Fashion students receive new tool

Austin freshman Morgan Jenkins steps inside the new NX16 body scanner located in the Goebel Building.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

Ashley Yeaman

New body-scanning technology acquired by Baylor this summer has the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry.

The university’s family and consumer sciences department is one of the few university departments in the nation that will be using the NX16 scanner, manufactured by [TC]^2.

The scanner and included software, which costs $35,000, creates a 3-D image of the body with precise measurements that can be taken without direct body contact.

To obtain the initial body scans, an individual walks into the device, first into a curtained-off area to change into form-fitting clothing, such as biking shorts and tank tops.

The person then enters the actual scanner, closing the curtain so no light can shine through, plants his or her feet on the floor marks and his or her hands on the two lower handle bars, and then presses a trigger to begin the scan.

Lights shine through grids onto the body, and these lines contour to the body. The reflection of light is recorded by 32 cameras inside the scanner.

The entire process takes less than 30 seconds.

The scanner is currently housed in the Goebel building, where research and teaching labs for textile studies are being established.

Dr. Rinn Cloud, the Mary Gibbs Jones Endowed Chair in textiles, is currently overseeing initial testing as the department becomes familiar with the new equipment that has many practical applications, both within and outside the fashion industry.

“It can be used in terms of enhancing the retail industry, enhancing the apparel design industry and really just a whole host of other uses, like within the health and fitness industry,” Cloud said.

One idea being developed is the possibility of virtual fitting rooms, where customers with a scan on file could view the garment on with the click of a button.

“A software package is being developed [outside of Baylor] that will eventually allow smart phone users to upload their body scan, then go to a store and scan the tag of a garment, click a few commands and virtually try on the garment,” Cloud said.

This idea could also apply to clothing sales online, allowing customers to order a size that directly corresponds with their particular measurements.

“If you order something online and then you get it and don’t like how it fits, you’ve got to send it back, and that costs a lot of money,” Cloud said. “You could [instead] have the person submit their body scan information. It would then know how to fit that person and the garments can be adjusted or matched to the best of their ability to the available sizes.”

Mary Simpson, lecturer of fashion design and merchandising said that knowing customer sizes could also prevent unnecessary costs for clothing manufacturers.

“Research studies show that 70 percent of the garments that are on a sales rack usually don’t fit,” Simpson said. “So when we are able to get garments that fit better, it’s a better use of the company’s money and then they are obviously able to have less things on a sales rack.”

Cloud also plans to use the scanner in her research on functional and protective clothing.

“I started out with protective clothing for agricultural workers where they were exposed to pesticides, and then I’ve done other kinds of functional clothing like dance wear, policeman’s uniforms, and soccer players,” Cloud said. “Right now my work is focused on medical apparel, so surgical gowns, isolation gowns–the things that medical people wear when trying to protect themselves and their patients.”

Researching the function of clothing also helps researchers create garments that prevent limited mobility, for those in security and medical fields, as well as for patients in rehabilitative therapy and individuals with disabilities, according to Simpson.

“[Exact measurements] are able to help garments to fit,” Simpson said. “If you have a permanent disability, such as cerebral palsy, this can help [with mobility]. They are able to be more self-sufficient in their lives.”

While offering many practical applications, some may be concerned that the body scanners may be similar to ones used in airports, which have caused controversy. However, the images created are different, according to Cloud.

“The body scanner that we use does not look through clothing,” Cloud said. “[Our scanner] uses regular white light. There’s no lasers. Lasers can go through tiny spaces of clothing, and so that’s how [airport body scanners] able to actually look through clothing.”

The use of white light reflects off an individual wearing form-fitting clothing rather than going through it.

Once the image is scanned, [TC]^2 software can be used to take the data point cloud model of a person to create life-like avatars.

“We can go in and tell it to put a certain color of skin tone on it, and it will then make what looks like skin on the body model,” Cloud said. “Then we can go in and select faces, hair styles, and we have a limited library of clothing we can put on it.”

The department was ranked one of the top 20 fashion programs in the country according to the influential blog, “Fashionista,” Simpson said.

“The body scanner really adds to the technology that we have in the apparel department at Baylor,” Simpson said. “We have a very strong technology education component and the body scanner enhances that. Those kind of components help us to maintain our ranking.”

The body scanner joins a host of advanced technology that the department uses, such as the Yuhan-Kimberly Ujet MC3 fabric printer, purchased in February 2009.

According to Allison Green, a former professor in the apparel branch of the family and consumer sciences department, technology such as the fabric printer and the body scanner are crucial for students.

“I don’t think people are really aware of how much computer technology is used,” Green said. “I taught multiple courses that used apparel industry software. It’s very necessary for the industry.”

The body scanner will allow the department to adapt with the fashion industry and help students be better prepared for the future, according to Cloud.

“[It’s] kind of all very futuristic thinking,” Cloud said. “It’s in development, but it’s coming, and it’s coming pretty quickly.”