Lingerie has been one of the few products that hasn't seen a huge takeoff in eCommerce, because of the challenges involved in ensuring that underwear, and especially bras, fit comfortably once bought. With finding underwear that fits any given figure a challenge even in bricks-and-mortar shops, its no wonder that buying items unseen and untested hasn't been popular.
A startup called ThirdLove is aiming to fix this with a new app that makes use of advanced image recognition technology to ensure that products are perfectly suited to customers, and it's just raised $8m (£5.5) in funding to do so.
Founded by wife-and-husband team Heidi Zak (who serves as CEO) and David Spector, who both have experience in the tech world, the company has seen investment from a wide range of names from both the venture capital and fashion retail worlds, including the former CEOs of underwear brands Victoria's Secret and Spanx.
The ThirdLove app combines image recognition, big data analytics and sophisticated logistics and supply management to provide customers with items that fit them comfortably. Users first take a series of selfies, which the app processes into three-dimensional shapes to match them with its database of bras. For the security conscious, ThirdLove carries out all the measuring on your phone, with none of the images ever uploaded to its databases or other cloud storage.
As part of its efforts to provide well-fitted underwear, the firm has used its data to create a new range of bra sizes that are based on half-cup measurements, and the efforts have been extremely successful, with revenues growing by 400 per cent between 2014 and 2015, and product returns averaging only eight per cent, far below wider industry figures which can be as high as 30 per cent.
While the company's long term goal is to bring its measurement technology to a wider range of apparel, it has no plans to expand beyond underwear for now.
"The intimate apparel is a $15bn market in the US," said Spector. "And China is $18-20bn and growing 30 per cent year-on-year. We have a lot to do before expanding to new categories."