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The Closet in the Cloud

Rent the Runway website where you can subscribe a plan for renting cloths. Another face of the ongoing Digital Transformation. Image credit: Rent the Runway

I am no expert in many areas, but if there is one I am no expert at all, well that is fashion. But I can tap on top-notch expertise at home.

Anyhow, on Wired, March 10th, there was a nice article on shared economy applied to fashion. A number of companies have sprung out offering cloths for rent. They started few years ago renting tuxedos and gala dresses, those items you will use just once in a while and that made sense but the market demand was somewhat limited (people are not going to weddings every week…). Lately they shifted their offer to everyday clothes.

Rent the Runway is out to revolutionise the closet, they actually tell you “rent your closet!”. They offer three rental plans starting at 30$ a month (up to 159$) through which you can have a number of clothes sent to your doorstep every month. Of course they come to you perfectly clean, ready to wear. You use them for a month and then you send them back in a prepaid box, two days later you get your new set of cloths. Depending on the plan you select your choices of clothes and brand increases, with top brands -of course- available in the costlier plan.

According to the journalist who tried them, it works. Clearly, spending 159$ a month may be more than an average person would spend in buying clothes, and there are other companies, like Le Tote, with different propositions (like rent it and keep it paying a discounted price, if you don’t want to return it) that offer lower price deals.

According to the article over 10 million people in the US are already using this Closet in the Cloud, intrigued by the opportunity of choosing among some 100,000 apparels and changing them every month. Someone is also throwing in the sustainability aspect, the fashion world is a big contributor to CO2 emissions and most clothes have a very short life, hence a significant environmental waste.

Ok, time to seek expert advice. I tried to propose the deal to my wife: “How about a renting plan for your closet, rather than buying”. The first reaction I got was she threw me out of the bedroom. Then she articulated some points:

  1. that may work in the US but not in Europe, for sure not in Italy, and certainly not for me!
  2. I want to see and touch a dress, then I need to don it and see how it fits. Every dress is different and there is not such a thing “one fits them all”
  3. it is not just about a dress, it is about the whole ensemble. The bag, the jewelry, the cosmetics…

She didn’t mention is but I guess it is also about the feeling of ownership, of I am the only one that has been using this particular dress…

Anyhow, one crucial point in her dismissal is the “I want to touch, see, don  before deciding…”. Now, this is something technology may address in the near future.

On-line shopping will clearly continue and be an even bigger part of our life. Technologies like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will keep getting better, seamless and will become part of everyday experience (by the way, the IEEE FDC has an Initiative in this area, Digital Reality, check it out). It doesn’t take divinatory capability to foresee they will become part of the on-line shopping experience. Haptic interfaces will enable touching from remote and they will also become embedded in on-line shopping.

What about donning and making sure that apparel has the perfect fit? For that I see a solution coming with the person’s Digital Twin. We already see some shops and department stores offering clients a 3d laser scan of their body (or their feet) to create a digital model that can be used to find the perfect match. I expect a person body Digital Twin to become normal in the next decade and to be used for on-line shopping.  Later on I would expect it to become embedded in the manufacturing value chain (industry 4.0 for fashion) so that we will be able to have tailor made suit in on-line shopping.

Technology advances, like the one I mentioned will not just overcome some of the hurdles, they will change eventually our perception of the world and consequently our behaviour. This is one of the outcomes of the ongoing Digital Transformation.

For the time being I just drop the matter, wishing to get access to my bedroom again.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.