Retail has been one of the first industries to boldly step into the augmented reality era. As far back as 2013, Ikea was presenting a catalogue of their products that could be viewed in-situ from the customer’s home using smartphone-enabled augmented reality.
By 2016, several other homeware companies, such as Wayfair, had jumped on board. Customers were now able to see how furniture products would look in their homes, make sure they fit, and order them directly simply by holding up their smartphone. Customers can, in some cases, even choose from a range of colours and patterns for particular furniture items direct from the app. That is product customisation in augmented reality, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Fashion has taken to augmented reality like a duck to water. Designers, excited by the prospect of augmenting their designs beyond the physically feasible, are starting to use augmented reality to add additional features to their designs.
Graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Kailu Guan, is just one of the designers using augmented reality to merge her real-world designs with the virtual.
"There were so many stories I wanted to tell with my clothing, but with the given materials and the shapes of the garments there is a lot of story that is lost," Guan told Dezeen. "As everything is now is digitised, I thought why don't we use a digital platform like an app to bring back the stories."
Working with programmers and animators to create a bespoke app for her designs, Guan used screen-printed patterns on the fabrics to trigger the AR features on a garment when the smartphone is pointed at it. Then, programmed digital additions appear on the screen as though they were a part of the real garment.
Guam’s designs were showcased at New York Textile Week in 2016.
In a similar but weird move, design studio N O R M A L S have created an app that allows you to wear your tweets. And an exhibition held in 2015in New York’s Ace Hotel showcased a further raft of outfits with augmented reality-enabled features.
From these conceptual designs, however, we are beginning to see a more mainstream adoption of augmented reality in the fashion industry.
Renowned footwear brand, Converse, have been working with mass customisation for a while now. Customers can choose from a variety of design elements to customise a pair of iconic Converse sneakers, a feature that has also been in action with Converse’s parent company, Nike, for some years. But Converse has also gone a step further, and has been offering customers the opportunity to try on their sneakers using an augmented reality app since 2012.
Whilst it’s not clear whether Converse intends to marry their mass customisation line with the augmented reality app in the near future, it can be reasonably predicted that this will be the case before too long.
Popular clothing brand, American Apparel, has also engaged augmented reality in their stores. They haven’t gone so far as to combine augmented reality with customised products per se, they have enabled an AR app to be used in their stores. Through the app, shoppers can scan an image of an item in-store, and find further details on it - including what different colours and fabrics it is available in. They can also see reviews and other information to help inform their purchase.
The American Apparel example is, however, a bit of a gimmick for using AR, as what they offer is only one step away from the QR code in terms of the way it functions. Nonetheless, it does demonstrate the ways that augmented reality can be engaged in in-store experiences to enhance customer experience.
There are several examplesthat show the ways in which the fashion and beauty industry is already bringing augmented reality into their customer journey. The next step, of course, is to make that journey fully interactive.
Imagine a world in which augmented reality customised fashion shopping was available in the same way that it is in interior design. Stand up your iPad in your bedroom, and select from an array of different options from your chosen brand. They would appear on the screen, right on your body. You can flick between colours, fabrics, items themselves, with ease, finally clicking ‘Checkout’ and knowing that the product you have customised and virtually tried on is now being created and delivered to you.
Using the in-built scanning technology that AR relies on (such as Google Tango), the outfit you choose will additionally be customised to your unique sizing requirements. Full-body scanning has already been used by Adidas in their customised sweater line available in some of their US stores. When this reaches smartphone level, there will be no need to go to a store and try on off-the-rack items.
This sort of technology might sound far-fetched, but it is absolutely far from it. It is predicted that augmented reality will come to dominate the way we live, work, and shop over the coming few years. We are likely to find ourselves hooked to head-mounted augmented reality systems, or even using AR contact lenses within the next five years.
It is also likely that, beyond simply choosing our garments using AR, we will be able to rent or purchase bespoke items that can only be viewed in augmented reality. As everybody begins to experience the world in this way as standard, complementing a real outfit with augmented reality accessories and embellishments will also become a regular part of our lives.
Therefore, whilst we talk about mass customisation in terms of real product manufacturing, there may be a fully digitised future for the mass customisation model as well. Whilst the mass customisation of real-world products will remain a strong tenet of manufacturing for the future, the limitations around what can be offered by the model could be overcome through the use of AR.
We emphasise the importance of individuality and identity-expression as a part of the cultural mood of today. So, if we can move the ability to customise products fully into the digital space, the possibilities for the consumer to customise to their heart’s content is perfectly endless. Self-expression is finally truly realised, and all as a result of our growing dependence on technology.