In a July 2017 installment of Elsewhere, I wrote “I hope this comes true: Sketch templates in your own measurements.” The link went to a Kickstarter for MyBodyModel, an initiative by Erica Schmitz to create a web-based app for a croquis template generator — meaning knitters and sewers would be able to create sketch templates based on their own measurements.
Croquis (“crow-KEE”) is French for sketch, but in the garment world it means fashion illustrations, which are traditionally based on an unrealistic “model” who is nine heads tall and very thin.
The idea of a faint croquis template for drawing on top of — for those of us who are not skilled illustrators — is best known in the form of the Fashionary products we sell some of at Fringe, which are popular with design students everywhere. I’ve been a proponent of Fashionary for DIY-ers because having a template to draw on has allowed me to make semi-realistic sketches of garments I’m proposing to make, enabling me to see what sleeve shape I like best, where I’d like a sweater to hit (natural waist? mid hip? crotch?), what shapes work together, and so on. It’s been an incredibly useful tool for me in project selection and wardrobe planning. But think how much more powerful it would be if we could have templates based on our actual human dimensions.
So that’s what I hoped would come true, and it has! And I’m thrilled to talk to Erica about it all—
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How did you first get the idea to make a customizable croquis app?
When I first started making my own clothes a few years ago, it was like a floodgate of creativity had opened. I was bursting with so many ideas that it was hard to fall asleep at night. I was also a bit overwhelmed by the infinite design decisions that can go into making each garment. I needed a way to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper, and I needed it to be visual — not just a written list. At the same time, I was recovering from several years of illness and chronic pain issues. Making clothes felt like a thank-you gift to my body for all it had been through. Traditional fashion croquis, at a standard nine or ten head-lengths tall, just didn’t make sense. I found a few realistically-proportioned fashion croquis options, but none that looked like me. I searched for custom croquis apps, but found nothing. I finally ended up making my own sketch templates by tracing over a photo of myself. Every once in a while, I would do another online search to see if anyone had created a custom croquis generator yet. Every time, I was surprised to find nothing. Finally, in January 2017, I decided to do it myself.
And how did you have the know-how to bring that idea to fruition?
I had zero know-how! But I could see and feel so clearly that MyBodyModel was something that needed to exist. My professional background is in nonprofit management and consulting, including a lot of grant writing and collaboration. I’ve always loved the process of starting with the seed of an idea and bringing people together to help it grow into reality. My first steps were finding a local software development company to estimate what it would take, and then connecting with as many makers and designers as possible to see if this was a product that anyone other than me actually wanted. I also took advantage of available free business counseling and trainings, did a lot of research, and got some grant funding to pay for part of the initial development.
It seems like one of the hardest questions must have been “how much do I charge for this?” given that, to my knowledge, there’s never been anything like it. Can you talk a little bit about the pricing model you’ve settled on and how you arrived at it?
There were no “comps” to help figure out the pricing, so that was a bit tricky! I did know from the beginning that I wanted a free-to-preview, pay-to-download pricing model. In my initial focus groups, I gave the option for participants to pre-order and write down the price they would pay for their body model download packages. I used this information when I put together the different backer tiers for the Kickstarter campaign in August 2017. The success of that campaign not only validated that MyBodyModel was a product that people were excited about, but also that our pricing model was on the right track.
Feedback from our Kickstarter backers also helped shape the current credit-based download model. During the campaign, the main questions people had were, “What if my body changes?” and “What if I make garments for clients or loved ones?” We designed the credit-based system so that folks could purchase packages of two or five credits at a discounted cost per credit. We’ve also started offering discounted education pricing for classroom use.
You’ve taken it slowly — and I mean that as a compliment — crowdsourcing funds, hosting a nice long beta period to develop the tools, and now making it publicly available. Has your idea of what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it, changed during that time?
During the Kickstarter campaign, it was clear that people were excited about the idea of MyBodyModel as a practical and creative tool. What I didn’t realize was what a powerful emotional reaction people would have to actually seeing and using their body model templates. I’ve heard from so many customers who say it’s the first time that they’ve ever looked at their body without judgment. When they look at their body outlines, they don’t see flaws — they see possibilities. I think there’s something about seeing the lines and curves of your body as a 2D outline that turns on the artistic and creative parts of your brain, and turns off the judgey mean parts.
What’s one thing that has surprised you the most from the usage and feedback you’ve seen during the testing phase?
Of all the feedback during the testing phases, both alpha and beta, what most surprised me was how often people blamed their own bodies rather than the app itself for any glitches in the croquis rendering! It really helped me understand just how pervasive and far reaching the social construct is of our bodies having something wrong with them. I realized that almost everyone struggles with body image and body acceptance — regardless of size or shape, and regardless of how “normal” or even “perfect” they may look to an outside eye. At the same time, I’ve been delighted to discover that some of the most positive body images are held by people whose bodies don’t match up with commercially defined ideals around what we should or shouldn’t look like. These realizations have made me even more passionate and determined to continue developing MyBodyModel as body-positive design tool — and to make it as accessible as possible.
Do people’s notions of what it is, and is for, line up with what you imagined? Or have people used it in ways you never saw coming?
Initially, MyBodyModel was a product that I wanted for myself. I knew exactly how I would use it, but I needed to learn how others might use it, and how it might fit into their creative processes and planning styles. From our initial focus groups and alpha testing, I learned that we needed to offer formats for drawing on paper as well as digitally. I was surprised to learn how many makers love using analog tools such as notebooks, binders, and bulletin boards. I also learned that we needed different page formats that would be useful during the various stages of the creative process — for example, several croquis on one page for initial exploration of silhouettes, versus one larger croquis with space for project-planning notes.
But of course, since the product release, people have come up with all sorts of creative ways to use their body models! A few of my favorites:
- Making rubber stamps of your croquis for bullet journaling (pictured above, truly genius!)
- Making grown-up paper dolls to play with outfit combinations
- Sharing your body measurements on social media as part of the #sewmysize initiative (such as here, here, and here).
- Using a multi-media approach such as creating paper cut-outs to show fabric swatches (or as in the photo below, a color photocopy of a knitting swatch).
I know you must have sunk an incredible amount of time and heart and soul into this. What’s the most rewarding thing so far in seeing it in the world, being used?
It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to have MyBodyModel out in the world. Even more than 6 months after our initial beta release, I still shout out and do a happy dance every time I see someone post a sketch they’ve done using their body model croquis. And I still get teary over many of the DMs and emails that I receive from customers. I think the most rewarding thing is knowing that it’s more than just a fun and useful product — it’s actually transforming the way our customers think about themselves and their bodies. I’ve also loved seeing how many people have been drawing on their templates with children watching and joining in the fun (such as here and here). It makes me so happy to think about the body-positive messages this sends on so many different levels.
And are you focused on the existing product right now and letting the world know about it, or are you already dreaming up what’s next for MyBodyModel?
I’m already working on raising funds and recruiting testers for the next development phase! I have a long wish list and lots of big ideas for the future, but we’re still just getting started. Currently the app is able to render female croquis only; I hope to offer male croquis by this fall, as well as some optional adjustment options. Our R&D budget depends on current sales, and we always prioritize based on customer feedback, so I’m also still very focused on letting the world know about MyBodyModel and our existing product offerings! Thankfully our customers, our testers and our original Kickstarter backers are our biggest champions, so that makes my job a whole lot easier.
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Thanks so much, Erica!
I should note that Erica invited me to try out the app during the testing stage, and I have yet to find time, but I’ll be rectifying that asap!
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All photos via MyBodyModel, used with permission