30 April 2014
The Right 3D Fit
Stephanie Holland (left) and Jessica Stephens launched Aurza, an online fashion retail offering custom-fitted dresses based on 3D body scanning
It may be the 21st century, but mass-produced clothes still rely heavily on post-World War II sizing information. As a result, consumers often end up making the “clothing compromise,” say Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs Stephanie Holland and Jessica Stephens, who this week launched Aurza, an online fashion retail offering custom-fitted dresses based on 3D body scanning.
“As thirty-something Westerners, we couldn’t find anything affordable, age-appropriate and well-fitting,” says Ms Holland. Working with tailors still left them dissatisfied with the results. “We weren’t re-creating fast-fashion. To look good in something classic like a Chanel takes a detailed pattern.”
To achieve the advantages of couture tailoring, the partners turned to technology. “We heard about 3D scanning and bought into a European data set based on 10,000 women in our age group,” says Ms Holland.
The company is the first to centre its sizes around the database, which is commonly used for demographics and general sizing guides.
|3D pattern-making gives Aurza the cutting edge by providing its customers with a more precise fitting|
Investing about US$54,000 of their own money, the Britons developed an interactive website and purchased the mannequin and sizing data to start product development.
Ms Holland says getting the first silhouette for each design spot-on was a key part of the development stage. “Get it right and you have a platform for development,” says Ms Holland, who works with a specialist pattern master. Ms Stephens’ background as an interior designer was put to use in selecting fabric. “The fabric must be forgiving, so we offer woven fabrics with structure that can stretch and bounce back, like crepe,” she says.
Sourcing for suppliers that can provide consistent quality was among the challenges, along with finding the right factory to produce the dresses. But the partners said they met many helpful people in the industry along the way. “Even someone who has told you they won’t work with you will give honest and frank advice,” says Ms Stephens.
Customers can choose from one of several classic fits, as well as such finishes as the dress length, sleeve cut, and neckline. At the factory, the in-house pattern master helps to ensure that each bespoke order’s personalised tweaks are met. “It took time for the workers to understand that every dress is unique, not mass-produced. We can’t pre-cut anything,” says Ms Holland.
Customers can choose from one of several classic fits, as well as such finishes as the dress length, sleeve cut,
But finding a web developer willing to follow their specific brief proved so difficult that Ms Stephens’ husband stepped in to build the site during his spare time.
Closer to production time, the pair raised new funds through the crowdsourcing site indiegogo.com, which also allowed them to test their business idea. “Feedback on the site is quite honest, but the biggest benefit was testing in a safe environment,” says Ms Holland. “Create a minimum viable product and test. Don’t spend years developing and perfecting it first. Our experience helped us to create our business model,” she says. The deadline imposed by Indiegogo also kept Aurza on track.
Aurza raised US$30,193, which was 151 per cent of their initial target, through 108 funders, with 84 per cent of the money coming from individuals. The partners said that 90 per cent of the traffic generated came from the partners’ direct networking activity via email, Facebook and their blog.
The company has since stopped taking orders to refine their process, before officially launching this month. While the two work out of their home, they plan to hire an operations manager to allow them to focus on business development.
Aurza’s market audience extends beyond Hong Kong. “We’ll continue to focus on the western fit, targeting countries that we already have the right base patterns for,” says Ms Holland.
The entrepreneurs say being based in Hong Kong was instrumental in turning their idea into reaility. “The resources available in Hong Kong are fabulous,” says Ms Holland. “Our pattern master owns patents, he’s one of the best in the world. We see a real talent that could be more capitalised upon.”
Ms Stephens adds, “Hong Kong is a great start-up place. People here are very open-minded and not worried that you’ll steal an idea. We’ve been given so much information for free. And the size of Hong Kong makes networking easier too.”