Technology has been revolutionizing the world of garments and the fashion industry, with tech startups tapping new verticals amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Beijing-based fashion tech startup HeartDub is one of them. The company digitizes textiles via artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate transactions between textile manufacturers and their customers.
Founded in 2018, the company’s software simulates how clothes could look on a human body, simplifying the costly and time-consuming negotiation process between manufacturers and buyers, which often involves shipments of samples before closing a contract.
“The effect generated by our system is very genuine and can be applied to different fabrics, patterns, and sizes,” said Huang Jingshi, CEO and co-founder of HeartDub to KrASIA. He launched the company together with Zhou Jiaxuan, currently the company’s chief operating officer, and Li Ruohao, its chief technology officer. HeartDub currently a group of about 30 employees scattered around Beijing in China, Seattle in the US, and Manchester in the UK. Most of its technical team members studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Huang said that the company wants to solve a specific pain point in the industry. “Because of the diversity and complexity of fabrics, before a garment manufacturer makes a purchase, it has to touch the real thing and has to make clothes out of sample fabrics to make sure it is what they want.” The back-and-forth process could take weeks and also generate waste along the way. When it comes to cross-border deals, the delivery time could be even longer, Huang explained.
The company has therefore developed a system that allows its clients to match textiles with a variety of colors, clothing designs, patterns, and virtual model’s movements, within a few clicks. HeartDub’s solution is able to cut development production costs by 50%, while shortening sample delivery time by 90%, according to Huang.
Currently, HeartDub’s main customers are textile factories, which leverage the system to showcase its products to garment makers, but Huang expects to apply the company’s technology to more areas including online clothing design, virtual try-on functions, digital runway shows, and virtual character creations for games, films and virtual idols, contributing to the digitalization of the industry.
Weave data into textiles
“What you see is what you get. Our technology can achieve accuracy and speed at the same time,” Huang said, emphasizing that “how real the effect is” is the core of the tool.
HeartDub’s technology is powered by the company’s in-house developed “high-precision physics engine,” a computer program that simulates certain real-world physical phenomena in real-time bearing similarities with Nvidia’s PhysX. Compared to 3D modeling and other graphic-making techniques, a physics engine can predict effects under different conditions to improve realism and is a staple of video game development. In HeartDub’s case, its physics engine mimics how clothes react to the wearer’s movements.
The company collects textiles and ships them to its lab for detection. Aside from basic industrial standardized data points such as colorfastness and strength, the software manages over 80 different physical properties of materials, Huang explained.
“What the system calculates is the relationship between clothes and human bodies,” said Huang. “How do the clothes move along with people’s movements. What if the wearer gets sweaty? What if the wearer put on one more coat?” In this way, HeartDub weaves data into textiles and simulates a virtual but authentic wearing experience.
HeartDub’s database currently covers 70% of textiles in the market and continues to grow. The company’s services have been adopted by over 80 companies, mainly based in China, one of which is Shandong Ruyi, which also manages Swiss luxury brand Bally.
The firm charges a yearly subscription for clients to use its services, while it also can customize the software for clients, Huang explained. An annual subscription fee starts from RMB 20,000 (USD 2,984) and varies based on clients’ demands.
The firm has teamed up with China’s Textile Association and in September, it took part in the 2020 China International Fabrics Design contest, where it showcased its software.
A faster and greener fashion industry
This year’s coronavirus pandemic stopped people from traveling and organizing events, which also slowed down transactions in the fashion industry but gave HeartDub an unexpected opportunity, as more companies realized the necessity of a digital upgrade.
Starting from fabric manufacturers, Huang plans to keep developing its software and expanding its services to other fields. “First, our priority is perfecting our database. Second, connect more players in the supply chain, and on the basis of our core technology, re-define the digital standards of the industry. Third, reach more consumers and enter other fields including the gaming and film industry,” Huang detailed.
He revealed that an upcoming version of HeartDub’s system will allow users to personalize the virtual model, and the team has been already working with several gaming studios in China. The company is finishing a pre-Series A round of financing and plans to invest the proceeds on technology upgrades and market expansion. Previously, it raised money from angel investors Renai Captial and Aistar Ventures.
“The technology is to revamp the textile industry, which had adopted the same sortation process for decades—they travel and ship back and forth,” he said. “And the pollution caused by the textile industry has also raised concerns,” he continued, noting that data can help reduce the waste intensified by excess fabric and unsold inventory.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Inside China’s Startups” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in the country.