SuitApp puts a personal stylist in your pocket
By Anushia Kandasivam February 15, 2017
- Virtual dressing room for easy browsing
- AI provides limitless fashion choices
FOR many people, one of the first experiences of the intersection of technology and fashion would have been in the iconic 90s film Clueless, when Cher Horowitz chose her outfit using fancy futuristic computer technology that seemed to know exactly what was in her wardrobe.
In today’s tech-enabled world, having a stylist in your pocket – in your mobile phone – is neither fantastical nor futuristic. Mobile app SuitApp is just that – an app that combines artificial intelligence and data science to provide users with fashion advice and an easy shopping experience.
Co-founder and COO Jen Grebenshchikova explains that the idea for an app where you could find a complete look and buy it came about after conversations with friends about the shared frustrations about wasting the weekend walking around shopping malls not knowing what clothes to choose, how to match items or whether something fits properly, and wishing there was someone there to give good fashion advice and opinions.
“Everyone has the same problems when shopping, whether online or offline. There is a lot of choice but it’s still difficult to find the appropriate items for your needs,” adds Elena Chuiko, SuitApp’s co-founder and art director.
“We thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could just press a button and see an outfit that fits my body?’ That’s how the idea for SuitApp was born,” reveals Grebenshchikova.
Chuiko, Grebenshchikova, and third co-founder and CTO Vladimir Sinitcin are all from Russia – Siberia to be exact – but made the decision to launch in Southeast Asia, starting with Malaysia, because of the bigger opportunities in this region afforded by the fact that the e-commerce market is much more mature here than in Russia.
“The few online shopping websites in Russia are still struggling to generate revenue. There is also a problem with delivery because the country is so big. It is still too early for an app like SuitApp that provides styling recommendations and an online fitting room,” says Chuiko.
Launched in June last year, SuitApp, which is free to download, helps users shop online by providing outfit ideas that match their physique, style, and where they are going. The app uses both a powerful artificial intelligence and a few human experts as stylists.
Users create an avatar by uploading their measurements, and are able to specify their needs such as budget, colours, type of clothing and even occasion, so that the app can choose the most appropriate outfits, which includes everything from clothes to shoes and accessories.
There are two screens in the user interface. Chuiko explains that the first is similar to an Instagram feed, where users receive and view personalised outfits on a daily basis. The second is the user profile page where users can customise their avatars by uploading a picture of their own face, change the avatars hairstyle, add a hijab, and make adjustments to body measurements, among others.
Though the app chooses clothes that flatter the body type, based on the measurements uploaded by the user, the avatar currently does not reflect the true body shape as per the measurements. Chuiko says that by the end of February, the app will be updated to enable the avatar to look like the user in terms of physique, so users can really see what the clothes will look like on them.
Users can try all recommended outfits on their avatars in a virtual ‘fitting room’. If the user likes an item, he or she can just click ‘buy’ and the app will direct them to one of SuitApp’s e-commerce partners.
SuitApp partners with Zalora.com.my, Lazada.com.my and Farfetch.com; while the first two are Malaysia-based, Farfetch is a London-based fashion e-commerce platform that is able to provide SuitApp users higher-end choices.
Next page: The heart of the matter
The heart of SuitApp is really its AI, which was built by the startup’s team of seven in-house developers led by Sinitcin, who is a full-stack developer himself.
Grebenshchikova reveals that even before the AI was built, the founders worked with a professional stylist who created a set of fashion ‘rules’ – things like how to match colours and shades, what designs work with which body types, what shoes work with what outfits and which bags match the shoes, and so on.
“It was all created in written form first, and we gave it to a mathematician who created formulae out of it. Then the developers took the formulae and coded them to create the AI,” she explains.
As the user uses the app, the AI is able to learn their fashion preferences, what they like and do not like, and what they buy, so that as time goes by the recommendations become stronger.
“We are adding more algorithms all the time, but we will soon be adding machine learning to the app so the AI can recommend outfits by itself,” adds Chuiko.
In addition to the AI, SuitApp has four professional human stylists who actively create outfits and upload them to the app through the portal SuitApp has created for them. Any outfit created by these stylists that matches a user’s needs will be gathered by the machine and displayed on the user’s interface.
SuitApp has been revised about 15 times since its launch last year; the founders say a new version is released about every three weeks. The team works in sprints, allowing two weeks for the developers to fix bugs and create new features and then testing the new version and releasing it.
“We have taken huge steps in less than one year. If you compare our first version and the current one you can see it’s completely different in design and user experience,” says Chuiko.
“We’ve come a long way in a short time. We’ve been working really hard in the last 6 months trying to improve the app,” adds Grebenshchikova.
The lean startup model has proven effective for SuitApp, allowing it to continuously make quick and necessary improvements. There are more on the cards this month: besides the update to the avatar, SuitApp will introduce new social features. By the end of February, users will be able to follow friends on the app.
Other social features that will soon be included are the ability to recommend outfits to friends within the app (users are already able to share outfits on social media), comment on outfits, and follow and communicate with stylists on the app.
The founders’ grand plan is to make SuitApp a one-stop platform where users can get style advice, shop, and communicate with each other and with stylists without having to use social media platforms or messaging services.
Next page: Scaling up
In terms of business growth, the plan is to scale to all of Southeast Asia. Currently, SuitApp targets only Malaysian users, though there is a small amount of organic users – about 6% or 7% - from Singapore and the US.
The founders claim that SuitApp does not have direct competition as similar apps such as Shoppr or Ombre.me do not have a virtual fitting room or provide users with avatars. Further, the gamification of the app through the avatar, fitting room and other customisable features – users can and do browse and play around with it even when they do not intend to do any online shopping – means that user experience is more fun, leading to return usage.
SuitApp now has about 5,000 users and aims to have 100,000 active users each month by the end of the year, 70% of which will be through organic traffic. Interestingly, about 40% of SuitApp users are male.
SuitApp uses Facebook targeting and Instagram to get more users; Grebenshchikova says that clever use of hashtags on the latter platform has garnered quite a lot of organic traffic.
“We don’t have much money to spend on marketing but almost 40% of our users are organic – they found us through word-of-mouth,” says Chuiko.
SuitApp went through a pre-seed funding round last year, raising US$100,000 through two angel investors in Russia, and is now considering all options for the next round of funding as expanding internationally will require a big budget.
According to her, scaling to another country will not be too difficult because SuitApps technologies can be easily grown. However, the founders are opting to take things step-by-step because each market within SEA is different.
“You really need to understand the culture of each country and their fashion needs. We can sit in Russia and Google a country but actually being in the country is a very different experience,” says Chuiko.
“You have to be in the country to do this, especially right now when we are in our early stages. Perhaps later when we are bigger we can do a lot of things remotely and have a few people on site in the different countries,” says Grebenshchikova, adding that expanding to other countries will also mean getting more e-commerce partners that provide local content.
The founders lived in Malaysia for half a year before launching the app, conducting research and taking part in an accelerator programme run by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC).
The very first version of SuitApp was released in Malaysia while they were still in the programme; the feedback from initial users was generally positive, showing that the app could work in this market. Within a few weeks, the app was improved and updated.
In fact, while in the accelerator programme, the founders were mentored by Lazada Malaysia CEO Hans-Peter Ressel, who believed in the idea enough to agree to partner Lazada with SuitApp.
The founders did not share details on revenue numbers but did reveal that revenue is generated through commission on sales via the app as SuitApp provides its e-commerce partners with qualified leads and drive traffic to their sites.
Grebenshchikova reveals that SuitApp is considering some B2B options where its technologies are integrated into other businesses by adding a styling plugin on retailers’ websites, for example, to increase their cart size. It will also add in-app purchase options to further monetise the app.
The founders make is clear that SuitApp will be continuously improving – the team takes advantage of user feedback and reviews as well as external reviews from paid users. “Feedback can be unpredictable and we get interesting reactions. Sometimes what we think is the best feature in the app is the one reviewers use or like the least,” says Chuiko.
“But feedback is important because we want our app to really be useful to our users as well as fun to use, and help them understand and give them access to fashion,” she says.
SuitApp is currently available on the Apple iStore and the founders say it will be out on Android after the startup secures its next round of investment, probably by the end of this year.
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