MILAN — Bods, the fashion tech company founded by former model and computer graphics enthusiast Christine Marzano, is getting its first round of investment, WWD has learned.
The Los Angeles-based firm, which develops avatars and offers avatar-dependent digital styling and virtual try-on experiences, has closed a seed round spearheaded by Stellation Capital for a total amount of $5.6 million, reflecting the traction digital enablers are getting in the wake of the metaverse frenzy.
Fellow model Karlie Kloss is among the investors, which also include Rent the Runway’s cofounder Jenny Fleiss; angel investor and entrepreneur Cyan Banister, as well as Swiss investment group Alsara, Third Kind Venture Capital and Long Journey Ventures, among others.
“I just knew that there was this huge opportunity in fashion, which is all about exploration and experimentation,” Marzano, Bods’ founder chief executive officer, told WWD in Milan. At Bods “we want the customer to be able to experiment with their style and provide an experience… I didn’t come from gaming and I don’t really love the game-y things, but I thought that there was a way to make it elegant and elevated and really still sexy by using the technology,” Marzano added.
Bods launched in 2021 with its first fashion tie-in with Khaite, its technology directly embedded in the New York-based brand’s e-commerce site, a first for the industry. Bod is the name given to the photorealistic avatars users are required to create the first time they sign up for the service.
“Bods is on a mission to deliver a much-needed win-win-win — for customers, for retailers, and for the environment — with their platform,” commented Peter Boyce II, CEO at Stellation Capital.
The round will help Marzano and her team of about 18 people, split between Los Angeles and Ukraine, secure growth via new ventures with luxury brands, a few of which already reached out, even in the most unexpected of ways, including via Instagram direct messaging.
Asked about Bods’ Ukrainian employees, mainly engineers, Marzano said the company is “doing everything we can to support our team members and their families at this time and to make sure that they are safe and provided for during this crisis.”
Bods’ accurate and photorealistic avatar configurations are part of its strength. “Most of the attempts I’ve seen in this space have come from the fashion side or the tech side, totally missing the aesthetic and language of fashion… or the tech didn’t work, because if you have no background in technology but you’re trying to create your vision, it’s really hard to build a team that can accomplish all of those [tech] goals,” Marzano explained.
Bods asks users to set up an account and create their avatars just once via browser (no secondary apps are involved) and works across the sites of all the brands that have implemented the tool, reloading the previously created figurine every time. To create one, users need to upload pictures of their body or add measurements which can subsequently be fine-tuned via a gradient map to select the right skin tone or through the resizing feature enabling customers to improve the accuracy of body shape representation, for example.
“It needs to be easy; you don’t have to be a gamer to know how to use it, I shop e-com so I should be able to use this, these should be the basic skills required in order to use it,” Marzano contended.
The company does share users’ navigation habits and data with brands but stocks and keeps the hard data private, including measurements (for privacy purpose images uploaded to Bods are destroyed after the avatar is created).
Making the experience not only useful but also fun, Bods allows users to style their avatars and create outfits with all the items available on the brand’s e-shop, digitized by the tech company to reproduce the look and feel of the actual clothing and accessories. It also boasts a built-in heat map tool giving a sense of how clothing fits.
“This is really giving customers not only a way to engage and have fun, create outfits and experiment with different pieces in the collection but also have information on which size they should buy, which one is going to fit them,” said Marzano.
The seminal Khaite tie-in proved the scalability of the tech tool, which catered to an audience of Gen Zers, Millennials as well as 60-year-old types. Marzano said 6,800 new avatars were created, generating 11,000 sessions on the website, 63 percent more page visits and 11 percent more products purchased via Bods-enhanced sessions compared to standard ones.
“For luxury customers to try something new, we were shocked, we thought these figures would have been way below,” said Marzano.
Marzano established the company last year after a career in modeling for the likes of Tom Ford and Dior and a significant stint in 2015 as a dubbing actress for videogames and then as a model on which engineers would digitize the characters’ body features. In 2017 she made her own avatar and tried to sell it to a roster of brands and model agencies, including IMG, but they all turned down the offer.
Marzano prides herself on blending her background in fashion and computer graphics, delivering an elevated experience and focusing on things that really matter to the luxury industry. “You need to understand both sides to create a product that works, has the aesthetics and speaks the language. We made small choices in our product that people don’t even realize were choices,” including the way the avatar stands and the lingerie they wear, she said.
The technology is not “metaverse-dependent,” Marzano said, but is definitely “metaverse-exportable.
In her view, the Bods technology is easily scalable in that it offers an e-commerce-ready solution, with immediate return on investment, which can be adapted for metaverse- and NFT-based activations. “If brands are already making the 3D assets for a purpose, then it’s way easier for them to take one of those assets, add some fire to it – turn it into a unicorn for instance — and put it as an NFT,” she offered. It also comes with a sustainability bent embedded in it, playing in the same space as 3D sampling and designing.
Asked about her take on the metaverse, the Bods founder and CEO said she is obsessed with alternative digital worlds. She believes they won’t replace IRL experiences but will add an extra layer and she forecast a wider penetration will happen when AR-enhanced wearables that can seamlessly integrate in our daily life, such as AR contact lenses, will eventually launch.