The Rise of Clothing Body Scanners During Covid-19 and Beyond
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
By Just Style
More than two decades have passed since the first 3D body scanners were developed for the apparel industry. Kathryn Wortley investigates how and why Covid-19 has increased demand.
Technologists and designers continue to find new ways to hone body scanners in response to rising demand among brands and manufacturers for direct-to-consumer sales during Covid-19.
Increasingly tech-savvy consumers, an uptick in e-commerce and appeals for more sustainably sourced and produced apparel point to growth in the adoption of 3D body scanners, prompting vendors to keep innovating.
Body scanners are one of the core 3D technologies that have radically transformed the fashion industry during Covid-19, according to Alexandra K Mann, media relations manager at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York.
“Having access to accurate representations of a person’s size and shape enables a degree of personalisation that was previously unavailable to the broader consumer,” she said, stressing how apparel can increasingly be designed, customised, fitted, tested and revised using new digital workflows built around 3D fashion design software.
With such evolving systems at their fingertips, designers are gaining more freedom “to try out ideas that are customised for individual differences” and ensure that “designs fit well and look good on a wide range of sizes and shapes.”
The pursuit of looking good is driving change in apparel. Custom-made garments are the fastest growing sector within the industry, according to John Fijen, managing director of North Carolina, US-based 3D scanning specialist [TC]² Labs.
In the past 18 months, the US-based company, which offers a full suite of 3D body scanning services, from training and consultancy to installation and maintenance, has “made a lot of progress” in technology, he said. This includes extensive improvements in [TC]2’s TC2-19M and TC2-19 tablet.
The company argues the former has “best-in-class” accuracy, being able to scan subjects in one second and processing their data in eight seconds or less, including creating an avatar, extracting measurements and saving files. It records thousands of different measurements with 360˚ body coverage, yet it has no moving parts and can fit in two suitcases, making it highly accessible and useable, according to a company memo.
The improvements in the system have enabled better visualisation of garments in 3D on the company’s online shopping platform, said Fijen. This is significant because “displaying configurations attracts customers” while the integration of social media allows users to “share their designed pieces with their community,” he added.
How Has the Pandemic Increased Demand for 3D Body Scanners?
Using 3D body scanning to facilitate a better online shopping experience is likely to increase as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues, to curb traffic to brick-and-mortar apparel shops and drive consumers online for fashion purchases.
Indeed, interest in such digital systems has grown in the past year, and provision of the equipment by brands accelerated, due to the global health crisis.
“The pandemic has decreased people’s physical contact, which hinders the custom apparel business, and driven the return of huge volumes of e-commerce purchases due to consumers’ lack of understanding of brand sizing and fitting,” says Rick Yu, co-founder and CMO of TG3D Studio.
In response, the Hong Kong-based 3D fashion technology company developed a mobile 3D body scanning feature based on its existing body service. It allows customers to be scanned at home and gives retailers “access to hundreds of their body measurements to provide more personalised product recommendations and services,” he explains.
With Covid-19 also limiting capabilities to carry out maintenance, TG3D Studio also enhanced its “accuracy detection algorithm” to ensure its physical body scanners are “more robust against any possible type of environment and user behaviour.” The company’s efforts are paying off.
In 2020, its tech was used by Weekday, a member of the Hennes & Mauritz group (H&M), to create Body Scan Jeans, an on-demand apparel offering promising custom-made jeans in 30 minutes. After the scanning and translation of data into an avatar and measurements, users can customise their jeans’ fit, waist, leg, length, wash, thread colour and trims.
In November 2019, fitting systems middleware specialist Fit:Match introduced TG3D Studio’s technology to improve customer experience and increase revenue at its brick-and-mortar pop-up store near Chicago. The company found the novelty of the process attracted more visitors, including a younger clientele.
How Will Body Scanners Be Used in Future?
Yu says the 3D avatar result from a 360˚ body scanner will always spark intrigue, even sharing and commenting on social media.
“The virtual try-on service will allow customers to digitally try on different clothes with their personal avatar scanned by the 3D body scanner, which will be more attractive to be shared on social media,” he explains.
He notes, however, the need to remember privacy. TG3D Studio encrypts and blurs the face of every 3D avatar it generates, and separates its database into untraceable packets with no link back to personal information. Control is also given to the user by enabling them to delete their account, personal profile or measurements anytime.
Culturally, too, companies should consider the “preferences of [people in] different locations” in the display of the avatar. Brands could provide “tight-fitting, one-time wear clothing” to accommodate people that may be uncomfortable culturally to undress for a scan, he says.
Still, with care, avatars can be more utilised, thanks to ongoing developments in technology: “3D body scanning personalises avatars, taking them from generic mannequins to realistic forms on which designers can drape, style, colour-block, size and experiment with materials – all before a single physical sample is made,” says Mann.
This progress has implications for not only workflow and industry systems but also for the environment.
Virtual fashion design, explains Mann, “enables enormous savings in time, material and money as it significantly reduces the waste produced during the typical design process”. Furthermore, adds Yu, it “helps to reduce customers’ online return rates and the overall carbon footprint since there are less shipping and packaging processes”.
Measurement data can also be used to better understand the typical body shape of target audiences to enable manufacturers or brands “to make an informed buying plan and forecast according to geographical regions and size,” Yu continues. This information can help avoid overproduction and overstocking, which could release strain on the warehousing and distribution processes in the apparel industry.
With such considerations, coupled with companies’ increasing drive to reduce margins while meeting customers’ expectations on quality and sustainability, 3D body scanners in apparel is likely to grow in popularity beyond Covid-19 – not just because of the fit, but also the environmental benefits.