“Shopping is about fit, not size”: Bods founder Christine Marzano talks virtual avatars and sexy tech
As returns and fit become increasingly evident issues within fashion, brands are looking into innovative ways to avoid playing a part in these areas. Los Angeles-based start-up Bods is hoping to help drive this change in the industry through digital-first fit solutions.
The fashion-forward tech company, which was launched in June 2021 by former Dior model Christine Marzano, allows customers to generate a 3D representation of themselves online by uploading images of themselves. The photo-realistic depictions, which are created through the use of artificial intelligence, hope to help shoppers make more accurate purchase decisions by viewing how clothing fits to their body.
In March, the company closed a successful seed funding round, with investment participation from the likes of model Karlie Kloss and Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss. Having already collaborated on a virtual campaign with Khaite, Bods is now pursuing further growth, with a host of soon-to-be-revealed partnerships and team expansions set in its sights.
In a conversation with FashionUnited, Marzano, who is also Bods’ CEO, spoke on the company’s origins, its place in the metaverse and why the tech world doesn’t need to be as complex as it seems.
What sparked the Bods concept for you?
I was working in the avatar space prior to starting Bods, where we were making photorealistic 3D digital doubles of people. I was steeped in that industry and trying to think about where this kind of technology was useful beyond gaming. I looked at my background in fashion and tried to figure out how I could use the technology there, ultimately creating my own avatar in 2017 once I realised how brands could use it for marketing purposes.
I pitched the avatar to brands and modelling agencies that were digitising their rosters but it was way too early for them, and sent me back to the drawing board to think about where people really needed to use this tech now. I started doing research into the kind of problems facing fashion, looking into how to make digital shopping better and increasing customer satisfaction. I realised people were struggling to find what size or fit to buy online and questioned how to use avatars to provide customers with this information before they bought a garment.
That was where the idea came from – that I knew this can be valuable to fashion and fit and styling seemed to be the most relevant areas where there are the most problems when it comes to online shopping. Why not try and give people that visualisation?
As a former model, did your experiences in the industry have any impact on the development of the company?
Of course. Once a model, always a model – that experience stays with you forever. You get to see so many different aspects of the fashion industry and how it works. I also worked as a fit model, so I got to see how that part of the process worked too – how they were building sizing off me and my body. This might work for some people, but there were definitely going to be people that were not going to fit into that garment. I got a pretty good understanding of how that space worked, which was in the back of my mind while looking at the problems that faced e-commerce.
I realised part of the reason these items don’t fit is the way they are sized to begin with, or the way the size guide or sample size is created. That was super instrumental for when we were thinking about the product in the early stages. I questioned how to get people to stop comparing themselves to someone else and start being able to look at their own body and make decisions that are best for themselves in a confident way. I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I wanted to try and create a solution.
What further benefits can consumers and brands get out of this technology?
When you shop for clothing, it is about fit, not size. What our software and experience does is give the customer an opportunity to visualise fit. Fit is subjective – it differs between person, age, culture, everything. It often happens that people return clothing not because it’s not the right size, but the fit is just not what they want. What we are really providing the customer with is visualisation with accurate measurements, using artificial intelligence as well as gaming technology. We are giving them the opportunity to determine fit, which can be really confusing for them and varies between brands.
With this mind, does the experience help brands avoid unnecessary returns too?
Absolutely. The more information you are giving a customer, the more informed their purchasing decisions are. When they shop, a lot of women buy two or three of the same item in different sizes so they can try them on at home and decide which to return. That is not a great way to shop. If you give the customer the information that they need to be confident in buying an item that will fit – or even not buying at all – it is cheaper for brands than if they made a purchase and then returned it. It’s also better for the environment because you aren’t shipping that garment back and forth. Also, oftentimes, those garments are not resold – they are dumped or incinerated – which is something I’m not sure a lot of customers understand in most cases. If they made a better decision up front, they are doing their part in not having fashion be such a terrible impact on the Earth.
At the moment you are mostly working with luxury brands, but are you hoping to expand the concept into other segments?
The goal is to span across all types of brands – luxury all the way down to mass market. We are starting with luxury because if you can prove the concept works there, where there are the most demanding of eyes and highest price points, then you can prove it works elsewhere.
During your collaboration with Khaite, what was the response from consumers towards the technology?
We had hard data that showed that we had increased their cart size and we kept people on their site longer – so we increased the stickiness by a substantial amount. We also increased the amount of products people were interacting with, so customers were now accessorising their look with a bag or shoes, for example. They had been exposed to more products than they would have if they just went through a normal e-commerce experience. What was particularly interesting about the Khaite partnership was that they redid their entire customer-facing size guide after implementing our system, when they realised the one on their website was incorrect. That’s huge.
From a customer perspective, we did have a customer, who was in a wheelchair, write to us through Instagram after they used the Khaite experience. She said it was one of the coolest experiences she had ever used digitally and wanted to know when it was going to be expanded to other brands. She found it amazing that she could see what an item looked like on her body without having to go to the store, which she said is usually a huge operation that she often has to go with somebody to. This really allowed her to shop and make decisions on her own – which I found really empowering.
How do you envision Bods’ place in the metaverse and what is your stance on this fast developing space?
I am a big believer in the metaverse. Right now, we have no idea what it will look like, or we have lots of ideas. We don’t know how it's going to hash out yet, but I am sure we are going to have digital representations of ourselves and we will be interacting in a purely digital way, in parallel with the real world. Bods was created with that in mind. We can export every 3D thing that we create, whether it's the avatars or garments in the experience. As we continue to see where it will make the most sense and what types of experiences customers want to use those things, we will continue to push into those spaces.
The way we differentiate from those working solely in digital fashion is that we are more Web 2.5 – we are a bridge leading people to Web3. Everyone wears real clothes now, but will people be wearing digital clothes in the future? Of course. We want to be part of that by providing people with that option. In the meantime, returns, ill-fitting clothing, purchase decisions, the fact that so much about shopping has switched to online – there is a real need right now to solve that problem. If you can solve that for customers, rather than directly targeting early adopters, and get them to trust you as a brand, they will go with you on the journey towards digital fashion. That is valuable.
A lot of fashion customers like fashion because it’s beautiful – especially luxury fashion that is so well-made and unique. When they look at it, they are able to escape. When I think about the metaverse, or where fashion will be in the future, I don’t think the idea is to degrade what we have already achieved in terms of craftsmanship, for the sake of tech. It should be as beautiful or even better, because we don’t have the same restrictions as in the real world. You don’t have to abide by any rule, but you can still make it high-end and that is what we want to focus on. It allows customers to have an experience without the complexity of tech, so we are trying to keep that almost invisible and have customers interact with things that are sexy, elevated and easy to use.
Following your successful funding round, what was it like for you to have such strong support from a number of notable female investors?
It’s fantastic. As a female founder, it is really great to see other females supporting you that have also been successful in their own areas. I have great male investors too who are super supportive, but having a lot of powerful women on the cap table has been really exciting, especially as there are not that many women on the cap table to begin with. I wanted to have a good representation of how we are invested in, as well as what we are producing.
What was your roadmap for when the funding round closed?
We have a bunch of things in the works. We will be launching with some new brands and extending the size of the team primarily. That is what we have earmarked a large portion of the investment towards. We are also testing internally with some large brands. The interesting thing about full e-commerce implementation, rather than a one-off marketing campaign, is that it is a huge deal and requires multiple layers of approval from different parts of the company. A lot of metaverse-like experiences only deal with the marketing tem, but full implementation takes a lot more members, which is good in the end because it means everybody is on board and believes in it.
Do you have any advice for people looking to enter this space?
Oftentimes people think they can’t get into certain sectors, but I also wasn’t working in tech. I fell into it through a whole series of events that led me to this area, then utilised my experiences as a model which allowed me to be quite unique in the space. Small changes we made around the product – the way the avatar looks, stands, what it wears for undergarments – were done deliberately because of my own understanding. Those small things made people respond to our solution and had a big impact. What I found was that you need to take your experience, use it and learn as much as you can from different fields and, where the real magic comes in is at the intersection of those things. You really can be somebody that brings something new to the table because of your experience, even when you feel it may not be relevant.