We caught up with Sravanth Aluru, Founder & CEO of Avataar.Me to talk AI, AR and engaging with fashion consumers.
1. Please introduce yourself and take us through your background.
I’m the founder and CEO of Avataar.me. My journey started as a product enthusiast at Microsoft in 2003, after studying engineering at IIT Bombay. It was here that my passion for 3D AI innovations started to take shape. At Microsoft, I built my technology and AI foundation working on cutting-edge mobile products, and was the lead inventor of key patents in the space. Subsequent to receiving an MBA from Wharton, I worked as a Wall Street investment banker in New York, advising various technology and consumer internet CEOs on their digital and capital strategies.
I started Avataar.me in 2014, along with my co-founder and COO, Gaurav Baid, who brings extensive experience in apparel manufacturing. With a clear vision to drive a paradigm shift in the digital consumer experience across fashion commerce and marketing, we set out to build a first-of-its-kind 3D AR/AI platform to upgrade both demand and supply ecosystems (from 2D static photoshoots today to 3D AR experiences) in a fully automated manner. Since then, it’s been an exciting journey bringing our AR/AI platform to life over the past few years. Beginning of the year Prabakar Murugappan joined our team as a co-founder and CPO (Chief Product Officer). He brings over 20 years’ 3D product and business experience from AutoDesk, USA. We’ve now expanded into a global workforce in the US and India, which share a common drive for innovation and a passion for transforming digital fashion consumer experiences.
2. Could you tell us more about Avataar.me?
Avataar.me brings AR and AI technologies to fashion commerce and marketing, offering life-size 3D fashion discovery and shopping experiences. Our platform lets consumers mix and match apparel and accessories from their favourite brands on celebrity/brand model avatars and evaluate the look and fit from 360 degrees.
Supply conversion is fully automated, with our deep-learning AI platform converting 2D apparel images into 3D CAD/CAM patterns that can be draped onto any avatar.
Additionally, in a few seamless steps, consumers can create their own 3D avatars from a single 2D selfie and style themselves by trying on various outfits, mixing and matching clothes, accessories and shoes from their favourite brands.
Our mission is to bridge the online-versus-offline experience gap in the existing digital fashion consumer journey. With fashion photorealism as our cornerstone, Avataar.me is bringing innovation to the digital fashion market and upgrading the consumer journey with AI-powered 3D AR fashion discovery and shopping experiences.
3. What is the key problem being addressed by Avataar.me?
While retailers and brands are utilising digital mediums to market and engage customers, and e-commerce businesses are striving to bring human touch to an otherwise entirely digital consumer journey, there is a clear need across the industry for a seamless, complete shopping experience – one offering the convenience of online shopping with the benefits of the traditional store experience. A crucial element missing from the online shopping journey is look and fit visualisation/evaluation, which is a physical benefit of traditional retail. While 3D in its various functions is widely accepted with animation elements and inaccuracies, at Avataar.me, our core focus is fashion and our product is tailored to meet the requirements of a fashion consumer. From hyper-realistic cloth physics to fabric realism, we are continuously working on solutions that address the online-versus-offline experience gap, applying our AR/AI technologies. We aspire to drive meaningful impact in the fast-evolving online fashion market and its consumer behaviours.
4. How has the online fashion consumer evolved over time?
Fashion is personal, while fashion discovery is influence-driven, and over the years the “influence” aspect is where the market has evolved. Today, if a savvy fashion consumer engages in online shopping portals eight times a month, they are spending at least 3 times longer only to explore. With fashion discovery increasingly becoming a standard consumer behaviour, targeted content is at the heart of fashion marketing.
Offline retailers understand the value of online, and they’re utilising the digital medium for marketing, generating leads and drawing customers to stores. The big online names have been hitting the offline field to earn that leverage – be it with physical satellite stores or brand-specific offline stores. This hybrid approach to fashion is fresh, becoming huge in recent times with resounding attempts to bridge the online-offline consumer experience gap.
Fashion and shopping behaviour have seen big leaps. From 10 years ago, when people took inspiration from fashion magazines, to the current, highly influencer- and label-driven social media landscape, consumers are keeping pace with rapidly evolving fashion trends. Since the days of strictly offline-only shopping, scavenging outfits, and physical evaluations of look and fit in fitting rooms, the good news is that consumers have evolved with each major technological breakthrough, adopting the best shopping experience made available to them. With digital developments, fashion has become a whole lot more social and collaborative, and yet in essence, is an important way to make a personal statement.
5. How do you see engagement growing for e-commerce players with AR/AI product like Avataar.me?
Fashion e-commerce faces some very specific growth challenges. The mainstreaming of e-commerce has caused many of us to grow accustomed to sacrificing the physical benefits of traditional retail in pursuit of convenience – but this is not the ultimate solution. Online players are still experimenting and adopting different ways to add the human element to their customer experiences.
The average shopper spends 90% of an online session on discovery and evaluation, exploring looks, searching and wish-listing, using product photos, and sharing with friends for validation or opinion. There is a lot of back and forth, mostly because of a sheer lack of technological breakthrough in bridging the physical experience gap.
Today, the fashion e-commerce market is worth approximately $480bn, and it’s simply impossible to ignore the value of digital fashion discovery. For every consumer who discovers and shops an outfit online, there is a customer hitting physical stores to find an outfit discovered online, which translates to around $500bn of digitally influenced offline commerce behaviour – a slightly larger pie than the pure-play e-commerce market today. The time is now ripe for the adoption of new technologies to enhance the online shopping experience, allowing us to absorb consumers from the latter category into the former.
In order to increase engagement, e-commerce businesses today must make the most of consumer behaviour undertones. Today’s online shopper is constantly following fashion trends through celebrities, brand ambassadors and fashion influencers, which creates huge untapped potential in the capability to visualise aspirational looks from an extensively wide and growing apparel inventory on the brand ambassador. Additionally, personalisation should be explored – fashion marketing today is experimenting with highly personalised content in order to engage the masses. Personalisation improves brand association and affinity – a compelling engagement uptick.
6. And finally, can you give us a glimpse of what’s next for Avataar.me?
We’re currently in the middle of some exciting global B2B engagement, and have initiated a controlled beta launch of our product directly with fashion consumers. The opportunities ahead of us include reaching over one billion fashion consumers globally in one scenario, accessing over 180 million top-tier global consumers in the high-end fashion market in another scenario, or working exclusively with leading e-tailers and brands in different geographies.
Our vision is to transcend physical realism to online commerce, and we aim to drive the convergence of ads and commerce globally, enabling the user-content-driven online fashion retail market, with 3D experience and personalisation. With the emergence of future trends like virtual fashion influencers, there is huge potential to create highly customised brand representatives and influential virtual personalities. The idea offers lots of flexible creativity for brands to connect with an increasingly diverse and savvy fashion audience. Avataar.me will empower fashion marketing behaviour in the near future.
We are also currently working to deliver an automated vertically integrated platform for apparel retail businesses. The platform will apply deep learning to build an AI platform that can curate and design patterns based on the best-selling trends on the web. It will subsequently auto-generate CAD/CAM patterns for manufacturing and eventually provide seamless 3D AR experiences to consumers.
Watch Sravanth Aluru’s talk at Decoded Future, London here: https://youtu.be/uq3PIpBisi4