London - "We use real women's measurements to create products that fit women better," explained Heidi Zak, CEO and co-founder of lingerie label ThirdLove, on how the start-up uses data during her panel discussion at the Fashion Summit earlier this month. Part of the world's biggest technological conference, The Web Summit, to some it may seem a tad unusual that an underwear brand would be invited to speak at a tech event - but Zak's ThirdLove is no ordinary lingerie brand.
Those who are unfamiliar with the San-Francisco based start up, may be surprised to learn that Third Love not only offers its own line of lingerie, but also a personalized shopping experience designed to help women find their perfect bra fit in under 15 minutes, all from the comfort of their own home via an iPhone app. The app uses computer vision technology, which analyses body size in relation to the iPhone size through two photographs, to determine the user's correct bra size. No tape measure needed - just a wall-mounted mirror, a basic, supportive under-wire bra (no push-up or sport bras allowed), a tight fitting t-shirt and an iPhone 4 or up.
Best known for being the only lingerie sizes to offer half sizes, (40 percent of their customers are a half size) Zak, a former analyst and Google employee, attributes much of ThirdLove's success to her background. "What Google teaches you is how not to be afraid of crazy ideas, but rather to embrace them instead," said Zak to FashionUnited at the Web Summit. "I think that most technical corporations are the opposite - they think let’s do what prudent, let’s do what works. I think Google is the total opposite. Crazy ideas are good, they encourage their employees to do things that are a bit out there because some of the most crazy ideas that people scoff at are the ones that change the world."
Although most people probably did scoff at Zak and her partner, venture capitalist Dave Spector, idea for ThirdLove and the app, the brand has grown rapidly over the past two years. The intimate start-up recently announced its first retail partnership with US department store Bloomingdale's to create an exclusive capsule collection for their 100 percent program and is currently working on another partnership for 2016. However Zak is quick to note that ThirdLove's success did not stem from any passion for fashion. "I am not a fashion designer and I didn't know anything about bra production before creating Third Love, which is probably good because then I may have never done it,” she said with a laugh.
So where did the idea for ThirdLove and its complimentary fit app stem from then? "The idea came from bra shopping and the frustration that it is," explained Zak. "I think every woman around the world faces the same thing - it’s not normally something a woman gets excited about, going bra shopping. You might be excited to go buy a dress with your friends or buying a bag online, but bra shopping is not up there on the things I want to do with my free time list. And that really made me realise there is an opportunity there to create a better experience for women."
Exactly what this better shopping experience would offer was built around the ideas of fit, function, comfort and innovation within the lingerie market - notably one of the industry's toughest markets to tap into. "What I asked was how do you create a better fitting experience. You'd hear this statistic that 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size and I just asked, well why is that? Most women haven’t been fit for a bra in forever, they don’t know their size and they just keep buying a 34B or C and try to make it fit when no, they are a 32G or something," continued Zak. "So the idea to create the app and the sizing technology was really a challenge for us to create another tool for women to get sized.
When developing the app, which is currently only available for iPhone (an Android version under way) Zak revealed that she questioned whether there was another way for them to size women from home. Although there have been many innovations within the fit sector over the past five years, ranging from body metrics to full body scanners, Zak and her team finally realised that the solution to their fit issue could be found in the palm of most consumers hands. "We talked to a lot of PHDs in computer vision and they thought there was a possibility that it could work with a smartphone. So we started to build it and it ended up working. It didn't happen without trials and tribulations - it took over a year to build the technology but it does work."
With over a third of ThirdLove customers using the app to find their right fit, Zak is surprised by how popular it has become amongst users. However, of course it is possible to order from Third Love without using the app. Any user wary of taking a photo with the app and privacy issues surrounding their data need not worry as the lingerie brand never stores any photos or takes ownership of them. "Everything is basically done natively via the smartphone - everything takes place on your own device. And it's ok if a woman doesn't want to use it, I am not saying that in order to buy a bra from ThirdLove you have to use the sizing technology - it's just another option for women.”
The app has in turn become a useful tool for Zak and her team, as it proves her with unique data that can be used in many ways. “The biggest way we use data is for designing product, and ensuring fit, but it’s also about trying to make more personalized recommendations,” explained Zak. “I think that we are only at the very beginning of doing that well. So part of what our goals are for next year is to use that data and create better experiences for women and really understand what that means for her journey. That means if you are a women and you buy a certain bra first, what does that mean about your likely cadence based on women who might be similar in both size and taste, how can we make it easier for someone to purchase.”
As an e-commerce company, ThirdLove uses data in a thousand ways, from tracking their market growth, to gathering real-time data on their supply chains, to streamlining their turnover by tracking what sizes sell well to using data as a touch to point to learn where their customer is coming in from what most importantly what they want. Zak noted that they will also be tracking their sales at Bloomingdale’s to see how their half cup sizes will sell and their regular sizes, as 40 percent of their online clientèle are half sized. With the retail partnerships, it is up to the in-store sales associates to ensure ThirdLove’s vision is successfully translated offline as well as online.
“Everything can be measured online that’s the amazing part about selling product online,” continued Zak. “From clicks, to eyeballs, to falls off in your funnel to any marketing channel, every single thing you do can be measured. And if you are not doing that you are missing out on a ton of data and a ton of ways to optimize your business for your customer. If I think about it like I am running a Facebook ad and you see it and you click on it and you buy from us - what does that mean about who you are and your behaviour and potentially how I should talk to you?”
Although the industry is just beginning to full grasp the endless possibilities within the realm of data usage, what other opportunities does Zak foresee for the future of fashion and tech? “I think that fashion is at very nascent stage of using technology and that we are just scratching the surface. I truly, truly believe that the way we shop for product will be really different in five to ten years...there will be even more chances to gather data and it will be interesting to see who owns that data and how it starts to paint a picture of who the wearer is and their lifestyle - in the same way Google knows a lot and about how we are.”
"Fashion tech should be a blend of creative and data - although the core of a brand should always be a person. It deeds to have that sense of authenticity and stand for something to thrive.”