by Nitish Varshney
30-July-2019 | 20 mins read
One of the biggest challenges faced within the fashion and apparel industry is the actual measuring process of a human body. From the time it takes, the consistency, the precision of the technology, the accuracy of scan data, to how it is analysed and communicated remains a puzzle for most of the brands and manufacturers. US-based 3D body scan technology provider Size Stream has been addressing the issue and solving the challenges since its beginning in 2012. Apparel Resources, in a candid conversation with Jeff Messer, Vice President, Size Stream, found out everything that apparel & fashion industry should know about what it takes to scan accurate body measurements and how prolonged issue in this area can be eliminated.
AR: No company has ever been formed without a story behind it. What’s yours?
Jeff: Size Stream was founded in 2012 by a small group of engineers who left one of the original companies in the 3D body scanning industry. Having to start from scratch, this group of scrappy entrepreneurs quickly developed a whole new 3D body scanner and measurement extraction software. Of course, that kind of development takes capital investment and, in 2013, TAL Apparel acquired Size Stream and thus it remains our parent company to this day. Needless to say, TAL is a global leader in garment manufacturing situated in Hong Kong producing approximately 1 in 6 of the dress shirts sold in the USA and over 1 billion garments worldwide since 1983. That same year, we launched our first 3D body scanner, which quickly turned over 150 units to customers worldwide. Since then we have developed new models of our 3D body scanners and a range of software applications for utilising 3D body scan data, within Apparel, Health and Fitness verticals.
We are a B2B company and our primary customers are apparel brands who are seeking to understand their customers’ body shapes, through 3D body scan data. As one of the leading global companies within our space, we promote a portfolio of customers on nearly every continent. Since 2012, our business has expanded and we now have 30 people on staff in our HQ in Raleigh, NC and our London offices. It is important to point out, through all this growth and expansion, our mission has remained constant – provide value for 3D body data. With clear value propositions for the act of being scanned, the business will continue to grow and evolve, and the technology will achieve ubiquity.
AR: Consumers’ shopping preferences have changed drastically over the years and they want more personalised products now. How does Size Stream help them do so?
Jeff: The obvious answer here is Made-to-Measure products but it runs much deeper than that. We have customers today who are using Size Stream data as a feedback loop into their design process. The insight technical design teams are gaining from actual customer’s scan data which is important as they work towards adapting their product designs to meet the changing shapes of these bodies. This brings to light another value proposition for the technology: the 3D design process. As more apparel companies adopt 3D design, we are experiencing increased demand for Size Stream. The ability to visualise real people in 3D design systems is paramount for our customers and I think this fundamental change will reshape how many industries design products for their target consumers. The business models must adapt as well, and the implication of products designed around real people is indeed bothersome with respect to how brands go to market. Some of the fastest growing apparel brands today are focused on ‘THE’ customer and not ‘A’ customer. While Made-to-Measure has historically been expensive, and not particularly efficient process for producing garments that is changing. By starting with a more consistent method of capturing measurements and (3D body scanning), standardising fit preferences into pattern development and automating production systems in the factories, businesses can eliminate a lot of the waste and inefficiencies associated with just in time manufacturing.
AR: What are the equipment that you are offering right now for the apparel industry? And, how different it is from other suppliers?
Jeff: We have one 3D body scanner for the apparel industry and that model, SS20 Classic, has been in the market for about 3 years. Although the physical design has not changed substantially, the underlying measurement extraction software, user interface and data extensibility have continued to evolve to meet the challenging requirements of our global customers. What makes Size Stream different is our singular focus on price to accuracy value. We are committed to providing the highest measurement accuracy while keeping the capital costs of the scanners low. No gimmicks and no ‘Artificial Intelligence’ required. Size Stream 3D body scanners deliver accurate body measurements in almost real time (90 seconds) from when the user steps in the booth. To accomplish fast and accurate body measurements, we must start with a stationary subject and scan them very quickly.
Our scanners use 20 sensors that allow us to capture 2 million 3D body data points in 2 seconds. While that single scan pass can yield pretty good measurement data, we don’t stop there. In order to meet our customer’s expectations, we scan the subject 3 times, in about 6 seconds, to address the changes that occur from breathing and posture. This allows our system to process all 3 scans into a composite scan providing 240 body measurements. This point is really important when evaluating body scanners. Size Stream does not use statistical models or historical body scan data to approximate the scan image or measurements. The scan image and measurements on the screen are 100 per cent from that user’s body.
AR: Made-to-Measure and On-Demand business models are replacing manual tailoring system in western parts of the world. Do you really think 3D body scanning is more accurate than the manual system?
Jeff: Without question, it is! And this is why our customers are turning to Size Stream. The problem is not that one tailor cannot measure accurately and consistently…, but it is when you have 5, 10, 20 different people in stores trying to measure the same way every time. This is where the machine wins hands down. Size Stream scanners are just more consistent than a group of people.
The body measurements are just one part of this equation though. The other problem Size Stream is addressing is the inconsistency in how body measurements are translated into garment specifications for production. To solve this, we have developed an end-to-end platform for automating every step of the Made-to-Measure process. From scan, to personalisation, to factory, to order fulfilment, our Garment Personalisation Platform has converted a very manual, and error prone, process into an automated digital solution. This is the most vital change Size Stream is bringing to Made-to-Measure and On-Demand businesses; a complete solution for using 3D body data to produce a better fitting garment. Anyone who wants to see this end-to-end solution in action can visit our showroom in London, where we feature our own apparel brand that is dedicated to proving how transformative this solution is for the industry.
AR: In the markets like India, Made-to-Measure has existed since centuries in the form of tailoring system. It’s only recently that new generation is opting for technology, like 3D body scanning tools. Do you think you will be able to shift the focus from this traditional approach in such markets?
Jeff: I think so, especially when these markets are presented with a better customer experience and an affordable solution. For more price sensitive markets, we may not get there with the SS20 we sell today. However, the cost of acquiring 3D body data will go down over time and Size Stream will remain at the forefront of this change. We intend to make 3D body scanning ubiquitous and empower consumers to share their 3D body data the same way as they share their GPS location to book Uber. When the act of sharing your 3DiD brings better fitting products and services, we think the shift from the traditional approach will be swift.
AR: Sensors accuracy is the most important phenomenon in 3D body scanners. Does accuracy depend on the size of body that sensors are scanning?
Jeff: Yes, there are limitations on how big or size of a body we can scan. Very large-sized bodies make it difficult to gain clean arm and leg separation which is needed for good measurement extraction. That said, we have plus size global brands as customers and our systems routinely scan XXXL size people. To the other extreme, we have customers scanning young children for school uniforms and our ‘no contact’ measuring system, is highly effective for the primary school entrance age, of just six years old. So yes, there are limits but our customers are able to scan a very wide range and size of bodies while maintaining great measurement precision.
AR: What are the challenges you face in keeping sensors accuracy high all the time?
Jeff: Keeping sensors calibrated is an important function for producing good scans and we recommend daily calibration. Our customers benefit from a mostly automated calibration process that only takes a few minutes and can be completed by anyone. Operators simply hang a calibration ‘board’ in the booth and push a button on touchscreen. The system then automatically calibrates the sensors in about 3 minutes and lets the operator know the system is ready for use. While that’s pretty good, we are currently working on new software features that detect when the sensors need to be calibrated and alert the operator to run the calibration process. That feature should be available later this year. Eventually, we would like to offer a fully automated process where the calibration board is not necessary at all and the sensors self-align. In our minds, that’s how we eliminate the variability from miscalibrated sensors.
AR: 3D measurements are taken in the static position of the customers while in reality, they have indefinite postures and the fitting of the garment depends on those postures. So, how does this technology work to ensure the correct postures of the end customers in endless postures?
Jeff: I think it’s important for an organisation to focus on what they do best and partner on the rest. There are other companies focused on virtual fitting software whereas our scan data can be loaded, draped with garments and then animated to test for fit.
By adopting a holistic approach to the eco-system of complementary tech providers, we are collaborating with industry leaders, by developing our scanner output, through a seamless integration process into their software systems. We expect to have some very good news on these initiatives in the next few months.
AR: 3D avatar/body scanning is claimed to be not feasible for bra and swimwear. Why, according to you, is it not possible to create exact mimic or measurement for these products? Does Size Stream see this as a challenge?
Jeff: Well I can fully debunk one of those myths here and now. In the UK, we have a famous swimwear brand using Size Stream to help retail customers get the right fit for their high performance racing suits. Customers are scanned in their retail stores and immediately provided with the best size recommendation. I won’t mention the company name, but I’ll give you a hint: 98 per cent of Olympic medal winners in Beijing wore their swim suits.
On the intimates’ front, there are leading brands working with Size Stream technology and some of those have recently made public statements about the use of 3D body scanners in their retail stores. I cannot comment much more on these initiatives, but we are investing resources in helping solve the bra fitting puzzle. With a reported 80 per cent of women wearing the wrong bra size, we think it’s an important problem to solve. There is no doubt body scanners can offer a better user experience, and more accurate measurements, than traditional hand measuring…, or no measuring at all.
AR: Currently, which are the best markets for your technology?
Jeff: We are seeing the best apparel retail adoption in Asia. Specifically, Hong Kong and Tokyo have been leading the way on implementing scanners in retail store fronts. We haven’t talked much about the uniform size recommendation use case but this is really gaining momentum in the US. We have top apparel brands using scanners for education and commercial accounts. Additionally, several US military branches are now using Size Stream scanners for automating their dress and combat uniform size recommendations.
“My role as Director for the UK and Europe is a new position due to increasing demand and potential opportunities within 3D partnerships and 2D CAD. This covers UK, Ireland and all other major countries of Europe. This responsibility is very exciting for me and a great progression of the company too.” – Danielle Watson, Director European Sales & Business Development, Size Stream
Finally, Europe has always been a strong market for us, and we are investing more into this region. We recently hired Danielle Watson as our Director of European Sales and Business development. We are confident that Europe will continue to grow under Danielle’s leadership and may even surpass the US in 2020.
AR: Indian fashion retail market is growing faster than ever. It is poised to grow to US $ 115 billion by 2026, from US $ 49 billion in 2018, and technology will play a key role in this. How do you see it as your growth perspective?
Jeff: We are optimistic, and now have an office with dedicated sales and support personnel in Bangalore. That team is currently focused on a multi-year project with NIFT but we expect our customer base to grow as we ramp up sales and marketing efforts in this region. Our partnership with NIFT on INDIAsize provides a great foundation for us to develop this market through a proven solution operating in the country.
AR: What are your growth plans; any major upgradation in technology that we can expect?
Jeff: We expect steady growth in our booth scanner business as apparel companies continue to put 3D innovation at the top of the priority list. Booth scanners are a fast and reliable way to acquire 3D body data in high volume environments. As uniform companies and apparel brands seek to scan thousands of customers quickly, we expect incremental demand for booth scanners over the next several years. But booth scanners are not what the larger apparel market is asking for and we intend to give the market what it wants. We will be announcing a new 3D body scanning system in the next few months or so. This new system will simply be called ‘Size Stream at Home’ and will bring the power and accuracy of our SS20 booth scanners to the consumer’s living room. We think this will be a major development the market is eagerly anticipating.
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