Virtual Reality Alternatives The Way Forward for Fashion Buyers
As industries across the world have been forced to innovate and be creative in the challenges of COVID-19, one sector which was surprisingly quick to adapt was that of fashion buying.
BrandLab, a unique virtual reality showroom developer, saw 500% increase in profit between May and June, as brands moved their physical showrooms to virtual.
The growth has led to international investment, with new offices being launched in LA, Paris and New York and plans to expand their business beyond the fashion industry and develop direct-to-consumer platforms for everything from shopping centres and art galleries to car showrooms and football club memorabilia stores.
Prior to the global pandemic, BrandLab – which is the brainchild of Welsh entrepreneurs Dan O’Connell and Jennifer Drury – was already seeing success with the development of digital showrooms from over 200 labels around the world including the UK, Italy, South Africa, Dubai and the US.
But over the last few months, the number of new customer enquiries has increased by 2,000% as fashion brands rapidly need new routes to market.
BrandLab develops customised virtual showrooms that recreate a brand’s physical space, right down to the floorboards, the shape of the chairs and even the bespoke hangers.
Buyers can browse through 360-degree showrooms, view individual garments including close-ups of fabric textures with clickable links to product and price information, watch catwalk shows filmed exclusively on BrandLab’s 50ft catwalk and add products directly to orders.
Dan O’Connell, co-founder of BrandLab, said: “We were seeing fantastic growth at the start of 2020, mainly with brands seeking to improve their sustainability credentials and reduce huge costs in wholesale buying.
“When COVID hit, all of a sudden we were the number one solution. For brands, the ability to maintain customer relationships in a world where they could not meet face-to-face was very important, and we are the only business to offer this type of immersive and interactive showroom appointment.
“Interestingly, the majority of customers we speak to have no plans to return to the way things were – even if life returns to normal. Virtual reality was once seen as a marketing gimmick, but it’s now not only a solution to the problems the industry is currently facing, but the obvious answer to reduce costs through travel, physical builds and clothes wastage as well as dramatically improve its environmental footprint.”
With some buyers typically taking up to 80 flights a year to visit fashion showrooms, the impetus was already on the industry to come up with more sustainable solutions.
Now, in a set-up not too dissimilar to The Sims, buyers are able to virtually browse each showroom for in-season and forward buying through BrandLab’s platform, from the comfort of their own homes. Individuals craving interaction can be assigned their own avatar to network with other attendees at the virtual events.
O’Connell added that virtual showrooms are not set to replace all face-to-face interactions. Instead they will simply be a viable alternative to enhance and improve productivity in the industry.
He said: “Buyers are often restricted to viewing 10 or so collections, back-to-back, over the course of two days at trade shows. Through a virtual showroom, they could now see up to 200 in this time and then visit the ones they have particular interest in. It will also allow the industry to become more inclusive – allowing buyers to engage with a wider range of designers they might never have had the time for before.”