Shimmy Upskill: Empowering a new digital workforce with play
An AI-based learning game to upskill factory workers as sewing automation eliminates jobs.
Pitch us on your solution
The apparel industry is automating to increase speed-to-market, produce fully inclusive product lines, and lay the groundwork for customization. These technological changes will lower costs and improve the way clothes fit, but they will have serious global social impacts for the 75M garment workers in danger of losing their jobs. Most of these workers are women, concentrated in low-income countries, with limited economic opportunities.
Shimmy Technologies believes the future of work in the apparel industry should be fun, efficient, and fair -- and designed with a people-first mindset. Our SaaS-based applications help apparel brands and manufacturers automate manual processes and optimize workforce skills, aiding in the industry’s digital transformation.
Since 2018, our pilots of Shimmy Upskill, a game-based training, have taught us how we can help workers build existing skills and leapfrog into the highly valuable digital jobs of the future -- in the factories where they work and beyond.
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What is the problem you are solving?
The ILO predicts that 60-88% of the 75M garment workers will be affected by automation. The ILO reports that ASEAN countries facing the highest risk of automation are Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam where 60-80% of the workforce are women, concentrated in the lower tiers of the supply chain as helpers and sewing machine operators. Women here often lack formalized education, leaving them without marketable skills to find other work.
Shimmy believes the move to automation will further disproportionately impact women, pushing them out of employment first, as:
The male breadwinner model gives men priority for jobs;
Factories will retain workers who can operate different types of machines and women are often overlooked for mechanical and technical training;
The unfounded cultural belief that women lack the innate technical ability of men.
The advent of automation is not only a concern for workers at risk of being left behind, but employers and countries whose GDP is heavily dependent on garment industries. Both need to invest in and embrace technological transformations or face losing out to competitors.
Shimmy believes that coordinated effort is needed between industry, government, NGOs, and educational intermediaries. We have been scoping and formalizing partnerships to this end since 2018.
Who are you serving?
Any technology must be designed with early input from users. We conducted two betas with garment workers in NYC before taking the tool to Bangladesh and Indonesia. We conducted focus groups with participants outside work to better understand their needs. We learned:
Workers want to increase take home pay, have more time outside work and be treated with respect. They enjoy learning through games. When asked to rate their fear of automation, all expressed concern.
Fear of technology and of failure are the first barriers to overcome. Workers are judged on accuracy and speed and are uncomfortable with curious exploration or making mistakes. Participants were hesitant in case of financial responsibility if equipment breaks. Our game mechanisms provided encouragement, communicated trust and helped participants become comfortable with technology.
Voice commands and simple icons help where literacy levels vary.
Users gain transferable skills. Participants gained insights into apparel production overall, picking up sewing and pattern-related terms in English. Participants with low computer proficiency learned basic functions.
Eighteen months later, participants are operating multiple machines. They credit this to Shimmy Upskill because it helped them understand the entire process of clothing manufacture. Factory management was pleased with participants’ increased productivity and capacity.
What is your solution?
Shimmy aligns human worker capabilities with the rate of change in machines. We use our award-winning video game, Shimmy Upskill, to train workers for the higher paying higher skilled positions of the future.
Shimmy Upskill helps apparel manufacturers assess skills and train their workers so they can increase productivity, deploy workers to multiple machines, increase gender balance in the higher paid technical jobs in the factory, and increase 3D and CAD capacity to take on more orders and inclusive sizing of clothes.
Apparel brands want a digital supply chain: ready for industry 4.0, working lean for lower COGs, and utilizing digital models so they can cut time in product development and explore new sustainable materials.
At a level above these, Shimmy helps governments scale digital literacy initiatives and quickly reskill their working population. Reskilling and upskilling benefits countries because they can diversify export industries ahead of the shifts automation will bring in reshoring garment production closer to demand for clothes.
We designed our training to scale. It takes four hours and is conducted in factory training classrooms by trainers Shimmy Technologies has trained. Workers use inexpensive tablets and complete four modules, all based in the digital literacies they need for the future of manufacturing work – digital pattern annotation, CAD, CAM, digital controllers, and 3D modeling.
Our pilots proved that Shimmy’s method for training workers, particularly ones without any formal education after fourth grade, is highly effective.
As the majority of workers have never used smartphones, tablets, or computers before, we took care to design a novel human computer interaction model that works for them.
In order to reach and teach the workers, we utilized artificial intelligence capabilities like natural language processing and other forms of machine learning. In order to build a business that can underwrite inexpensive, scalable training to this population, we utilize a reciprocal apprenticing AI that learns alongside the workers and can be deployed to automate tasks in the product development process.
With Shimmy Upskill, we strove to create something as addictive as Road Rampage, as approachable as an older sister, and as valuable to apparel brands and manufacturers as multi-year training programs. Shimmy Upskill has so far proven that new disruptive, gaming technology can quickly teach while testing their aptitude for new design and automated machine operator roles within the factories where they already work.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:New York, NY, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Shimmy Upskill is innovative in its use of gamification and AI technology but also through Shimmy’s user-centered approach which strives to provide meaningful, long-term impact for all stakeholders we serve - the garment worker, the factory owner/employer and the apparel brands who are their end-customers. Often up/re-skilling tools are pushed to the workforce without their input, and we've been deliberate in inviting them in to help us design the solution.
• Gamification - Shimmy uses the fun of game technology to achieve longer-lasting results and doesn’t require trainees to have digital skills, formal education or literacy.
• Reputation - As a women-owned, operated and orientated, US-based, social enterprise, we put the female garment worker and their active participation at the centre of what we do. We have invested in building broad partnerships within the space since 2018.
• Competitively priced - By understanding the needs of our paying customers, we can have the greatest impact and gain market share rapidly where cost is a key determinant for employers choosing training.
• Natively built to play nicely with AI - As part of our vision to become the ‘Intel inside’ of the apparel industry, our solutions are capable of actively capturing data on trainee performance, enabling them to craft a dynamic career path for the future of work while providing insights to help apparel brands and manufacturers automate manual processes and optimize workforce skills, providing insights in preparation for the industry’s digital transformation.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
We have gathered evidence through beta tests and pilots with our target demographic as well as focus groups of garment workers conducted at home and away from the working environment.
We have been proactive to validate our assumptions with all the stakeholders we serve by gathering barriers/pain points with apparel brands and retailers, garment manufacturing factory owners, and machine/software vendors with new technology positioned to disrupt and innovate the apparel industry in the coming years, and even doing ethnography by sitting on the sewing lines in garment factories.
Alongside that research focused on people, their drive to automation, and their fear about the unknown, our Apparel Automation Pulse research will look at the automation trend from the perspective of the equipment itself.
We see our impact happening in income growth for workers, their families, their industry, and in turn, their home countries. The Theory of Change above is our hypothesis on how our interventions will bring changes at those systemic levels.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Across 3 pilots in Bangladesh and Indonesia we have served 26 beneficiaries, providing upskilling and seeing them progress in their careers from sewing machine operators to multiple machine operators. We have trained 14 trainers in those countries. Within one year, through the roll out of our training with partners, we anticipate reaching 2250 beneficiaries and within 5 years we aim to serve ~500,000 beneficiaries within Bangladesh and 5,000 through pilots in other markets.
We are very keen to develop our M&E strategy to measure secondary impacts, beyond the number of women garment workers trained. These could include:
short and long-term increase in income as a result of training;
gender balance in technical jobs in factories;
overall the success of the factories as a result of embracing the advancement of women workers in technical roles/the adoption of automation (such metrics could be increased productivity, cost savings, increased sales, revenue from 3D model based selling).
We are keen to monitor any potential negative impacts we may unintentionally have, especially around any violence or harassment triggered by resistance to gender equality within the workplace or any other cultural sensitivities we may encroach on with our approach. We are keen to continue our regular focus groups in order to identify novel or new ways in which we can engage with our target demographic - for example - the recent discovery that garment workers often sing while they are working and this could be an engaging way to learn collaboratively and inclusively without requiring literacy.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Over the next two years, we will develop the partnerships and product features needed to get Shimmy to recurring revenue from SaaS licenses. Because we have some traction in Bangladesh already and the market conditions are right, we’ll focus there first.
Our work over the next two years will be to do three things:
1. Build concrete agreement for upskilling garment factory workers.
2. Build out the right content to get workers into meaningful career pathways.
3. Begin to upskill workers at scale through partnerships.
This three-step approach will ensure Shimmy aligns with other evolving initiatives already underway like the World Economic Forum’s Preparing for the Future of Work in Advanced Manufacturing Taskforce so the work is coordinated and all the organizations involved can move towards the goal of upskilling the workforce in tandem and we can begin seeding our R&D efforts to reskill workers into other manufacturing segments as garment factory jobs lessen.
Within the next five years we will have developed partnerships which will enable us to reach hundreds of thousands of workers within Bangladesh as well as starting pilots in other ASEAN countries.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Risks & Barriers
1. Cultural - working in ASEAN markets as a US team we could be culturally insensitive or misunderstand gender roles in the workplace with worst case being women workers are harassed or assaulted by male workers who are resistant to gender equality.
2. Long Sales Cycles -- enterprise sales cycles to apparel brands, machine and technology companies, and large implementation organizations are long and we have to balance the benefit of those large deals with keeping revenue coming in.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
1.We will use a local implementation partner for soft-skill training and to design and complete regular M&E assessments, including assessing workplace attitudes of male colleagues.
2. Our strategic partner, Microsoft is mentoring us with sales leaders in the countries where we are piloting. From them, we'll learn the right format for sales engagements and how to progress them faster.
We recently won the Acumen Fund Civic X Accelerator prize and plan to put that $50K towards a partial salary for a full time sales person with experience selling early stage technology.
If you selected “I am planning to expand my solution to one or more of ServiceNow’s primary markets,” please provide an overview of your expansion plans. What is the market opportunity for your business or product here?
Considering the rise of local/sustainable reshored manufacturing we see potential to support US employers, and others across ServiceNow’s primary markets, more effectively tap into a diverse workforce, and address systemic barriers to the apparel and retail industries adopting transformative technologies.
A 2017 Brookings report found that ~60% new jobs created since 2010 require medium or high-level digital skills, yet in the US, a 50% shortage of computer/IT graduates is expected by 2024. Individuals entering the workforce without market-ready technical skills risk being left behind.
We estimate that U.S. Apparel brands waste $16B in wages spent on redundant work, SKU proliferation, and lost opportunities for incremental revenue from personalized clothing. Why? Because today’s workforce and manufacturing workflows are ill-equipped to meet the fast turnaround times to fulfill trend-based shopping via social media, or for retail’s transformation to in-store fit services, AR e-commerce experiences, body scanning, and personalization. All of these trends require new technology adoption – be it machines in factories or software in design rooms - and there is considerable friction that could be removed if training were more effective and user-centric.
While the future apparel industry will not absorb every worker into a new digital role, there is value in all workers getting digital training as a first step to a future-proof career. While Shimmy has piloted in Bangladesh and Indonesia, our patent-pending data backbone facilitates easy translation and scaling to multiple languages and geographies including quickly reskilling American workers to increase capacity for American garment production.
Select an option below:
How many people work on your solution team?
Shimmy Technologies has:
Full time staff 2 (looking to hire a further 2 within Bangladesh)
Part-time staff 2
Active Advisors 5
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Shimmy Upskill is the result of 3 years of development, beta testing and piloting.
Sarah, the founder of Shimmy Technologies, has worked at the intersection of design, social impact, and technology for over a decade – most recently by creating X Swimwear, a custom, AI-driven clothing line, and before that, building VR trainings for construction workers and safety professionals at Human Condition Labs. Before that, Ms. Krasley lead an emerging technology group at Autodesk where she and her team built and commercialized design and data management tools for hundreds of thousands of industrial designers, engineers, and factory owners and operators all over the world.
Across the team we have a broad range of complementary skills as per the organizational chart above.
Shimmy’s Advisory Board is extremely active with many members engaging in Shimmy work for at least several hours each week. Our advisors are listed below alongside their expertise areas:
• A.C. Betts (Marketing and PR)
• Nancy Johnson, (Apparel Technology, Consulting, and Sales to Brands)
• Dave Weiner, (Industry Trends, Start-up Operations, Finance)
• Bill O’Connor, (Future of Work, Automation, Silicon Valley)
• Matthew Wettergreen, (Engineering Education to non-traditional learners)
• Tatjana Dzambazova, (CAD, Artificial Intelligence, Data Modeling, Software Development)
• Akshay Shrimanker, Accounting and Bookkeeping
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
There is broad agreement amongst policymakers, worker advocates, and garment industry professionals that, in theory, something should be done to upskill the workforce, with particular attention paid to female workers. Effectively upskilling, reskilling, and reallocating the RMG workforce with only minimal disruption to income and wellbeing will require coordinated effort between government agencies, intergovernmental bodies, NGOs, trade associations, schools, factories, brands, worker support organizations, and solution providers.
To our knowledge, Shimmy is currently the only organization to have developed and piloted a solution to address this issue, but we cannot act alone. To that end, we need to share the vision of a people-first path to an automated future to get buy in and secure strong partnerships that can carry this initiative forward long term.
What is your business model?
We believe the future of work should be fun, efficient, and fair for the 75M garment workers and the businesses that employ them. We use our award-winning video game technology to train workers for the higher-paying, higher-skilled positions of the future-now and will connect to a broader set of applications that will create an automated, more efficient way to make clothes over time.
Garment manufacturers need a scalable way to assess the skills of their workforce and quickly train workers so they can do multiple jobs and work on new machines and software. Shimmy solves this problem by selling customizable digital training and data management applications with wrap around consulting services to assess workforce skills and needs across a supply chain. Our current training can give a worker a basic set of digital literacies and help a factory adopt new technology with less friction.
Over time, we plan to operate as a two-way marketplace by offering technology services to machine companies wishing to offload the burden of creating training content.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Since incorporation Shimmy Technologies has been funded through grants and consulting revenue but we are now seeking to build product revenue.
If we succeed in landing one of our partner organisations for roll out, we anticipate we could be working with up to 50 affiliated factories by the end of 2020, supporting the ongoing training of estimated ~2250 garment workers with SaaS seat subscriptions of Shimmy Upskill.
In the next two years, we hope to engage all early adopters within the Bangladeshi market and, after completing successful pilots within 2-3 other markets, decide which new market to enter using the same approach of building strategic partnerships to enable rapid scaling across affiliated factory groups or the suppliers from the supply chain of an apparel brand looking to invest in ethical digital transformation.
We will look to further develop the training we offer and partner with machine and software vendors to develop bespoke training programs for their hardware/software. We anticipate this could be a further source of revenue for us, as we will be solving a pain point for vendors.
In the next five years, we will upskill ~500k workers at risk of being left behind by automation. We will also expect to have entered 2-3 markets across ASEAN region and run advanced pilots within US and Europe.
Why are you applying to the Digital Workforce Challenge?
Our vision is to really enable a digital workflow that gives way to a better way of making clothes. In order to do that we have to partner incumbent technology solutions already used by brands and retailers.
We wish to remain technology agnostic and form as many partnerships as possible with technology vendors creating software and machine solutions that will displace workers. We see ServiceNow as having great competencies in this area and we’d like to receive mentorship on how to structure deals with technology providers so that co-development, co-selling, and support operations run smoothly. Helping us plan for these partnerships and the opportunity to have coaching as the deals solidify would be hugely impactful. Additionally, we’ll soon start to formalize our enterprise sales process and would love to learn how ServiceNow approaches GoToMarket, sales planning, and account management.
Lastly, we’d plan to use this experience as a way to boost Shimmy’s credibility and will engage in thought leadership activities related to inclusivity, gender balance, and the future of work after the award is announced. We’d hope that these efforts will enhance our ability to cement the partnerships we need to help us scale. We’d love to partner with ServiceNow to amplify these efforts, helping us boost our reputation as a credible supplier of upskilling and insights.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to partner with the following organisations:
1. Brands and retailers that source in Bangladesh
All factory management with whom we piloted Shimmy Upskill advocated for us to build brand partnerships with suppliers who source in Bangladesh so Shimmy can be part of brand scorecards. Walmart is a dream partner in order to build a critical mass of suppliers who are willing and able to implement Shimmy Upskill.
2. Visionary owners who are willing to promote women into digital jobs.
We plan to highlight the one Bangladeshi factory owner who has currently staffed his CAD department with female workers to help other factory owners see the benefits of working with Shimmy to build career pathways for female workers in their factories.
3. Organizations that have access to workers.
Shimmy is in talks with BRAC to add Shimmy Upskill to their “One Stop Service Center- Industrial Sewing Training” and to administer the training through their network. Through this, the expanded pilots will reach an 2,000+ workers. Other organizations include AWAJ Foundation or ILO Better Work.
4. Industry stakeholders and associations.
There’s still rampant misunderstanding about how automated production will impact garment manufacturing an In partnership with WEF’s Advanced Manufacturing Work Stream and BGMEA, we highlighted industry trends at Davos2020 and will share results of our Apparel Automation Pulse case studies. Further affiliations like this build credibility and support our thought leadership activities which have brought us customers, partners, and team.
- Sarah Krasley CEO, Shimmy Technologies