Half of all computers and two-thirds of all books are now sold online. But clothes? A measly 8%, for obvious reasons: When you buy clothes online, you never know how they're going to fit. For the retailer, that poses the added headache of huge return rates, which send costs skyrocketing.
Fits.me, an Estonia start-up, is offering a new, sci-fi solution: A robotic mannequin that takes your body measurements and mimics your shape, so that you can see exactly how clothing would fit you, online. Launched in June, Fits.me has already shown promising results for clients: One German test-run showed that the robots increased sales 300%, while reducing returns 28%. Just watch:
"When I was a kid, I had this dream that one day, I would have an army of robots to rule the world," says Heikki Haldre, Fits.Me's CEO. "I've only got a couple now, but that's okay." The robots don't adjust to your body in real time — the process is simpler and more clever.
All told, the robot is capable of replicating 2,000 body shapes. When a retailer signs up with Fits.me, they first send in their clothes. Each size is placed on the robot, which then cycles through all the body shapes it knows. (Think of the scene at the end of Terminator 2, when the T-1000 is being melted down.) While that's going on, a camera is taking pictures of each permutation. This photographic log is then stored in an online database. Once you go online and type your measurements into the retailer's site, it calls up the photo corresponding to your precise body type and clothing size. "It can be as beer-belllied or gym toned as you are," says Haldre. "And we can show you how a small versus a medium fits on you, for example."
Fits.me is now pursuing several new retail partnerships. Though there's only a male mannequin for now, they'll be unveiling a female mannequin in November. (The expansion was funded by a $3.5 million second-round of financing; the lead investor has been the Estonian development fund.) As Haldre tells it, "My engineers now have the best job in the world: Studying women's breasts."
The idea for Fits.me arose in a round-about way. A serial entrepreneur who also managed Estonia's PR campaign to join the EU, Haldre initially had the idea to create booths inside offline retailers, where laser scanners would take your precise measurements. These in turn would be sent to tailors, who could create bespoke suits for off-the-rack prices. "I believe that's still do-able," says Haldre. "But you still have to to get the customer to the fitting. They still have to try something on before anything ships out. And then we realized we could solve this." At first, Haldre and his team explored the possibility of printing out 3-D models of your body shape, on demand. But they quickly scrapped that idea, after realizing that thousands of prints would need to be created all day. So they moved onto robotics, eventually hiring four different university research groups to create the mannequin. The first prototype took three years to perfect.
While Haldre believes his company can totally change how clothes are sold online, he recognizes that Estonia might seem like a weird country of origin. But it was actually crucial: "If we had first approached the fashionistas in Paris or London, they probably would have thrown us out the door," says Haldre. "But in a small country like Estonia, people start talking. And they give crazy ideas like this a chance. Now, we have a robot that can be any shape at the push of a button. I wish I had a button like that."