Sean Lee-Davies’ Awethentic Studio is pioneering avatar technology that has the potential to reduce waste in the retail and fashion industries

The age of the avatar is here. Just look at avatar celebrity Lil Miquela, a virtual human with more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram. Then there’s Second Life, a 3D virtual world populated by avatars.

While online gamers have long had avatars, these 3D animated versions of humans are entering the mainstream, with applications ranging from entertainment to companionship. But there are other realms, too, where avatars have the potential to do more.

Sean Lee-Davies, CEO of Awethentic Studio, believes avatars can have a real impact in the fashion and retail worlds, particularly when it comes to the reduction of waste. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world.

“They’ve really got to tidy up their act, and fast,” says Sean. He sees avatars as part of the solution.

Sean envisions an e-commerce space where every user has a 3D avatar. With the avatar technology, “Consumers can make more precise or more informed decisions,” he says.

“Think about it. If you are buying 10 items and returning eight, for the consumer it’s great—there’s no downside—but e-commerce brands are paying for all that, and then there’s the packaging, the transportation, the carbon footprint of all that.”

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In monetary terms, it’s a US$626 billion problem—that’s the value of the returns market. But avatars provide a way for consumers to try on clothes virtually, not only testing for size and how well they fit on their avatars, but also for style by visualising what clothes, or even beauty products, look like on. 

Consumers will also be able to put their avatars into different environments. Buying golfing attire? Place your avatar all decked out on the green. Looking for a black-tie dress? There’s no need to just imagine yourself on the red carpet; put your avatar there dressed in your desired apparel and see what works.

The result? “If you order five, you might return one. And that’s where we see a major application for the avatar technology,” says Sean. The avatar allows consumers to purchase more accurately.

Avatars can also make online shopping— and brand experiences—more engaging. Imagine personalised style advice provided for your avatar, from recommended looks to online personal shopping.

Awethentic Studio has already worked with brands on events to offer these kinds of avatar experiences, which also have the potential for follow-up engagement.

That’s not all. The avatar can be applied to the production side, too. Increasingly, manufacturers are eschewing traditional design methods, no longer cutting fabric and draping it over mannequins, but instead opting for digital mock-ups that can be easily placed on consumers’ avatars. While more accurate for consumers, this also translates to increased efficiency on the manufacturing side.

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Fashion brands often manufacture too many units or put styles into production that don’t appeal and therefore go unsold. In 2018, for example, H&M wrote down US$4.3 billion worth of unsold apparel and accessories. The year before, Burberry burned US$38 million worth of bad inventory.

“If a brand trades its clothing digitally, it can show those garments to [commercial] buyers on avatars,” says Sean.

“Buyers don’t have to fly around the world to see them; fabrics can be sent by post; you can visualise what these garments are going to look like; you can rate them and if there’s no interest in one particular unit, then the manufacturer doesn’t make it. You are making the process far more efficient.” Avatars can help to reduce waste and make the production and consumption market more sustainable.

“Millennials don’t want to buy goods or products that have been made at such a high cost to the environment,” adds Sean. “There’s going to be a massive shift in the fashion industry and with our avatar technology we are at that cutting edge.”

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