LONDON — David Lim, the former China head of Elite Model Management, wants to revolutionize China’s commercial modeling industry.
Having spent two decades in the sector, Lim launched iCloudModel, one of China’s first virtual model management agencies, in partnership with Mad Street Den, retail automation platform provider Vue.ai‘s parent company.
The next-generation modeling firm aims to significantly bring down the production cost of e-commerce content for China’s leading fashion companies.
Now he is rolling out this service to China’s booming designer fashion sector. During the upcoming Shanghai Fashion Week, his company will set up a booth in SFW’s official trade show Mode Shanghai to showcase how his technology can speed the industry and cut down the hassles that comes with photoshoots while delivering realistic, quality results.
Lim said that, unlike editorial and ad campaign shoots, there is no creativity involved in e-commerce catalogue shooting, but it still requires a tremendous amount of work to get things done. To shoot 150 to 200 looks in one go means that the models, photographers, hair and makeup artists often need to work 15 hours a day, and the post-production can take a long time.
With iCloudModel’s shooting studio, which comes with a digital camera connected to a computer, a mannequin, and a green screen in the background, the company helps brands to shoot every single item, and later put them on digital models with Vue.ai’s technology.
Brands can later style this top with that skirt, and add additional accessories onto the looks. The shooting can also happen remotely, meaning that brands only need to send a stylist to steam the clothes and change the mannequin in between, and someone to set up the lighting. The agency has teams in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Taipei to help the brands set up the studio.
The turnover of a batch of more than 100 product shots can be as quick as 24 hours, and only costs around 25 percent of the traditional method.
“It’s not a photo studio anymore. You probably don’t have to take a picture, you make a picture. It’s a different way,” Lim said.
Thanks to his extensive scouting contacts, the company has created a comprehensive virtual model library by shooting models overseas with various measurements, shapes and postures that cater to the local market’s demands.
For example, fashion companies in Hangzhou prefer models to be shorter, more commercial, and street cute, while in Shenzhen, brands are going for cooler, taller models with short hair.
Lim admits that the tool is still not perfect. A product can only be shot from the front, back, left and right. From a 45-degree angle, the product won’t fit as nicely on the digital models.
But this solution has become particularly valuable to China’s major fashion players, such as Li-Ning, Ochirly, Ellassay and Marisfrolg, since China’s strict COVID-19 border control policy has barred international models from coming to the nation for over a year, Lim added.
“The pandemic has caused increased disruption in the mobility and communication of international models. We just need to shoot the international models once at their country location without having the models traveling to China. The client can shoot their own mannequin apparel anytime and at their location. We do not need to have the photographer and the model at the studio at the same time,” he said.
Costa Colbert, iCloudModel’s chief science officer, believes that there is a big opportunity for China’s already digital-savvy retailers to drop legacy practices and invest in “game-changing AI-driven technology.”
“You can generate hundreds of images with models customized by body types, ethnicities, backgrounds and more at a fraction of the cost and much greater speed than traditional photoshoots. With digitized models, we enable retailers to go to market faster than they ever have before, increase average order values, and tackle one of fashion’s biggest problems — returns,” he said.
ICloudModel last year signed a 10-year exclusive partnership agreement with Mad Street Den, and holds the exclusive rights to use and sell Vue.ai’s technologies in the Greater China region.
Since its introduction in 2016, the Redwood City-based Vue.ai’s smart retail tools like personalized journeys creator VueX, data extraction tool VueTag, and AI-generated fashion imagery tool VueModel have been implemented by the likes of Farfetch, Depop, Off-White, Diesel, Rent the Runway and ThredUp in the west.