Continuing our collection of interviews with innovative entrepreneurs and thought leaders for 2017, we recently talked with Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, and Tuoc Luong, CEO of BodiData. Janice and Tuoc took some time out to talk openly about their recent partnership and what this means for the industry, about working in 3D, and their views on mass customisation, and about the education that is/isn’t available to workers today.
Name: Janice Wang
Occupation: CEO, Alvanon
Likes: Collaboration, Empathy and Innovation
Dislikes: Selfishness, Isolation and Deception
Words to live by: Empowerment through knowledge
Name: Tuoc Luong
Occupation: CEO / Co-Founder & Director, BodiData Inc.
Dislikes: Rudeness, Lack of Common Sense
Words to live by: Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.
WhichPLM: You’ve recently announced a strategic partnership, leveraging the expertise of Alvanon and BodiData. We’ll get onto that shortly but first, could we ask you to give any readers not familiar with yourselves a brief description of your businesses?
Janice Wang: I’ll take the lead on this. Alvanon really is the global expert for Apparel and Fashion. One of the things we do as a business is to go into brands and retailers and look at the issues that they’re faced with – from both a strategic and a technical level. The biggest thing that they’re faced with is usually this idea of fit, because fit actually touches every single part of the consumer chain, the demand chain, and the supply change. So everything, from what kind of product is made all the way to how you sell the product, touches this idea of the body and fit.
What we’ve always done as a company is to gather a lot of information and data, and used that to make it applicable for the Apparel industry, the executives and their processes as a company. After that we actually help them to implement some of the tools that they require to make things efficient. We also do a lot of training around that. For example, a large sportswear company might have us come in and identify how their consumers change when they go into China, for instance. Or if we look at a niche sport like CrossFit ® – and how we went in and worked with somebody like Reebok who decided to take a closer look at the body shapes and sizes of CrossFit athletes. It revisited pattern blocks and grading rules and has since successfully launched the Rebook CrossFit ® line of apparel.
Then, afterwards we’ll go in and look at who in the business needs to understand the nuances of that, and how we can help them understand how the decisions they make will affect other people in that chain of decision-making. For example – if I choose to make a shoulder width much narrower, how does that affect people in the States, or in Asia, or affect production? These are very technical things that come along with decisions that are made, and people are aware of them. We’re connectors of sorts.
And so, when we looked at what Tuoc’s company was doing we thought it was wonderful; they have this vast amount of data on three-dimensional body measurements in the US and we’re really excited to be their strategic partner in making that big data accessible to the Apparel industry.
WhichPLM: You mention this vast array of data that BodiData does hold – in fact it’s stated as the world’s largest database of body measurement data. Tuoc, can you tell us a little bit more about that, and what kind of detail this data has? As well as how this data has actually been gathered?
Tuoc Luong: BodiData at its very core is big data. We believe these massive quantities of human body dimension data can actually create transformational insight, that are going to yield benefit for multiple industries, like Apparel, health and wellness, athletics, and advertising. We tend to partner with industry experts and domain experts in different industries, like Alvanon in Apparel, who have all the domain knowledge to leverage the data we provide.
For us, we’re uniquely positioned; as you said before, we already have an insurmountable lead in terms of a huge head start against any other data set out there. We have a current measurement database of over one million individuals, and it’s a cross-section of the general population of the US. Secondly, we have developed, and have a patent on, the only handheld multi-modal scanner capable of scanning someone and extracting the body measurements while they’re fully clothed. What this does is simplify the body scanning process and removes any resistance areas – supporting us to acquire even more body scans at a massive scale.
In terms of the data set, this was actually acquired by a previous technology that was not a handheld but a kiosk, booth-sized scanner – similar to the TSA machine you see at the airport. It works off millimeter wave technology that penetrates the clothing and bounces of the water molecules on the skin. It scans the individual in the booth and collects about 200,000 data points on the body, and we reconstruct that into the 3D form, which we can extract body measurements from. We put this technology in malls across the US on an opt-in basis – for consumers to decide to step in and get scanned – and that’s how we acquired these million body scans. And because they were in malls we not only have the data of the body measurements, but we also have the geo-location of all these body scans as well, so we can pivot the data in many ways.
WhichPLM: So the million you reference is of a cross-section of North America?
Tuoc Luong: Yes, the million is through the mall programme we did in the US; we also have body measurements from individuals in Japan, the UK, and in Korea.
WhichPLM: From those measurements, I can imagine there is a detailed category of size, gender, age etc. And from those you have, in effect, North American, sample of Japan, sample of UK, size dimensions that you can use to build the blocks?
Janice Wang: Yes, but that jumps quite far up the supply chain of how we take that data and weave it in. The data that we have from this particular strategic partnership with BodiData is predominantly limited to the US. Alvanon itself previously had collected a cache of data for the UK, Germany, China, Japan, Colombia, South Africa, and Australia. Some of them were used with these scanners, and some of them weren’t. What we do with that afterwards is to take all of that data and adapt it to the needs of that particular client. Let’s take a high fashion British brand for example, who has a size range and makes a product that is much more slim to the body. They are not going to need data for the American mid-West, plus-size market.
So, we take all of that information and syphon it down to a demographic that is necessary for one particular brand. What we do from there is we develop bodies that actually work for that particular brand. Bear in mind that you probably don’t want to alienate your core customer that is already there; so, the changes that you make may well be in size grades, or what you’re currently using as your core.
We’re basically there to do no harm. We’re only there to increase market share. To get to a block from the scans themselves there is quite a lot of work. What we’re looking at here from the scans we see from BodiData is aggregate data of people; you aren’t looking at one individual.
WhichPLM: That’s very clear. And is the handheld device an app? Or is it on a particular piece of hardware, or able to be on smartphones / devices of that nature? What I’m asking is how portable is it for the every day person?
Tuoc Luong: The handheld is going to be very portable. It will be in production at the beginning of the year, 2018. Think of it as an add-on accessory that will snap onto a tablet. In that add-on module we’ll embed what we call multi-modal sensors; we will use off the shelf market optical depth sensor, as well our own proprietary millimeter wave radar sensor and interface board to synchronize the data from multiple sensors. Think of it as an add-on to a tablet – where the software goes on the tablet – that allows somebody to scan another individual while they’re fully clothed. The add-on right now, in its first incarnation, is not geared towards a consumer. It can be operated by anyone, but it’s geared towards a business that wants to scan their client base.
WhichPLM: I see the benefits. We have one wave, if you like, of mobile scanning that is an individual in their underwear with a mobile app. But this is a person fully clothed using that millimeter wave technology that provides another advantage – way beyond having somebody having to undress. From a time, a convenience and an experience point of view, it makes life that much smoother for all concerned.
Janice Wang: It’s brilliant. And that’s why we’re so supportive of BodiData. What they’re trying to pioneer here is something we haven’t seen in the market. There will be a use for the ones where you get undressed, but for mass amounts of data gathering, what Tuoc’s company is building is fantastic for any company to truly understand their client.
WhichPLM: It fills that gap nicely.
Tuoc Luong: We believe the technology of scanning while somebody is fully clothed removes the barrier for mass adoption. If you want to scan somebody in his or her undergarments, it’s restrictive to the small segment of the population who are willing to do that. When scanning someone fully clothed there’s no capturing of video or optical capturing of their body; it removes the barrier and allows mass adoption.
WhichPLM: I can see where you’re leading to in terms of mass adoption. If we get mass adoption, we also get accuracy of fit, and if we get accuracy of fit we also get fewer returns and everything else that goes with that.
With the sensors working in the 3D space, I’d like to ask a question to either or both of you. What do you see as the primary applications of three-dimensional working today? We’ve seen a huge increase in 3D interest in recent times. In your opinion do you think brands and retailers readily understand the value of working in 3D today?
Janice Wang: I think brands know completely that they need to be looking at 3D technology. Let’s look at it in different segments. The segment of product development – which is just the design element of it – can be done very well in 3D, to eliminate some sample development. Then there’s the next part of actually taking those designs and making them into physical garments – and that’s the fit part of the design element of 3D. I would say that, today, the softwares that are available all recognize that they’re doing some work on trying to get that to an acceptable level that can be pushed straight into production.
The other problem that we have in that particular situation is that there are not very many well-trained people – especially well-trained patternmakers – who can flip from doing 2D patternmaking to 3D patternmaking. As an industry, we basically haven’t trained enough people. It’s not a common skill. And even the 3D part of design is also not a common skill. In order for 3D adoption to get to a level it needs to be, we need to train many more people. We need to be training people who are in education now.
From a 3D version in the VR and AR space, it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of how quickly we can get there, and how sophisticated we can make it. I’m talking from the Apparel industry point of view; Tuoc what do you see from the Silicon Valley view?
Tuoc Luong: I come at it from a very wide breadth view of 3D. For me, three-dimensional data of the human body, if you think about it, is everything that gets manufactured and interacts with your body in one way or another. How comfortable you sit in the chair you’re sitting in will depend on the 3D dimension of your chair and of your body. It’s the same thing with car seats: if I know the 3D dimension of your body, and I know your interest in bicycles, I know what bicycle will fit you …I know what golf club will fit you.
It’s going to get there, as Janice says. When any adoption occurs, there needs to be training and there will be early adopters – including the brands – who will make the journey. They will scout ahead and educate their workforce to be more disruptive as a business, and then others will follow.
For me, 3D isn’t just about VR or AR, or even about Apparel. If you have the 3D body dimension of individuals you can marry that data with other data and have transformational insights, and create disruption, in a lot of industries. In Apparel, Alvanon is the expert domain. As Janice says, there needs to be training of how to leverage that data for the business which requires domain knowledge, and that’s what they have. That’s why we want to partner with them for Apparel.
WhichPLM: We’ve been researching, as well, what companies can do with the vast amounts of data accrued, which can be a slight disconnect for many.
We can’t agree more with what you’ve both said. We’ve been involved in 3D for a very long time as well, from the beginnings with many of the key 3D players in Apparel and Footwear. We need a new class of designers that are taught by lecturers who understand this space – who don’t understand just the 2D world. They need to step up to change.
Do you see avatars in the future, or now, having the ability to dynamically move in a way that does mimic real life?
Tuoc Luong: Definitely. There’s no reason why that wouldn’t be the case, as far as mimicking the data in terms of motion and all that – but you can also mimic the data in terms of actually representing an individual’s body as well. In fact, our handheld system has built into it a digital avatar system; we leverage the data we have. We zoom into an avatar that is already representative of that individual even before we scan – we know the sex, the age, perhaps the height or ethnicity. Think of it as us digitally carving that avatar with new data as we’re scanning. At the end, we have a mathematical representation of the avatar that represents that individual. That’s what we extract the measurement from – that avatar. The beauty of that is that if we partner with someone two or three years down the line in an industry we know nothing about – say eye glasses, we can extract the necessary measurements needed for eye glasses.
In terms of motion, we’re already seeing the capability of that. Look at the movie industry today – you can see the animated motion that can be represented. I have no doubt that’s going to be the case.
Janice Wang: I also have no doubt. The fact of the matter is that if you look at the motion capture scanners being used in the movie industry, replication is going to come quickly. The question is how we take this into industrial use? For the Apparel industry itself, are we going to see those kinds of things happen? We’ll likely use it to show how the product can move on the body, but the amount of work you have to do for it today is very different from what you will probably see in five year’s time.
WhichPLM: We’d support that point. With the material characteristics, for career wear for example, if somebody was wearing a garment and reaching to load shelves and so on, we could say there isn’t enough stretch in the fabric to enable them to do the job effectively.
Janice Wang: I completely agree. The way we design clothing today does not particularly encompass the range of motion of the functional aspects of what we’re going to be doing. If you look at the sportswear industry, you see much more thought given to each of the panels – especially with something like cycling, where every tiny bit of wind sheer will affect performance. It’s interesting how the sports industry has incorporated this range of motion idea. In functional, every day, working apparel we find that most people are thoughtful about the cost of the goods versus the functionality of the goods. How many uniforms do we see that are still made of polyester?
Tuoc Luong: Uniforms is an area that we go into. It’s fun to design and market. If you take a uniform – an airline for example – the designer designs it for look. They don’t design it for the job function, of a stewardess who has to put luggage up, or bend down to get it from the galley, or who has to turn sideways to serve a passenger. I think all of that needs to be taken into consideration; it isn’t just the fit intent of the designer, it’s the job function fit as well that you need to take into consideration. Then obviously in detail it could be the individual’s fit preference as well. All of those to me are just layers on top of a body that you understand the dimension of; then you can lay the preference, or the fit intent, or the job function fit on top of it with the software. That’s why I think 3D is important.
Janice Wang: I think what we find is that the Apparel industry itself can’t translate the data so easily yet, because we don’t have very many people who are cross functional and really understand all of those parts, and can actually effect that change that’s required in each of the design functions as well a production functions.
WhichPLM: This comes back to what you were saying earlier, Janice, about education. For someone choosing a fabric, do they know if it’s a sustainable fabric? Designers don’t necessarily know. We have a lot of work to do to make the information more readily available. That word ‘education’ is an all-encompassing word, which hits so many people in our industry.
Before we finish I’d just like to ask a quick question on mass customization and personalization – which is coming into play in a big way. Do you think that these factors will affect your future strategy, in either a negative or positive way?
Janice Wang: I think it’s positive for everybody. The reason I think that is that I believe inventory levels are too high in apparel. We need to think of a better way of designing for people having understood whom they are actually selling to. The first step to mass customization is understanding the consumer themselves. And by doing what we’re doing looking at aggregate data and later being able to hone in on a single person, you’re effectively making product that you can then customize to that particular person.
We do a mentorship programme every two years, and one of the companies we have is Ellie Kai. Ellie Kai is kind of like a Tupperware party, where they sell customized dresses. And by customized I mean: “I like this dress in this silhouette, in this fabric, but I would like to have sleeves please.” But what she’s been able to do is take this whole concept of making in mass for a thousand units, and bring it down to a unit of one. I’m actually learning a lot about direct selling by having her as a mentee company. But it’s very interesting to see how much a consumer loves a product, when you tailor it a little bit to them.
In order to satisfy this idea of not sitting on so much inventory, retailers and brands are going to have to start thinking about how to personalize things for the consumer herself or himself. And you see that with a lot of other eCommerce-based companies already; there are some shirt companies who have 52 sizes to choose from, or those who send you a trunk full of clothes and then you send them back – essentially everybody is trying to build up that view of personalization and mass customization, but from different angles. What BodiData is doing is laying the foundation of technology for true consumer personalization.
Tuoc Luong: Janice has spoken very well in terms of Apparel, but I look at mass customization on a very broad level. I come from the world of search, with big data. If you look at Google or Facebook and how they make money, that is mass customization – they just use another term for it: targeted advertising. They target the individual knowing their interests, knowing their intent. That to me is mass customization; it isn’t just about physical product, it’s also about the digital world. NIKEiD, for example, is just one form of customization that’s around preference of colors and other things. If you can actually get the data, you can go deeper into mass customization of the individual because you can look at the fit and the performance of the individual rather than a category of people.
I see mass customization everywhere. If you think about how Google targets you when you search in advertising, they’re essentially matching an ad to a specific individual. There’s no difference in me matching a body dimension of that individual to a piece of clothing, or a shoe that fits that individual.
WhichPLM: Absolutely. We’re entering a time of a ‘one to one’ as opposed to ‘one to many’. We’ve been talking about mass customization for years – decades even – in Apparel, but we’ve now arrived at a time where we’re going to realize that. Every day, it will extend beyond what we’re already doing in terms of options.
One final thing I’d like to ask is whether you have any future developments you’re able to share with us?
Janice Wang: We’re actually working on a professional training and development project. We believe that we can train the industry, and we’re partnering with experts in various fields.
This industry is far too siloed, for us to have any kind of improvement or evolution. The people who know a lot about it, who have worked from design and production, and technology, and machinery, are few and far between these days. We want to be able to educate a whole new generation of people who have the ability to take cross-functional information and have knowledge about all of those various siloes.
WhichPLM: Congratulations. That sounds fantastic, and a lovely point to end on. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the not-to-distant future.
Tuoc, do you have any closing remarks for us?
Tuoc Luong: I just want to end by giving a broad stroke. The way I see any industry move forward, or get disrupted for that matter, is really the combination of domain knowledge, technology and data. We’ll always partner with domain experts, like Alvanon and others from different industries, to either move the industry forward or disrupt the industry. We will focus on the innovative technology and the 3D body dimension data.
You’ll hear more and more, certainly next year, from us in terms of technology and data.