Tech

Parfait wants to use AI to transform the $13 billion wig market

When Isoken Igbinedion was 10, she had a “very dangerous encounter” with chemical relaxants that caused her natural hair to fall out. She spent the next 20 years using hair extensions to give her hair a chance to grow back. And during that time, she realized just how much friction there was in the hair products and services market.

“In those 20 years, we’ve seen very few innovations used to improve the hair buying and installation process for customers or the manufacturing process,” says Igbinedion, 30.

And so, the vision for Parfait came into focus, a direct-to-consumer platform that uses AI to better customize wigs from head size to lace front tint.

Co-founded by Igbinedion alongside her sister Ifueko, Marlyse Reeves and Simone Kendle, Parfait is coming out of beta with a waiting list of more than 10,000 customers. The company recently announced $5 million in a seed round led by Upfront Ventures and Serena Ventures, which will go toward ramping up production and automating its supply chain to better penetrate the wig and hair extensions market expected to grow nearly 15% to $13.2 billion by 2026.

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Isoken Igbinedion [Photo: courtesy of Parfait]

“At a time when technology began to make everyday people’s lives easier with driverless vehicles and smartphones, and to improve our ability to connect with people, little attention is paid to solving problems for marginalized communities,” says Isoken , now CEO of the company. “And this issue is deeply felt by black women, especially in the beauty industry.”

The other problem, it turned out, was the very data Parfait was trying to use to cater to its core demographic. When the team tried to account for factors like skin tone, existing open-source facial recognition datasets just weren’t comprehensive enough.

“Even the algorithm used to detect a face in an image is biased due to the nature of the dataset,” says Parfait CTO Ifueko Igbinedion. “There aren’t really many black women represented.”

In recent years, bias in AI has been studied extensively, especially in facial recognition software. Unlawful Arrests and discriminatory recruitment illustrate how communities of color are routinely at the mercy of the whims of technology, which is touted as agnostic but has little regulation over how the code is written—or whether the code even honors them. Organizations like Timnit Gebru’s DAIR and Joy Buolamwini’s Algorithmic Justice League are pushing for more just AI in big tech – and Parfait wants to do the same in the beauty industry.

“Often we think that using AI in our community isn’t really valuable because our community doesn’t deserve that kind of technology,” says Ifueko. “But we’re really showing it, our community not only deserves it, our community needs it.”

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Ifueko Igbinedion [Photo: courtesy of Parfait]

Parfait customers choose the texture and cut of their wig, then are asked to take multiple selfies from different angles to find the right size and skin tone. From there, an in-house human stylist accesses the AI’s prediction before customizing the wig, e.g. B. plucking the hairline, coloring the lace front, etc.

“I think it’s hard to say that any AI will be perfect,” says Ifueko. “And so we’re really focused on having that human interaction inside the loop so we have an accurate prediction.”

In terms of pricing, Parfait co-founder and CMO Simone Kendle notes that the quality of Parfait’s wigs would normally be over $2,000, but due to the DTC and automated production elements, the wigs cost anywhere from $400 to $800 -Dollar.

“We’re bringing that price down quite a bit — and we’re also speeding up the timeline,” she says. Rather than potentially waiting months for a wig, Parfait’s turnaround time is five to seven business days.

Parfait is working on having visualization capabilities on its website, similar to how Warby Parker, for example, allows customers to try on glasses virtually. The company also has plans to scale up its manufacturing process.

“The manufacturing in this industry is so archaic,” says Isoken. “Our current vision is to create a fully automated manufacturing pipeline. We’ve already done proof of concept tests that showed us that we’ll be able to use computer vision technology and robotics to actually start building these [wigs] from the source.”

As Parfait’s records grow, there could be an opportunity to make a broader impact across the beauty industry.

“We can expand [our technology] to any other type of beauty or fashion issue where existing datasets don’t get your lip shape features, your cheekbone features, or your ear shapes,” says Marlyse Reeves, co-founder and COO of Parfait. “We have found solutions to some of these problems and I think we will continue to find solutions to some of these problems. And I hope it can be an example of how simply changing the way you think and applying more diversity to the data you use can provide solutions.”

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Marlys Reeves [Photo: courtesy of Parfait]

However, the question of data security is always valid, especially with something like buying wigs, which historically customers have not needed AI for. Knowing that Parfait will be difficult to sell for some customers, Isoken is committed to transparency and the message that this technology works for them, not against them.

“We use this data to develop products and experiences for our community,” says Isoken. “There was this notion that technology was either too dangerous for black people, or it wasn’t made for black people, or that black people shouldn’t be involved with technology.”

Of course, parfait isn’t just for women of color. The company is launching a campaign that showcases the wide range of women who wear wigs and the multiple reasons why. However, as Isoken notes, “We want to continue using our data to be able to continue developing products that start finding solutions for more marginalized people, because internally we believe that when we look for margins, we find solutions for everyone. “

https://www.fastcompany.com/90738793/how-parfait-aims-to-use-ai-to-disrupt-the-13-billion-wig-market?partner=feedburner&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feedburner+fastcompany&utm_content=feedburner Parfait wants to use AI to transform the $13 billion wig market

JACLYN DIAZ

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