By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Christian Ruth wants you to know he’s not a fashion guy. But he’s ready to disrupt the slow to change fashion industry with MySureFit, a virtual shopping platform that mimics the brick-and-mortar shopping experience by allowing customers to see how a garment looks on their bodies before it makes its way into the online shopping cart.
Users upload two full body photos of themselves and MySureFit’s patented AI technology takes it from there. Shoppers can see how a garment compliments their hair and skin tones, while the app “learns a shopper’s fit preferences … and selects the right sizes for them” from a vast list of well-known fashion brands.
MySureFit has created technology to give shoppers the emotional charge of face-to-face shopping, while boosting the retailer’s bottom line by eliminating some of the challenges that are part of the online buying experience.
When Ruth launched his career in technology in the 1990s, he predicted that businesses would begin to migrate online. But research has shown that clothing shoppers like the ritual of trying on garments and have documented emotional responses to the process that could not be duplicated online in the early days of online shopping.
“People, if they were shopping online at the time,” said Ruth “conditioned themselves into bracketing. Bracketing is an industry term. That means ordering multiple sizes (of the same item).”
Ruth describes the process of trying on clothing at a retail location as a cycle. From the rack to the fitting room, then back to the sales floor, if the item is rejected is a cycle that lasts minutes. When a customer orders items to be delivered to them, the time cycle stretches out considerably.
“That cycle time is now 45, 60, or 90 days because it’s going to end up on their kitchen table,” explained Ruth. “They get delayed, they forgot about the box. The problem with that is that now (no one) can wear that item.”
“So, this cycle time, combined with the high volume of remote try-on experiments happening in people’s homes creates a huge economic and sustainability problem,” continued Ruth. “It’s a huge waste problem because now it’s not just (that) you’re sending one or two out. You’re now (doing) that for millions of customers, where you could have done all of that in store.”
“The retailer is going to stock a store, and the store is going to stock out,” said Ruth. “Customers don’t like stock outs. They are going to go somewhere else. So, your customer acquisition costs increased dramatically. Your customer lifetime value also falls because now you’re not going to have additional opportunities to sell to a customer, because you never got the sale in the first place.”
“The only way to counter the impact of ecommerce migration would be to either have a stock out or to manufacture an exponential increase in inventory to support that hyper-distributed model of try-on. Now you’re now flooding the market with an exponential increase of volume of inventory,” said Ruth.
“At the end of the cycle the brand retailer has all of these items coming back in. What do they do with that inventory? Well, they’ve got one of two options. They can discount it, or they can destroy it. They have got to do something with it, right?” asked Ruth.
“If they discount it, what’s the risk? They are now training customers to look for deals on their inventory. You’re devaluing the brand. You can run the risk of devaluing the brand, or you have to destroy it (the overstock).”
“There are apparel landfills where people thought it was a big deal when there was 5 million tons (of discarded clothing) a year. That number is now expected to go north of 17 million tons a year. I mean, it’s just insane. It’s terrible for the environment. That’s as a result of this industry migrating online.”
“It’s what researchers call a multilateral negative network effect,” Ruth explained, “which happens when you have a shock to an industry that’s adversely impacting everybody in the ecosystem. You also have the very important intangible of the environment. So, it’s just a very bad situation. So how do we reverse this? Well, you have to take a look at going back to the consumer experience.”
“You have to understand the consumer has emotional needs, but ultimately the emotional need is filled by information. What’s interesting about this industry shift that a lot of people did not understand was that in most industries, as they moved online, you actually increased information liquidity.”
“When you shift online with apparel, you actually introduce new information gaps. How does (the garment) look on your body, your shape, your skin tone, your hair, your eyes? So much information-gathering and confirmation is happening there (in the store) that’s not happening online,” said Ruth.
MSUN: What was your biggest surprise when you launched MySureFit?
CR: “I was shocked to see just how much of an impact we had on consumers, even during our early days of fit testing. We had fitting rooms where they used our app and tried some styles. Then we’d go pull the inventory for them and they would try it on… It was amazing to see how much people’s confidence was impacted by what they were wearing.
When I saw that and I saw how we could impact that, I felt, ‘this is pretty serious business because we could change the world here. If a young woman’s going out on a first date or she’s going for a job interview or whatever, and we help her make her feel better about herself, she’s going to make better decisions. She’s going to perform better.’
And that’s what I care about. I care about helping people reach their potential in their businesses and careers and whatnot. That’s really what made me hyper committed to this was the desire to have people realize that they were created to do incredible things.
If they’re style happens to contribute to them feeling better about themselves and having a better impact on the world and we can help them do that more efficiently with a higher level of confidence, then that’s a good cause to pursue. That’s really what drove me through all the brutal aspects of a startup and all the pain and all the stress and everything else was the reaction of seeing those women.”
MSUN: How does the technology behind MySureFit work?
CR: “When you consider that there are 7 billion people in the world, and then you consider thousands and thousands of brands which have varying size points and measurement points, the combination of all of those numbers is in the multiple billions of potential scenarios, in terms of the actual measurements. Then you compound that with the actual points in the body, it’s a huge number.
MySureFit was designed to close the information gaps that would give consumers the most amount of emotional confidence to visualize (a garment) on themselves. Users are able to share those outfits with other people to get feedback before they actually buy, so that when they actually do buy, they end up keeping that item. In fact, we eliminate multi-size ordering entirely because we tell people you won’t have to order multiple sizes, just trust MySureFit and you will get the right size.
We have orders approaching over 25,000 items in total for thousands of customers, and we have a return rate of well below 5%. Accuracy is very, very good as a result of all the engineering that we did in developing the entire experience.
It is a tremendous amount of work and we have developed a patent capability to measure the user with 99% accuracy and we’ve developed our own proprietary fit points and then we are able to use various sources of data to reconcile that across brands. Our technology, beyond getting the fit right, one of things that we are most proud about is the scalability with hundreds and thousands of brands.”
MSUN: How did MySureFit choose Milwaukee as its corporate headquarters?
CR: “Well, I was on the West Coast for over 15 years and I’m from (Washington) DC originally, but my wife’s family is from the Milwaukee area… The next thing I know, I’m living in Milwaukee, and that’s how life works.
She was raised here, and this is a great town. Great people. It’s easy. There’s no traffic. I mean you know you’re in San Francisco or even in LA. I mean traffic, you know, it is brutal. Here, I jump on my Segway and I’ll be downtown in five minutes, and I don’t have to travel, or have the traffic. I don’t do the parking.
I think it’s a great environment. I believed for years that workforces would become more and more remote. You can hire people really anywhere in the world. What I like about Milwaukee is that it’s not as congested and it’s such a beautiful area.
And there’s great people. You have a great opportunity to give people a great work life balance. Our people work very, very hard. But I want to know that when they’re not working, they’re having a great life. And I think that the Milwaukee environment, with the beautiful parks, and the lake, and the music, and all the things that they have, it’s a great setup. I think that provides a huge advantage.”
MSUN: MySureFit is currently crowdfunding on StartEngine. Why did you decide to use this method to raise capital?
CR: “I’ve always loved the idea of crowdfunding, in general. I believe in democratizing that market. Most everyday investors were really prevented from investing in companies’ early stages due to regulations. So really the only parties that made up the lion share of backing startups were venture capital firms.
The reason why we felt the timing was right was because last year they increased the minimums for the first phase of crowdfunding to up to $5 million. I liked it because it enables customers to also become investors and enables investors to become customers. Because you can cross market across those constituencies.
I’m trying to pursue the multilateral positive network effect, which is enabling the consumers, brands, customers, and others to work together for the benefit of everybody in the ecosystem. And when you’re talking about network effects, you’re talking about virality. You’re talking about adding value to an ecosystem with every additional participant that’s in that ecosystem. And those participants are what we call what I call ambidextrous participants.
With the regulatory changes, and given the market shift that’s supporting crowdfunding, we felt the combination of those market forces as well as the nature of our business model that crowdfunding would be a good fit for us.”
To see MySureFit for yourself, check out the website here.