Simon Kim thinks this is the future, which is why he left his job in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist six years ago to become the chief executive officer of Clo Virtual Fashion, a software company that gives users the tools they need to design more efficiently and more sustainably.
“Clo [the program] allows designers and patternmakers to make more accurate designs in less time,” Kim said. “It’s a way to design smarter. The fashion industry has been designing for the last 20 years [with the] same process. We’re having a lot of innovation in terms of supplies and retail, but not much on the design development side. It’s about time that we have a smarter way of designing.”
Kim joined Clo Virtual Fashion as ceo in 2012, but has been involved as a potential investor and adviser since its inception. The company was formed 10 years ago in South Korea, but now operates on a global scale with 90 employees.
WWD worked with Clo on the first-ever fashion editorial for Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel. The process, which first began in April, was mind-altering.
As an avatar, Shudu can only wear digital clothes and when WWD pulled designer looks from Cushnie et Ochs, The Great Eros and Noon by Noor, each dress had to be replicated digitally — through Clo. At Clo’s Manhattan offices, a team of 3-D designers tested the fabric of each dress for weight, drape, flexibility and stitching patterns. They then input this data into the software program and, using Shudu’s avatar, were able to seamlessly fit the garments to her measurements.
Like Shudu, Clo was made with the fashion world in mind, but it took some time for the industry to catch on. The program first gained traction among the gaming and animation industries, with retailers and fashion houses following suit. The company now counts Adidas, Hugo Boss, Dsquared2, Helmut Lang, Macy’s, Louis Vuitton, Theory and Disney as clients, according to its web site.
“The reception from designers has been changing,” Kim said. “Our technology has been developing parallel and now I think people receive it as a new way of designing. They know that this is going to be the future. It’s just a matter of when.”
It’s no secret that fashion — especially fast fashion, as documented in 2015’s “The True Cost” — is a wasteful industry, and Clo is one way to cut back on physical resources on the design end. Using this technology, designers could create their collections digitally, gauge online interest in the pieces and only physically produce those that garner the best reactions.
Clo provides online training videos for users interested in its software, as well as company-specific training, which Kim said typically takes three days. Prices range from $50 a month or $450 a year for individuals to $600 a month or $5,400 a year for small businesses. Kim declined to share enterprise rates. And though the software is theoretically easy enough to be used by anyone, it’s best used by those who already have a background in fashion design.
“The fashion and patternmakers, technical designers, they all have their own skills, which is extremely valuable in using the tools,” Kim said. “Without that knowledge, it’ll take longer, it’ll take much more to create a higher-quality garment. It’s just like architecture. [You can] build your own house, [but] you cannot build the Empire State Building.”
On a recent trip to Clo’s offices, WWD watched as one virtual designer turned a basic short-sleeved T-shirt into a flowing, cinched-waist gown in a matter of minutes. At that rate, she could have completed an entire collection in three hours.
The ease of use would allow fashion houses to spend less time making physical revisions and more time creating new designs. The program would also cut down on the chance for human error.
There are benefits for other members of the fashion community, too. Stylists could show their clients how they would look in any given outfit digitally, without meeting in person. Top models could do all of their fashion week fittings online via their digital avatars. Fashion week could be held entirely online.
These are all future possibilities, but Kim said Clo would first need to be adapted in the design process.
“In order for a technology to be sustainable throughout the supply chain, you have to start from the beginning and design development is where you start that process,” he said. “Fashion shows or online fittings, all these different elements of services are a byproduct of that. In general, the whole world may never standardize sizes. Nobody knows exactly what the right size is, what the right body shape is, so we start from the design. Rather than what you see, it’s more on the intangibles, where you can work with that data, using artificial intelligence they are providing that somehow in the morning, in the wardrobe, you will see, with this weather, in your body shape, in your age, this is a trendy color and this is a thing that will fit you best. In order to do that, you have to create things in 3-D first. You have to create the data.”