logoIn today’s Start Me Up we hear from Heikki Haldre, CEO of, a
unique company utilising biorobotics to help transform the online
clothing retail market.

If you run a B2C focussed start-up and would like to be featured in a future Start Me Up, then please let me know:

In one sentence, what is

I’m sure lots of start ups struggle to describe their product so simply, but is straightforward – we are a virtual fitting room.

What Problem does solve?

In real life it’s easy for a retailer to set up a fitting room with a piece of curtain and a mirror, but obviously online it’s not as simple technically, so a lot of people have been trying to find a way to solve this problem and present an online alternative. One of the largest problems for online retailers is the numbers of returns, so we aim to solve that problem. robot mannequinWhat can you tell me about the bio-robotics angle? How did you decide to involve robotics?

Well actually I suppose that’s one of the advantages to coming from a small country like Estonia. I can’t imagine that in the UK or US you would really get people from the robotics industry and from the fashion industry sitting down at the same table and collaborating, but here there are less disparate groups so it’s possible. 

As well as being a unique technical challenge it’s also been quite expensive to develop, but again here we’ve been able to take advantage of various EU grants and approach universities like Talinn and Tartu and collaborate with them to overcome the technical issues.

Was there any existing technology to that inspired the idea?

In a word, no. We basically started from scratch around three years ago and we are just now coming to market, so it’s been a long development process but we’re very pleased with the results.

What about your immediate goals – what is your target market?

Right now it’s women, because they make up the vast majority of online clothing sales.

We currently only have the male mannequin available, but if you speak to Maarja (Kruusmaa, Head of the Centre of Robotics at Tallinn University) then she will tell you that from a robotics point of view, women are basically  just large-breasted men, so it’s actually a fairly straightforward technical exercise to perfect the female mannequin.

We expect to be ready by around October this year so fairly quickly.

What is your pricing model?

Well that’s slightly more complicated; let me explain by telling you what the costs cover.

Firstly we have set-up costs. We take physical samples of the retailers clothing in each size, so say a sweater in small, medium, large and so on.

We don’t need every item, usually 4-7 generic samples, so say a cream sweater or a blue polo – basic styles that cover all of the brand’s main ‘fits’.

We then take around 2000 photographs of each item to map from, which is the majority of the back-end work, and that takes around 2-3 weeks.

We then offer the virtual fitting room itself as a white label product so that retailers can easily integrate it into their site, and we charge via a PPC model.

There is a charge when a customer decides to enter the fitting room, but once ‘inside’ they are free to try on as many items as they wish. checkoutLooking at your website, you say that “ensures that the fitting room experience remains separated from emotional factors driving the purchase.” Why do you feel this is attractive to retailers?

Well online retailers are limited in the amount of experience they can portray.

If I’m an online retailer then I don’t have factors like the smell of a new leather jacket say, or nice music playing in the background. These emotional factors often mean that by the time a shopper goes into the fitting room they’ve already really made up their mind to buy.

But online all you really have are pictures of attractive models wearing the clothes. Not all of us have those model-perfect bodies so this is a chance to really see how an item will look on you and choose accordingly, not just because it looks great on the model.

If you look at online retail you find around 60% of returns are due to poor fit, compared to say, 15% being due to the feel of the fabric and 5% due to the colour, because people have different quality monitors etc, so it represents a huge chunk of the returns.

For a retailer this is very attractive because if you sell an item in August and it’s returned in October, then it’s no longer seasonal and you are looking at a much larger loss than just the price of return post, so we see it as a way to increase sales and reduce returns. It represents ‘instant cash’ for retailers.

Where would you like to be in one, three and five year’s time?

Well right now I think there’s a huge change going on with a decline in high street clothing shops.

If you look at the figures you see as many as one in four clothing stores closing down, it happened with travel agents and with book stores, and now it’s affecting clothes, so I think we have a potentially huge market.

Clothing already is the second or third biggest source of online retail revenue and it’s growing fast.

It’s also interesting because around three years ago in the UK, some major brands conducted surveys and took around 11,000 photographs so that they could provide better fitting clothes, but we now take around 15,000 pictures in a month, or 100,000 in a year, so hopefully this will be a way to ensure that clothes are a much better fit.

Not only that but we’ll also be able to tell regional differences between people in say, Wales and England, or Wisconsin and Spain, so I think we’ll be able to really improve the whole shopping experience and provide retailers with a way to really help their customers.

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