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Digital Transformation 101: Creating Your Custom Design Workflow

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In today’s guest post, Avihay Feld, Chief Product Officer at Browzwear, continues Browzwear’s series with us. This piece discusses the evolution of fashion design, and the future of automated design. Avihay is responsible for the vision and delivery of Browzwear’s products. He has over 20 years of experience in managing technology products, and in addition to Browzwear, lead start-ups in e-retail and gaming. 

Even just a decade ago, the workflow to get a garment from concept to the sales floor looked completely different than it does today. Much like the fashion industry itself, the processes involved in getting the next trendy skirt or jacket into the hands of the consumer is constantly changing and evolving. Today, with new technologies and processes, we find ourselves in the midst of a digital transformation.

So, what does a digital design workflow look like, and why should it pique your interest? As you begin to consider which technologies can benefit your brand and how, there are capabilities and considerations you need to keep in mind. In this article, we will share some useful guidelines for choosing the right solutions for your business.

Fashion design: then and now

We’ve seen flapper skirts, A-line dresses, penny loafers, bell bottoms, skinny jeans, pencil skirts, poodle skirts, mini skirts and everything in between. Like any other kind of design, fashion design has changed over time as it has been influenced by cultural and social attitudes.

In today’s fashion design and production workflow, different people typically handle individual tasks. Designers spend time sketching and creating, while other teams handle steps like development, sourcing and merchandising . A digital workflow can empower designers to own more than just their ideas, providing tools to help them with trend predictions and business considerations like costing and sourcing in real time as they work, thereby shortening design cycles from months to mere hours.

What’s your design personality?

Each brand and every industry – from sportswear to couture to bathing suits or children’s wear -has its own workflow and its own “design personality,” both at the corporate and the individual designer level. Trend-following brands, like trend following designers, tend to adopt popular styles that have been proven in the market, and then create a version with their own twist for the next season. Generally the process relies heavily on current market feedback and what is selling well at any moment.

This approach also makes sound business sense. Conservative consumers are slower to adopt new trends, sometimes waiting a few years until a trend becomes a standard. For example, we saw high-waist jeans enter the market after many years of very low-cut waist lines. At the beginning, only trendsetting consumers were buying and wearing this style of jeans and they were only found in boutiques and specialty shops. Slowly, designers and consumers began to embrace the trend, and today, almost every brand has its version of high waist jeans.

In contrast, some brands are the trend innovators who create new and innovative design concepts and introduce them to the market. Their ideas are invented from scratch, often inspired by street fashion or by unique concepts they see from top couture designers, who bring the cutting edge trends to fashion shows. And some brands do a combination of both.

Both different corporate and designer personalities can affect the specific steps in the digital workflow. While some designers can do the entire design from new silhouettes to material trims and graphics, others are skilled to change existing silhouettes, while others focus on carryover and continuing styles with an emphasis on materials, colorways, graphics and details such as trim constructions, embroideries and more.

Some designers are able to create sketches and produce samples, while in other companies the process involves a combination of inputs from an apparel designer, pattern and fit specialists and graphic artists – each of whom manages their expert contribution to formulate the end co-designed product. Every kind of designer can benefit from digital tools to help them do their job better; the key is to find the right combination of digital tools that offer enough flexibility and support for them to continue to work the way they want to work without disrupting their creativity as they transition.

Different garments, different workflows

For some brands, new designs may make up only a small portion of sales. The majority of their sales may come from block-driven designs (based on pattern blocks) which start with one silhouette that is developed into an updated style. A shirt may have long sleeves or short sleeves, or there may be different variations of one garment that are similar enough that consumers know and can rely on similar fits across the same size, even if the garments are not exactly the same.

With carry-over styles, the original may have been designed in a previous season, but this season the designers decide to change colors or trims. Carry-over styles are usually based on garments that sold well in the last season or something that became a fashion icon, but just needs a new twist. Consumers can easily recognize these garments and remember them as something that they liked.

Different garments have different workflows and different requirements before production. Sportswear is all about fabric, design and fit issues (i.e. movement, extreme movement), while jeans may start with a sketch, but multiple iterations will be needed to perfect the wash and the stitches, pockets, colors and details (i.e. holes/rips). With any garment that may have multiple versions, the goal with a digital workflow is to shorten the time between each iteration.

Enter …the digital workflow

3D technologies help any brand and all designers quickly adapt to the latest trends or create new concepts of proven styles, no matter what kind of design personality they have. Designers who love sketching with pencil and paper can continue to sketch by hand and still enjoy the benefits of a digital workflow.

In a digital workflow, the next step is to transform sketches to a 3D garment or sample. With 2D sketches and physical samples, the process involves sample creation and then shipping those samples from point A to point B where feedback may have to be physically drawn on the garment and shipped back to the factory for a round of improvements. Once created digitally, feedback and adjustments can be made on the 3D sample. In a 3D digital workflow, every aspect of the garment is now digital, so all processes of communication and collaboration are faster and more streamlined. Iterations can be made directly on the 3D sample and even if teams are in different countries, the iterations can be done in real-time.

Where design and manufacturing meet

Sometimes a designer may create concepts that are, in actuality, too complicated or too expensive to manufacture. They may have gone through several physical samples and rounds of feedback before the process was halted due to cost or factory limitation. With a digital workflow, designers can design to cost and design to time, using only materials that will be available according to a particular timeline or cost restraints.

A finalized, high quality 3D visualization can be used to sell the garment before it is ever produced in a physical form. In order to meet the demands of producing garments as they’re ordered, a 3D digital workflow enables designers to know as they design if the concepts they’re developing are actually possible to produce according to costs, available materials and the capabilities of the factories.

New printing systems can connect directly to 3D tools to communicate directly with brands and understand all the technical details of a garment, allowing companies to move quickly and make smaller production runs as they are needed. Smaller production runs mean less wasted inventory and lower costs.

The future is automated design

In the world of fashion, we are beginning to understand just what 3D enables brands and designers to accomplish more precisely and with fewer resources. With trend and style data continuously streaming in, designers can keep an eye on exactly what is and will be popular. That information can be used to design, create and quickly produce unrestricted numbers of iterations in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Designers will no longer be stuck making tedious adjustments on physical samples and awaiting teams in multiple locations to get back to them. They can simply adjust their styles, apply endless combinations of colors and finishes and then sign off on their work. The digital age will help bring designers back to what they love …seeing their creative ideas turn into beautiful designs that people love and want to buy. But with the help of digital tools and new technologies, the process from start to finish will be a matter of days, rather than months.

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Lydia Hanson Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.