Taking the beauty industry by storm

Parham Aarabi, PhD, LEL, is the founder and CEO of ModiFace Inc., a company filled to the rafters with engineers who are leading a tech revolution in Toronto.

When a technology comes onto the scene and revolutionizes an industry, the big players take notice. And that’s something ModiFace Inc. Founder and CEO Parham Aarabi, PhD, LEL, knows all about.

ModiFace is a Toronto-based company that uses augmented reality and artificial intelligence to create advanced facial-modelling and facial-simulation software for the beauty and medical industries, offering a technology the world has never seen before. Although the technology was initially created for the medical industry—and the company counts pharmaceutical companies among its core client demographic—ModiFace soon recognized a gap they could fill in the behemoth cosmetics industry. “We realized a long time ago there was a need for augmented reality for the face—making simulations on live video that can change someone’s hair or lip colour or simulate skincare effects on the face,” Aarabi explains. “That’s what ModiFace does.”

Anyone who picks up a smartphone and uses an app that incorporates ModiFace’s technology can look at themselves in real time and apply different makeup looks, like pick alternate shades of lipstick, eyeshadow or blush or even change their hair colour. The technology affords customers the opportunity to virtually try before they buy and is a perfect fit for the world of beauty, offering convenience and reducing waste by preventing erroneous purchases.

The technology works, and the industry took notice. ModiFace, which Aarabi founded 11 years ago, is now used by over 100 cosmetics brands and was recently acquired by cosmetics industry giant L’Oréal. Cosmetics-store chains like Sephora have already incorporated ModiFace’s augmented reality technology into their apps. Others, like MAC Cosmetics, are incorporating the technology into mirrors customers can peer into at MAC stores.

Aarabi sees the L’Oréal acquisition as a huge opportunity for the company to grow considerably and make a significant impact on the Toronto tech scene. “Beauty is one of these large, $400-billion industries that’s being impacted by technology, and if you look at the epicentre, at a company that’s been making that technology revolution in beauty happen, the answer, often, is ModiFace, right here in downtown Toronto,” Aarabi says. “L’Oréal acquiring us is a testament that ModiFace is a significant player when it comes to beauty technology. The partnership with L’Oréal will only make us stronger. There will be more resources, more energy and a lot more excitement to change the entire beauty industry, and, in doing so, make Toronto a centre for that revolution.”

With an already well-established career in tech, Aarabi, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University and a master’s in computer engineering from the University of Toronto, is no stranger to that world. He is the inventor of numerous patents, author of over 150 peer-reviewed papers and two books, The Art of Lecturing and Phase-Based Speech Processing; and his work has appeared in The New York Times and Scientific American and on the Discovery Channel.

Recognized early in his career and frequently decorated, Aarabi is the winner of countless prestigious awards, such as the Premier’s Catalyst Award for Innovation (2008), Canada Research Chair in Internet Video, Audio and Image Search (2007), Ontario Early Researcher Award (2005), MIT’s Technology Review 35 Innovators under 35 (2005), IEEE Mac Van Valkenburg Early Career Teaching Award (2004), and Canada Research Chair in Multi-Sensor Information Systems (2002).

Aarabi is also an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, and ModiFace’s headquarters is located near the university in the downtown core. The company recently invested $4 million in undergraduate and graduate internships as well as support for University of Toronto engineering research, and with 50 of the company’s 70 engineers coming from the university, there’s a significant connection that’s only likely to grow.

That connection isn’t lost on Aarabi, who expects the company to grow exponentially, and with ModiFace moving forward at breakneck speed, he’s seeking more engineers to join the ranks. On the bevy of local engineering talent and Engineering Dimensions readership, he says, “We would love to talk to them about joining ModiFace.”