River Island x Google Cardboard


What happens when you mix fashion and virtual reality?

River Island Google Cardboard
All photography by Ben Broomfield

To launch their collaboration with designer Jean-Pierre Braganza, River Island decided to immerse their viewers in a 360° film experience…with a little help from an old-school cardboard headset. Once viewers downloaded an app and put their smartphone into the headset, they were transported to a futuristic, animated world. Pretty clever mix of old and new, if you ask us. Here we chat with River Island’s Brand Marketing Manager, Mary McClenahan, about what it took to give their customers a dose of virtual reality.

Where did the idea come from for River Island’s Google Cardboard event and what did it involve?
At River Island we have an initiative called Design Forum where we work with different designers each season to produce a limited edition collection. This season we worked with Jean-Pierre Braganza. Within his collection there was a print that was a King Fisher and motorcycle, which we were really inspired by. We felt it would lend itself well to a computer generated film as the aesthetic was very futuristic. We’d heard about Google Cardboard and it seemed like a fantastic way to extend the reach of the film making it accessible to our customers. This involved taking the assets that had been created for the animated film and using these to build a virtual reality app viewers could engage with via their smartphone and Google Cardboard.

How long did it take to create the virtual reality from start to finish – did people at River Island expect it to take a lot longer or shorter?
It took around 8 weeks to create the app; this was roughly what we expected but was fairly intensive. As with any creative process you can spend months polishing the elements, but we had a launch deadline of Fashion Week so we had to be strict!

What are the key steps of creating a virtual reality piece?
I’m not a tech expert but the key things for us were ensuring that the film’s aesthetic was beautiful, engaging and that it really inspired people to check out the collection and ultimately feel part of it.

What was your testing process like – did you only use internal staff, how long did it take and what did you look for? What sort of steps can people take to ensure their VR will work?
We worked closely with the production agency, Happy Finish and our development team here at River Island before it was submitted to Apple and Google Play. It’s important to ensure that the user journey is logical and that the functionality is easy to use. It’s a good idea to test it on people who are brand new to the tech and see if they can use it.

How was e-commerce incorporated into the same app and why was this important?
People using the app were able to click through and buy the collection. It was important that the journey was a 360 joined-up experience – engaging, inspiring and ultimately buying the collection. We didn’t want it to feel separate.

What were some of the biggest challenges in using virtual reality?
Any kind of new technology comes with challenges, mainly that if it hasn’t been done before you are learning as you go. However this is really what makes the project exciting!

What criteria should businesses look for in selecting a VR platform to work with? Why did River Island decide to use Google Cardboard over other platforms?
What we liked about Google Cardboard was how a simple, cheap piece of kit could fully immerse someone in virtual reality. There is of course the Oculus Rift which is a great experience too, but we all walk around with some of the most advanced computers in our pockets so we thought, ‘Why not take advantage of this?’


Michele Ham



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