Believe it or not, there is a science behind bathing suit design — from the choice of materials, to the intended functionality of the article of clothing. Along with that science comes a process that Sarah Krasley, CEO of Shimmy Technologies, is hoping to change.
I had a chance to catch up with Sarah at her office at New Lab, “an interdisciplinary space designed to support entrepreneurs working in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced manufacturing”, located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City. There, she spoke to me about her company and how she is trying to change the fashion industry.
As the CEO of Shimmy Technologies, what is the mission of your company? How did it get started?
Sarah: At Shimmy Technologies, we’re helping the apparel industry embrace automation and use artificial intelligence to speed things up. Apparel brands and manufacturers are under enormous time and cost pressures, while on the other side, consumers are beginning to demand custom and personalized clothing. We want to make the design to manufacture workflows more efficient and fun, so the end result is more people in clothes that actually fit them feeling better about the way they look.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep love of product design and manufacturing. I think it’s totally amazing that a designer can have an idea for something and lo and behold, months or years later, thousands of them come off a conveyor belt. Because of this I studied industrial design. I eventually found my way into technology as people do and moved into a space where I was helping automotive designers look at shape and form of a car using simulation technology. I was watching an industrial designer shape the hood of a car one day and I wondered if this type of technology could be brought to bear for other types of bodies? Not car bodies, but human bodies. From there, I became interested in apparel and body image, which led to a custom swimwear line, which uses 3D technology and eschews the mass production model that so much of our clothing is made from.
What is the Shimmy platform?
Sarah: Shimmy was born through our launch of a custom swimwear line called X Swimwear. Our aim was to change the typically disempowering experience women have trying on and wearing bathing suits into something fun, while at the same time, testing a technology platform for apparel design and manufacturing.
We chose swimwear because it’s the hardest thing to fit. It’s really challenging because it’s close to the body. Women are fed advertisements of models that defy reality, so their expectation of how they look in a bathing suit is very different from how they actually look. Alongside this, bathing suits are graded in ways that don’t really reflect the nuances of a customers’ unique body shape. Not a single one of our customers has a set of measurements that fits into a standard size range, and I don’t think any brand does quite frankly. That’s why most clothing as a whole, doesn’t fit. Once in a while, we get lucky and a consumer has a fit model with similar proportions to us, but in most cases people are walking around in clothing that wasn’t made with their body in mind.
What technology are you using to make your vision a reality?
Sarah: We developed an app utilizing IBM Watson that allowed us to take ten points of measurement from our customers, apply those to a digital avatar and generate a unique swimsuit pattern for every one of our customers.
Everybody that buys a swimsuit style off of our website gets a download of the app. The app tells them where there is a local neighborhood dry cleaner or tailor that can take their measurements.
After we get the points of measurement, we apply them to something called a digital avatar, which is basically a 3D sculpted iteration of your body. Then we can do simulation tests and learn how the fabric will stretch over your body without our customers being there. This helps us find out how to change a base style for that particular body. From there we generate a pattern and we have it cut and sewn.
I hate waste, and we needed to do something with that app once it was finished. We were really interested in weather data because it really influences buying behavior and wanted to begin playing with it for Shimmy. So, once the customer gives us those points of measurement, the app converts to a timer that helps our customers know when to reapply sunscreen. We were able to use some of the weather data from IBM to figure out the UV index, where in the world our customer was located, and give them better advice about when it was time to reapply. This also helps us understand where our customers are wearing their bathing suits.
What affect do you think AI will continue to have on the apparel industry?
Sarah: I don’t think it would have been possible to launch this company without AI. Apparel is traditionally slow to adopt technology and it’s been great to work with apparel design teams and show them how product design and manufacturing is done in other product segments. If brands want to compete with Amazon and meet customer demand for custom clothing, they have to adopt artificial intelligence – there is simply no way around it. There are simply not enough technical apparel designers with the capacity to do all that problem-solving.
While our swimwear line is a small test case, and only operates for a few months per year, we relied on AI for numerous parts of our workflow and we’re excited to share those learnings with brands and manufacturers producing at much larger volumes.
What have customers said about the app?
Sarah: We were really surprised when our customers reported back that the tailors loved the application. We heard stories of tailors and our customers laughing together as they took measurements and having fun. When you typically go to a tailor, they take the measuring tape, they measure a circumference of your body, they put the tape down, and then they write on a scrap of paper. In the application we built, we made a guided workflow, so it shows the tailor exactly what to do and they’re able to capture the measurement with voice-to-text. We taught Watson a little bit about measurements and typical things that are said in an apparel setting and we were able to get those measurements very quickly, in a way that’s empowering and was a lot of fun for both the tailor [and our customers].
I just got an email two days ago that said, “this is the best bathing suit I’ve ever worn, and I’ve never had a bathing suit that actually fit and this is a wonderful company that you’re building.” Getting that feedback, that feels really great.
I hope we’ll get to do that many, many times over and I hope we’ll get to take those learnings and that technology and apply it to other apparel segments so that it’s not only women in bathing suits, it’s people in their clothes.
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