly five years and particularly since post COVID With so much more retail being happening online. And you know, those numbers as you said, Brett are just going to increase as we have greater buying power, buying power coming in with Gen Z. And having a super digital generation, you know, coming in. So essentially what we do is keep it really simple is we actually measure the human body from two photos that are taken on a smartphone. And we actually build a 3D model from those two photos. And from that 3D model, we compute over 86 points of measurement, and we use those measurements in the basis of our fit in size recommendation engine. And we use that 3D model in our virtual try on technology. And our product, your fit is the product for eCommerce, it is embedded on a eCommerce page on a PDP. And a consumer simply taps into our virtual fit legit, they it opens right up into a simple scanning experience, they take a front and side photo of themselves in tight fitted clothing. And on our back end, we are actually mapping all of that data that we get from this scan to body shape data, a lot of measurements, height, weight, super computing BMI. And we map it to the way a brand is fitting, and we deliver a size recommendation and this experience of being able to see what the product looks like on you. And so the end, what we're doing is for the consumers, we're helping them to understand what size they should be buying in that brand in that specific product. And then also we're giving them that experience of seeing what it looks like on them. So we are essentially answering the two big questions that we all face when we're shopping online, which is I wonder what size I should be buying. And I wonder what this is going to look like on me. And certainly the implications for retail are removing or decreasing return rates. If we could remove them altogether, I think we'd be a unicorn already. But, you know, trying to reduce that habit that, you know, we see, you know, about 50% of consumers are buying more than one size, and they're using their bedrooms as their dressing rooms, as I so often say and then they're returning, what doesn't fit. And there's a real implication to the brand and also to the consumer, because let's face it returning is a pain in the neck.


Bret Schnitker  06:51

That is they don't make it easy. And nowadays, we were just talking a little earlier that certain brands are restricting the whole bracketing issue, they're really eliminating that, that affects the consumer behavior in terms of risking a new brand that they haven't fit into. Or you know, so I think this becomes even more important.


Whitney Cathcart  07:09

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.


Emily Lane  07:12

Whitney, you co founded 3DLOOK. And initially starting in 2016, you went through a big research phase and then launched in beta in 2019. I'm curious to learn a little bit about what were some of the most surprising discoveries that you found during this research base?


Whitney Cathcart  07:45

Yeah. So when I was looking at research, I'd actually stepped out of being on the manufacturing side of the fashion industry where I'd spent about 30 years and


Bret Schnitker  07:56

good for you if you can get out try.


Whitney Cathcart  07:58

I did I honestly, I was super burned out. And I was really frustrated with the lack of kind of innovation. I lived in San Francisco, I was surrounded by innovation, of course, this is pre COVID years. And you know, every night in San Francisco, you could attend multiple different events on immersive technologies. I was super interested in AR VR XR, so kind of mixing both the worlds together, I was really interested in AI and kind of what types of AI technologies are going to really move our industry forward. And I knew I wanted to be part of all of that. And so I started a consulting company, and I took on some clients in the AR and VR space. And I took on some clients in the AI space and I took courses at MIT. I am not a computer scientist, as my tech team will share with you. I've got a one of my co founders is our chief science officer. And he's got a PhD and he's very used to my late night calls where I'm saying can you explain this to me in like, simple, layman's terms, but I got myself dangerous enough to know more than, you know, I would say most, you know, retail CEOs. And I think you know, what was really surprising to me as I was looking at kind of the ecosystem across the fashion industry. So when I say that, what I mean by that is thinking about, you know, inception of a garment. So design and what were the tools that were available to designers in a much more digital way versus kind of the analog way I had grown up in the industry, all the way through to, you know, distribution. And, you know, back then I was attending events where, you know, I was looking at drones and distribution centers and robots that would be you know, delivering things to people and on the streets of San Francisco. Go, you can see these things. And one of the things I knew from spending 30 years in manufacturing was just how hard fit was. And for me, one of the things that got me really interested was understanding how much more we were doing on our mobile devices. And even back in 2016, you know, social was social was certainly pervasive, I think it hadn't really done as much destruction to retail is, you know, you could argue, go back and look at today, in terms of disruption there, but I had, you know, teenagers and everything was being done on mobile devices. And so for me, as you think about, okay, well, we're going to start to buy more on devices. I mean, it was just logical to me that, you know, as more of the digital generation became into buying power, that we would shop more and more in our devices, and therefore, fit was going to become much more critical. And so I did a lot of research, I spent about six months, and this is pre 3DLOOK, they were about six to eight months old, I think, when I met them. And I was talking to CEOs, and you know, who were trying to get into this space back in 2016, around the globe, and I came across 3DLOOK, and my now co founder was out in San Francisco. And we met, and I just was, I really loved what we were doing what he was doing back then. And it was really about intersecting mobile computing, and 3D and this idea that we could create a human body from two photos, we could create a 3D model. And we could collect measurements, we could, you know, essentially compute measurements from that 3D model. And I remember looking at him and saying, Do you have any understanding of if you can actually get this accurate? Because you know, of course, back then it was a very clunky MVP. And I said, if you could get this accurate, do you have any understanding of the implications of body data within the supply chain, because for me, that's where I'd spent my life. And, you know, he was entrepreneur, it didn't come out of Fashion and Retail. But I saw immediately a data play because we as merchants had never had access to the body data of our customers. And from a merchant perspective, it made all the sense in the world to design products based on segmentation of your customers. But if you don't have that, you can't do that. Which is why, you know, back in the day, we go into stores, not that we don't today, but much more. So several years ago, we'd go into stores, love something on a rack, grab three sizes, and go into the fitting room. So what got me very curious and interested was how are you replicating that in store experience online?


Bret Schnitker  12:50

Because I think a lot of them really aren't built the same. You know, for a lot of consumers. This is sort of a new technology, you talk like you've been in this for about six years, I think the average consumer feels like it's new. You know, there's been early innovators and early adopters, I resemble that remark, I always chase that. And I've had a little experience and the early programs, that AR augmented reality would provide you on social media, or Snapchat or whatever. Clearly, not all of these kinds of innovations are created equal. So when you're obviously within your studies, and comparing and contrasting what's out there in the market, and some of us have had that experience the amazing differences between different programs. What do you see as pitfalls that are in this nascent technology space? When it comes?


Whitney Cathcart  13:38

Yeah I think you make a really important point. And I try and stop, you know, every now and then and go, Okay, I've been living in the future for like 10 years.


Bret Schnitker  13:51

Do you have the Powerball numbers, since you're living in the future, actually,


Whitney Cathcart  13:57

when I walk on the streets, or even when I'm talking to my own kids, and you know, they're like, mid 20s. Now, so they're really the top of that kind of that Gen Z generation. But you know, what seems really obvious to me isn't just obvious to consumers. And you know, camera adaption to getting better fitting clothing is not pervasive yet. And I think for us, that's been a huge learning experience. However, we are a camera based company, and, you know, technology moves forward, not backwards. So if you think about how many consumers are comfortable with cameras today versus even three to five years ago, it's astounding. You think about kind of what's happened in social rights. Snap is a camera company snap has acquired a couple of companies over the last 24 months in the virtual fit space. You know, there are several big retailers that are experimenting with kind of, you know, AR filters and fit, but we think about where we do most of our shopping, right? It's on Instagram. Yeah, right. And it's really Instagrams made it easy, right? They show me beautiful new brands every day. And a lot of it is, you know, I can shop directly from Instagram. But that doesn't solve the fit problem. So I think for us, the adoption to camera has really been in around the education, not even just from us to a brand, but really about what is the brand doing to educate the consumer. So our customer success team works really closely with our customers, and they create your fit pages on their websites, which are really helping to educate the consumer about the negative implications of returns. And when I say negative implications, it's a negative implication to a consumer, because it's a pain in the neck, particularly if you're like in a crunch and you need something and you're not even gonna have time to return it. So it's really a disappointment to get a product that you think you're going to love and wear and have it not fit, it's a negative impact to the brand. Because it you know, those products, when they come back often never even make it back on the shelves, right? So they're coming straight into the landfill, or they're being discounted, right. So the already marked down garment is taking a deeper mark down. So implications there on on profits, you know, I don't even have to explain to you. And then the third piece of it is the negative implications to environment. And you know, Gen Z, which is I think about $365 billion worth of, of shopping power, who their number one, entertainment choice is actually fashion. So you know, if you think about that's an astounding number, by the way, it's in his sounding number. It's an astounding number, right. And this generation cares more about sustainability than any preceding generation, not our generation, not the generation behind us millennials. And so as more and more of these Gen Z's are coming into buying power, that expectation to truly be operating sustainability needs to be authentic, right. So if you're buying, you know, making leather out of mushrooms, or whatever it might be, that's one component of sustainability, which is great. And if that's kind of authentically your mission, that's amazing. But if you're taking back 30 40 50% of it, you cannot call yourself a sustainable operation. So all of these different pieces need to line up. And I think that education piece is is been really important. And I think adaption to any type of camera based technologies over the next decade will become pervasive and fit tech will become, you know, table stakes technology. I mean, can you honestly imagine that a couple of years from now we're gonna go shopping on websites and go, Hmm, I wonder what size to buy? And I wonder what that looks like on me?


Bret Schnitker  17:59

No, I cannot because it's already frustrating.


Emily Lane  18:18

You talk about pervasive technology. And certainly one of the key concerns that the industry is faced with right now and consumers are concerned with is data privacy issues. You've mentioned the importance of data in helping to solve some of these problems. How are you navigating this?


Whitney Cathcart  18:34

Yeah, so because we're camera and we're photos, data's always been like for front, particularly with all the laws, it's always been a very important part. And we knew that in order to get people to take photos, we have to be very buttoned up. We've also got some very large clients in both the enterprise fashion space, and also in the uniform sector. And that covers over on the military side. So you can imagine that we had to really get ourselves together early on. But so we've got images that are stored securely, they are encrypted at rest, we are GDPR compliant, we are CCPA compliant. You know, I think many of us forget that actually, it's not us that own the data. It's the consumer that owns the data. And so we've got a process in place where a consumer can actually request either through us or directly through the brand to delete that data. But all photos are encrypted, and they're stored at rest. And when a consumer goes up on a website, for the virtual try on technology, obviously because we're actually putting that garment on you and it's the photo of you, right, so it's a photorealistic virtual trial and experience. That last photo that you have taken is what's going to come up and it sticks on the website until your session is over. And you know people Once you scan yourself once, you don't need to do it again unless of course you're gaining weight


Bret Schnitker  20:04

You know, it's amazing when you talk about data, there's, there's some really interesting additional benefits. You know, we always talk about science of fit, how to utilize, you know, data to make the best decisions for a company, in building their fit, you know, we lived years and years of Vanity Fair, now, it's coming back to bite us on our ass because there's fits all over the board. You know, zero doesn't mean zero, it means right 10 at one company means zero to another. And I think as we go more online, we need to embrace this consistency of fit, and let science and data drive those decisions within the organization. And so your company, actually, I'm sure internally is having that dialogue about the importance of helping even at the beginning of product development dialogue about hey, here's what the data says about the American consumer, what they fit what their body shape looks like, and omega ectomorphic, those type of things within demographics. That's super exciting to me.


Whitney Cathcart  21:24

Yeah, well, you're pulling out my heartstrings, because that's why I got into this. Yeah. I love the term algorithmic retailing. And I think that the opportunities and merchandising over the next decade to use body data to really flip the model and be a much more consumer centric industry, where instead of creating products, and hoping that consumers fit in them, we're actually creating products, because we understand what the customer looks like. And, you know, let's face it, the customer is in the driver's seat, and has been now for a couple of years, and the fashion industry is trying to catch up with that, right. And there's a lot that needs to happen, you know, you have to start with bodies, right? So we can already help a retailer do that. There's still I'm not saying we're gonna get to an, you know, on demand model in, you know, one or two years. But you know, I just got off a call with a couple of women that are just doing amazing things at the factory level and on demand. But certainly, over the next five to 10 years, we will see a much larger subset of manufacturing going to on demand and all that is a function of technology and automation. But I think that the one of the largest opportunities where I believe that a ton of capital will be poured into over the next decade is going to be in merchandising, because there's been very, very little innovation in you know, how we go about thinking about designing products, merchandising, planning, grading inventory optimization, you know, retailers are just sunk in inventories right now. So, you know, there's a big push to cut back on inventories, you know, and as a planner, merchant, you're like, Ah, how do I do that, right. But, you know, looking backwards to historical data in, in this world today, that does not have the same meaning, as it did, you know, 10 15 20 years ago, when we looked back at our historical data to try and help us understand what color pink, you know, we should be putting out for spring next year, and what sizes and you know, kind of how to cut, and all that has changed. And I think understanding what your customers look like and being able to segment that and you know, we do this already. So the challenge for 3DLOOK, is really about how do we, you know, create systems and automate that and make it really easy for the brand to be able dynamically to see this data and be able to shift and make changes in their production processes in real time.


Bret Schnitker  24:06

Super exciting.


Emily Lane  24:07

Yeah, it is, you know, you're giving us a glimpse a little bit into the future of the power of the data in this industry. What are some other attributes we can look forward to with this technology?


Whitney Cathcart  24:18

Yeah, I mean, we've got a pretty aggressive roadmap in 2023, which I'm very excited about, you know, I'm super interested in 3D, which is why you know, I'm here in the first place. And, you know, with increases in graphics, power and 5G becoming more pervasive and just what people are doing in 3D. I mean, you know, kind of forget all the hype around Metaverse for a minute but for me, it's really around experiential e commerce and you know, what I like to call 3D commerce. But how are we innovating on these experiences just on shopping on websites and making them more immersive? and I look at as kind of a stepping stone into kind of Next Gen 3D. I'm very interested in understanding kind of what the adoption will be to, you know, AR glasses at the point at which, you know, they are made out on the market and a consumer facing way, you know, whether Apple does that or not, they tend to be the leader and consumer facing innovation. So while AR glasses have been around, and certainly being used in a b2b way, you know, what does that mean, in terms of shopping, if, in fact, there is an adoption there on the consumer side over the next several years. So I'm very excited about the future. Our photo realistic trial experience right now literally puts a garment back on you. So it's really a representation of, you know, what is this garment look like? Do I like the ruffles? Do I like the print? Do I like the color Do I like the length, but what I'm very excited about is venturing in 2023 into true 3D. And, you know, there's a lot of conversation, there's a lot of psychology that goes into that. Because you can't argue when you take a photo of yourself that it's you. But you know, you could argue with your avatar? Do I really look like that? And your avatar in real life needs to be a representation of you for fit very different than your avatar in the metaverse, which is somebody I hope today or one right, or, you know, so I think it's a super interesting problem to solve. And a really interesting opportunity. We've got about 80% of our team is on the, you know, computer vision and 3D side. So our r&d deep tech side and product side also, obviously, and we have some really smart people in house. So I'm excited. I can't announce some of the things we're going to be doing soon, but very excited about 2023. And where that's going to take us


Bret Schnitker  26:58

Yeah, it was interesting, we were having conversations with our 3D, one of our 3D partners Browzwear and they were experimenting with the draping on actual human forms. And one of the things they were finding is in the harsh light of reality, they were actually having customers negatively impacted by the reality of what they look like. And so you know, how it'll be interesting to know how the evolution of the marketing aspects, you know, we have nice mood lighting at some retail stores, great music. So when you get in there, you might feel a little more sexy than in some harsh ultraviolet light. So how we manage that visualization will be an important evolution of that.


Whitney Cathcart  27:35

And I think also understanding like, what's most important to the consumer? Is it the shareability, when we were doing beta testing, we saw that consumers were taking screenshots and sharing it with their friends. Like, it didn't look perfect, right? It was beta, but it was like cool to them. Because again, going back to something you said in the beginning, Brett, this is still brand new for consumers, their avatars in gaming are very different than their real life them. Absolutely. And, you know, I think continue to experimentation, conversations, serving beta testing, you know, Browzwear is an amazing company. We have a lot of customers that, you know, use Browzwear and some of the other 3D design tools. But, you know, one of the things that I think the fashion industry traditionally has not been great at is collaboration, even within organizations, everything tended to be quite siloed. Right? Changing, right. And so it kind of is falling a little bit of, you know, what you might find in like Silicon Valley, or other big tech hubs, right, where there's a lot more collaboration within. And so, you know, for us partnership, partnership strategies, you know, Browzwear, already a partner of ours, but partnership strategies, as we enter into 2023. And throughout that year, or throughout next year is going to be very important to us. There are so many people doing just really, really amazing things within the fashion industry that is just going to create amazing experiences for consumers over the next couple of years.


Bret Schnitker  29:23

So let's get down to brass tacks real quick. We talk about your vision of the future where it's pervasive, everyone, I will have 3D Look on their retail site, everyone's using them. The hard question is, is it built for all sizes of customers today? We've got customers in our organization that are small to large startups, everyone could benefit from this, the future is that everyone's going to have it. What does that technology look like today to implement? Are we able to implement it for customers of all sizes? Is it approachable for everyone? What's that look like? And what's the future? look like if it's not today.


Whitney Cathcart  30:01

Yeah, well, you have a lot packed in there. So that's, it's great. It's great question. So you know, I always say fit doesn't, you know, everybody's got a problem with fit, it doesn't discriminate, we've got customers large and small, we have customers itself female products and male products. So it's about I guess it's weighs a little higher today, on the women's side, but because we've got, you know, quite a few companies in the uniform space it, you know, we tend to get a lot of male early on, we understood where our deficits were. And so, you know, we made an investment after our series, a round into a scanning lab, which we use to put people in and expand on data set. So one thing early on, that we had to expand on, we're really tall man, and


Bret Schnitker  30:53

I resemble that remark.


Whitney Cathcart  30:54

And then also plus size, we also use synthetic data. So our scanning lab enables us to actually use synthetic data to build and expand on training sets. So it's a it's a process that is never ending and probably won't be, you know, I'm not gonna say that there aren't edge cases that, you know, we need to take care of at some point. I mean, I don't think we probably have like basketball players that are, you know, seven foot five in our database. Right now, we've always talked about kids too, we, you know, we currently measure four foot seven on up, you know, the kids, because their bodies changed so rapidly, is really a monster of its own. So we haven't ventured in into that space yet. We've been asked to do maternity, which as you can imagine, creating datasets on maternity is a big undertaking. So, you know, I think you would see some of those types of things out of 3DLOOK at a, you know, later stage, a much bigger capital round, where we would really have to put a lot of focus and training back into those types of datasets. But today, you know, we serve customers, small and large, we've got a plugin for Shopify, I think there's a huge opportunity in the mid market, which is where Gen Z is shopping. Most all those companies that sit on Farfetch and Intermix and Moda, they are, a lot of them, 90% of them are on Shopify. So when I say small to mid market, you know, these are 20 30 40 50 100 million dollar brands, they are, you know, this generations version of what will become, you know, 500 million plus brands. But having said that, you know, the enterprise space is obviously those logos are important. And we will be announcing a really big one, one of the largest ones and January, so, very excited about that. And we've developed an opportunity in just all of our conversations with big retailers and doing, you know, smaller pilots over the years of understanding some of the impacts of trying to integrate with a startup technology company, and having that turn into like a six to eight month process and spending a lot of their engineers time and money. So we've actually developed a Tag Manager pilot program that is not a deep integration that enables us to actually get live with a, you know, giant brand or retailer in about four to six weeks. So we're super excited about that. And we are expecting several launches within q1 and q2 as a result of that.


Emily Lane  33:43

Well, thank you so much for shedding some light on the fact that the future is now especially with regards to solving some of these key issues with retail fit. Congratulations on all of the successes that you've had. We're looking forward to hearing some of your big announcements in the future. We really appreciate you joining us today, Whitney.


Whitney Cathcart  34:02

Oh, well, thank you both. It's a pleasure to be here and always enjoy talking about the future fit with manufacturers and retailers. So I appreciate your time today. I wish you both a happy holiday!


Emily Lane  34:15

Same to you. Thank you. Bye Whitney. Don't forget to subscribe and stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture.

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How Fit Tech Is Changing Online Shopping With Whitney Cathcart