As the father of three young children, Alan Power is no stranger to the difficulties of buying children’s shoes. Having been frustrated by the buying process once too often, he decided to use his skills in engineering and mobile app development to create SizeWise, an AI-based sizing solution that allows parents scan their child’s foot using a smartphone.
“With such variation from brand to brand, shoe size on its own is not enough, which is why SizeWise also recommends ideal footwear for the scanned foot,” Power says. “Two out of three children are wearing footwear that is too small for them which can have long-term health implications. However, because a child doesn’t know any better, they generally don’t complain about it.”
Problems with sizing can become even more acute if parents are shopping for shoes online.
“It can be difficult to select the ideal footwear and almost impossible to accurately select a size for a growing child,” Power says. “From our research, we know that retailers are experiencing returns of up to 40 per cent on online sales and poor fit is the reason in 68 per cent of cases. So, it’s an unsatisfactory experience all round.”
Power first had the idea for SizeWise a few years ago and decided to explore it further while completing a master’s in mobile product design.
Intensive development on the now patent pending technology started a little over a year ago when Power secured Enterprise Ireland commercialisation funding of €400,000 and teamed up with a group of experts from CeADAR, Ireland’s centre for Applied AI based at UCD.
“We use a combination of AI, machine learning and computer vision technology to create a 3D model of the foot that supports the SizeWise fitting app,” Power says. “My original proof of concept was well received as part of my master’s, but it was also pretty clear that it needed some ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of developing specialised technology that would consistently and accurately produce the reliable measurements we needed.”
It has taken a team of five in product design, UX, data science and engineering to pull the technology together and Power has also consulted external experts in podiatry, shoe fitting and retail during the process.
Apart from providing accurate sizing, the app also sends personalised reminders to parents when it’s time to check if their child needs a bigger shoe.
The app is free for parents to use and SizeWise will make its money from selling its software as a service to retailers. They will pay a monthly fee to use the technology which is integrated into their e-commerce sites.
Power believes its accuracy will transform online shopping for children’s shoes.
“We know parents would be more willing to buy online if they could trust the fit and SizeWise brings old-fashioned high-street trust and experience into the online environment,” he says. “In addition to measuring the foot, the app will also identify shoes within the retailers’ range that will suit that particular child.”
Power has recently completed UCD Nova’s venture launch accelerator programme and is now embarking on a €1 million fundraising round to build out his team and bring the technology to market. Customer trials are about to begin with revenue flow expected from May. The company will spin out from UCD later this year.
Power’s initial focus will be on the Irish, British and US markets. However, the grand plan is to go global and to tap into the estimated $49 billion worldwide market for children’s shoes.
“In broad terms, we have some competition, such as brand specific and other scanning solutions. However, brands will only ever sell their footwear and the others are focusing on a very different demographic,” Power says.