10 March 2016
Weaving Tech and Fashion
A one-size-fits-all mannequin that shrinks and expands was only an idea until Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor Dr Allan Chan and his research team turned the concept into reality with iDummy. Connected to the Graphical User Interface computer system, the robotic mannequin has been wowing the fashion industry with its ability to morph into as many as six sizes in just a few clicks. Dr Chan said that he hopes the technology will help streamline production costs for designers.
“Fixed-size dummies, which cost up to several hundred dollars each, are thrown away every two to three seasons,” said Dr Chan. “iDummy accommodates a range of sizes, from structured Western builds to slim Asian figures, saving designers on recurring expenses.”
A common method to cope with fixed measurements was to add padding to the mannequins, which is very time-consuming. Having to make multiple purchases is another issue. Dr Chan recalled seeing 40 dummies piled into the office of a Hong Kong garment label, a costly practice, he said, in a city where rents are at a premium.
Commercialising the Concept
Determined to simplify designers’ work flow, Dr Chan, in 2008, teamed up with colleague Dr Ameersing Luximon and student Steven Peng to develop a more sustainable referencing system for designers. With private-sector funding, a prototype in 2013 attracted the attention of Hong Kong distributor Winswin, which bought the license and worked to commercialise iDummy for mass production. Sales Executive Sam Tang said the biggest challenge was to reduce costs while retaining its performance capabilities.
“We made quite a lot of changes to its mechanical structure,” said Mr Tang. “Each component is now backed by one motor. The arrangement used to be 2:1. The outcomes now are more accurate.”
Launched at the 2013 HKTDC Hong Kong Fashion Week for Spring/Summer, the iDummy initially came with the upper torso only. A full-body version of the mannequin was introduced at the January Hong Kong Fashion Week for Fall/Winter, with the parts sold separately. The upper torso is priced at US$11,000, while the lower part costs US$10,000.
Winswin Project Manager Gordon Wong said a 3D body scanner was used to gather worldwide measurement data, which allows users to adjust and achieve hundreds of human body measurements and shapes. Universal sizing capability was achieved by inputting the collected information into the iDummy operating system. Mr Wong said users can enter data via computer software and soon, through a mobile application.
“We have sold to several haute couture brands, which have buying offices in Hong Kong,” said Mr Tang. “It also appeals to educational institutions overseas as a tool to explain body proportions, and for research purposes.” The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, according to Dr Chan, has ordered several dummies for their fashion students, who, like the visitors at Fashion Week, were excited to use it in their work.
Looking ahead, Dr Chan hopes to venture into the mature and plus-size markets. “Many buying offices advise us on the direction we should take. The menswear sector is another possibility,” said Dr Chan, “Now that we have successfully built the bottom part, I hope this will gain traction, and that more corporations and institutions are willing to support our next projects.”
Winswin’s Mr Tang said the new fashion tech section at Hong Kong Fashion Week has helped promote the tech innovation. “The result is really positive because it differentiates us from the rest,” said Mr Tang, “People will understand our products straightaway and that these are no ordinary dummies.”