NEW YORK — For Louise Guay, founder and president of My Virtual Model, surviving the dot-com burst isn’t enough.
At the outset of the technology boom, Guay was a celebrity with her shopping tool geared to help online shoppers select the size and fit best for them. While now her profile seems a bit lower, she says she’s advancing her software technology for wider acceptance by store and catalog Web sites as well as consumers.
First, it’s adapting digital photography so the online virtual model will show a trueimage of a customer’s face. Currently, the model is a crude likeness, just depicting height, weight, facial shape, hair and skin color so a viewer can match up some of her physical attributes with fashion items. The image also turns for side and back views, but there is really not much of a likeness. When My Virtual Model bowed about four years ago, the technology was sometimes criticized for its rudimentary image.
“Our goal is to bring the face in 2004, to send a digital picture,” Guay said. “We want to produce a 3-D face on a 3-D body. That will open the door to the beauty industry.” While no beauty firms have signed on for the technology yet, Guay thinks one selling hair products might be announced before Christmas.
Guay also said a certain private label business and stores have begun utilizing My Virtual Model to test products via online focus groups. The groups evaluate virtual representations of the products before they go into production, enabling designers to create with input from consumers. Guay declined to identify the private label firm.
Test products would be entirely virtual and highly detailed at 800 dots per inch, without any production necessary so people can see it to judge silhouettes and colors, and to get a jump on the production.
“It’s like creating a sophisticated focus group online,” Guay said. “There’s power in it, if it’s integrated into the chain of production. We are operating this way with important fashion retailers.”
Also, Guay hopes My Virtual Model will soon provide fashion and beauty suggestions, tailored to the user’s lifestyle, as new products are offered by retailers.“Like Amazon does for books, we will do for garments,” said Guay. “The big picture is that more people will want to have very personalized services and expect technology will know them even better than salespeople.
“Instead of discovering the store, you will expect the store to discover you,” Guay projected. “People want to be recognized. They don’t trust brands as much as they did before. We see with reality TV that people want to participate in the show. The next step is that they will want to participate in the design and will want to customize their clothes. The best way to know what it will look like is through technology.
“People have a desire to express themselves,” she said. “Merchants must understand that.”
My Virtual Model, based in Montreal, has recently added such clients as levi.com and kohls.com to facilitate online sales of Levi’s jeans. Wal-Mart has also been featuring some of its sportswear on the glamour.com Web site, which utilizes the My Virtual Model technology to help sell Wal-Mart apparel.
As Guay sees it, My Virtual Model enables online retailers “to smash the oldest and biggest barrier to buying clothes online: the simple lack of a mirror.”
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