Metail, the UK-based virtual fitting room startup, has raised £2.6 million in “growth funding”, as it gets ready to move into a new 6,000 square foot converted warehouse on the periphery of “Tech City” in East London. The new investment — its first institutional funding — was led by New World Private Equity Partners, with participation from Stefano D’Anna and John Gleasure, co-founders of Perform. It brings total funding for Metail to £5.4 million, having previously raised £2.8 million from friends and family, angel investors, and via a TSB R&D grant.
Metail’s virtual fitting room is based on its 3D visualisation technology, which enables a clothes shopper to upload a photo and dial in a few basic measurements to create a virtual representation of themselves, known as a ‘MeModel’, so that they can ‘try on’ garments virtually. A user only has to create their MeModel once as it’s portable across supporting sites. The startup then makes money by taking a commission on every purchase that comes via its virtual fitting room.
It boasts a decent (and growing) customer base that includes Tesco, Warehouse and the Shop Direct Group in the UK, SingTel (via its e-commerce platform) in Asia, Zalando in Germany, and Dafiti in Brazil. The latter two are Rocket Internet companies, which, given the Samwer brothers’ obsession with execution, perhaps speaks to the validity of Metail’s B2B proposition.
Its virtual fitting room solution claims to boost a clothes retailer’s bottom line by increasing customer conversion — seeing how an outfit will look and fit is an attractive consumer proposition — and by reducing return rates.
In a statement, Ben Bommert, Director of Special Operations at Dafiti, says customers using MeModels on its site, “buy and retain 6% more products than customers who don’t use the technology”.
It’s also testament to the way Metail’s business model is aligned with the interests of the online retailers it sells to. That’s because it doesn’t charge an upfront fee for its technology and the work carried out to visualise each garment, and only generates revenue if it helps to actually shift more product. That requires its virtual fitting room solution to scale for itself and its partners — a major retailer like Zalando photographs 3-500 items of clothing per-day — something that Metail founder and CEO Tom Adeyoola tells me the startup has made a lot of progress on over the last year.
He says they’ve managed to half the costs of visualising each garment, partly by ensuring that the photography aspect happens as part of a retailer’s existing workflow — Metail provides a specialised photography rig and the required training — while the photographs taken are tagged and pushed to the cloud to enable its tech to extrapolate different garment sizes and fit based on a single sized item. It’s this technology that is being continually refined at Metail’s Cambridge-based R&D and technology base, headed up by co-founder Duncan Robertson, one of seven PhDs within the company.
Adeyoola says the aim is to get this cost down to a few dollars per garment, and at the same time improve the consumer-facing proposition so that more shoppers create and use a MeModel, which in turn will help drive up revenue. To that end, the startup has recruited “fashion industry veteran” Sarah Walter as Chief Creative Officer. Walter has held senior positions at a number of major UK fashion media and high street brands, both in editorial and comms, such as Vogue, Bazaar, Marie Claire, New Look, and River Island.
Metail has also been experimenting with a second-screen play. In December last year it began partnering with the UK television broadcaster ITV as part of a fashion segment on the channel’s day time show This Morning. Viewers are invited to style the two models featured in the show via a virtual wardrobe and fitting room powered by Metail. The most ‘liked’ looks are then paraded by the models on the catwalk at the end of the program.
Of course, the company doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There are a plethora of startups attempting to solve the problem of how to try on clothes online, with various approaches that range from robotic mannequins to using a previously bought garment as a guide for future purchases. Competitors include TrueFit, MyShape, Clotheshorse, True & Co., Virtusize, Fitiquette, and Fits.me.
Stretching the boundaries of London’s “Tech City”
Metail will see 2013 out with a staff of 40, up from 27 at the start of the year — growth that has required the company to seek a new London HQ. As part of today’s announcement it’s named New Loom House, in Whitechapel, as its new 6,000 sq ft London premises, meaning the startup is moving out of the Old Street area in East London that’s been rebranded by the UK government as “Tech City”.
However, another way to look at it is that the synthetic boundaries of Tech City are naturally expanding as more startups and even larger technology companies take root in the area, a trend that Adeyoola tells me is pushing up rent, which, along with lower business rates, is making the adjacent borough of Tower Hamlets a more attractive proposition.
Specifically, he says that rent has typically gone up from £12 per-square foot to £40 as landlords play startups off against each other. By relocating ever so slightly further afield Adeyoola says he’s been able to redistribute some of that potential outlay to make Metail’s new London home “the kind of space we want”. In addition, he says that Whitechappel has excellent transport links to Cambridge, where Metail has its R&D base.