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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Stitched CTO on 3D design, augmented reality and the future of e-commerce

Stitched is a start-up that sells made-to-measure curtains and blinds using 3D design tools. It has been trading since October 2017, with its founders Elinor Pitt and Will Verrill believing there would be a second wave of e-commerce companies that could disrupt the status quo in the retail sector.

The company hired Christopher Bull as its chief technology on a permanent basis in July last year, as technology is a core component of the company’s unique selling point, along with an eco-friendly approach to its 140 fabrics, which are made from natural and recycled fibres.

“Elinor was an electrical engineer turned interior designer, she thought if you could customise things at home, it would be more sustainable as you wouldn’t waste as much with prototype products and she’s convinced we’re headed towards an augmented reality (AR) future,” Bull says.

“We think that with good design, and 3D visualisation and soon augmented reality, we can bring a lot of harder to do, more customisable e-commerce things onto the internet,” he adds.

Augmented reality or augmented hype?

Bull says the company has been testing AR for a while, but explains that the technology doesn’t work that well yet.

“It means there are a lot more design constraints than mobile apps or wearables where there are clear design standards. There’s a few good examples such as the IKEA Home app which is done really well, but we want to be one of the first to do it from a home furnishing perspective,” he says.

The idea is simple, but could have a huge effect on the way consumers buy home furnishing products; by using AR, a consumer could show their room and window to the Stitched app – the app will then display curtains as they would look in the room, giving consumers the opportunity to see what different fabrics and colours would like without needing the physical item or sample with them.

“From a creative perspective it’s interesting as you’re designing something that people in the real world will use, but it means you can’t just wireframe things in and throw paper prototypes to users and see how they respond as they interact with it in the physical world,” Bull says.

“So we’ve been working on getting an understanding on how people interact with AR, developing an intuition around what behaviours they find weird. We now have a reasonable idea and we’re building out a first version of our app around that, and we’re hoping to launch that at the London Design Fair,” he adds.

But Bull says that companies like Stitched need to look at virtual reality (VR) as a cautionary tale, as it hasn’t met the expectations set several years ago. However, he believes the use case of AR is different and provides consumers with something they need; the issue is making the technology mainstream.

“The devices with AR are amazing but aren’t currently mainstream devices; it’s similar to the PC gaming market where subsets of users have fancy graphics cards that show the latest textures, shading and particle effects but the larger majority of users are using older machines that still play the game, without those additional features,” he says.

However, if there is a demand for AR apps, it’s likely that AR will become a must-have feature on smartphones and tablets in the future.

There are always developments in the AR field, but Bull emphasises that Stitched is still working on getting the basics right.

“There are some really interesting things coming up in AR but the industry hasn’t even cracked what’s already here. Apple and Google give us new capabilities every year with framework updates but we need to make this into something people find useful,” he says.

Age not a barrier

Bull explains that so far, the company’s customer base is diverse, appealing to a range of demographics, which has come as a surprise.

“If you look at our branding, we’re trying to appeal to 30-somethings who are perhaps buying these items for the first time. However, because of our eco angle, and the focus we have on local manufacturing, there is a wider appeal, while older more experienced customers may prefer going through the process by themselves as they’ve done it the traditional way before – this way they can avoid the annoying salesy part,” he says.

“But it was a surprise to have older customers as they’re perceived as not being as tech savvy and less likely to give up their loyalties to the likes of John Lewis or Hillary’s but this has not been the case,” he adds.

The aim now is for the company to expand its customer base further, and Bull hopes that after the company’s next funding round he will be able to add to his technology and product team so that Stitched can develop its AR and 3D design concept further.