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Digitalisation: A Revolution in Three Dimensions

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Avihay Feld shares his beliefs on 3D digitalisation with us in this: an exclusive article originally running in WhichPLM’s Annual Review 2014. As COO of 3D visualisation and design tool developers Browzwear, Avihay Feld has worked for a number of years creating innovative solutions for apparel and accessories, with an emphasis on realistic fabric simulation and human parametric avatars. In this article, Avihay explains his belief that 3D virtualisation should sit at the heart of any retailer or brand’s broader digital transformation.

Digitalisation, as I see it, is one of the most important transformations our world has undergone since the industrial revolution. In every corner of the globe, industries from the consumer-facing to the purely B2B are making the transition to digital working – each at its own pace, and each following its own unique path, but all striving towards the same end goal.

Today, the question around digitalisation is not why your business should make the transition, but how. And this gives rise to a difficult situation: enterprise leaders understand the drive for digital transformation, but find themselves tasked with making decisions that often fall outside their own area of expertise, and even beyond the core competencies of their organisations.

While I cannot claim to have the answers for every industry, my position does give me the experience to explain why I believe true-to-life 3D apparel visualisation should be a key element of the digital transition for any business in the garment industry.

The challenge

Garment creation is a complex process, and one that is becoming even more complex over time. From the moment a garment is conceived to the time it is shipped, various professional departments, suppliers, agents, stakeholders and contractors, in different locations, will use a wide variety of different digital and physical tools to complete their tasks.

The sheer number of different people and processes that interact to create a single product make effective collaboration absolutely vital for any retailer or brand wishing to “go digital”. And it’s here – collaborative working throughout the design, development and marketing processes – that I believe fashion companies can achieve real value from 3D visualisation. Some of these benefits might include:

Improve communication and visualisation

Apparel companies have a critical need to improve communication between decision makers around the world. In the early stages this communication is typically confined to text and numerical content, and images. But since product samples begin to be created halfway through the process, the need suddenly then exists for a method of accurately communicating something physical. Today, that kind of communication is handled via costly international shipping, but by examining just how we do things today, it should be easy to see how effective 3D visualisation of products before, during, and after the sample stage can be more efficient and cost effective.

Today, designers work with 2D design tools, then send the results to patternmakers who develop 2D patterns to match. The patterns then go to manufacturing where samples are created, often without the actual fabric required. The sample is then shipped back to the brand, where finally the designer and the marketing teams can provide reliable feedback. There is often a great deal of misunderstanding, excess cost, and frustration along the way, and this is one of the most potent examples of how digitalisation can transform established ways of working.

To enable all stakeholders to interact with the product at every stage, apparel companies can instead focus their energies on creating photorealistic prototypes as early as possible in the process. 3D visualisation and a platform for sharing, annotating and collaborating on 3D designs and prototypes can have a major impact on not just methods of working, but logistics costs, design cycle times, product quality and more.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. So it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to consider the virtually limitless potential that 3D visualisation has to complement (and even replace) traditional methods of communication product inspirations, changes, and physical samples. Indeed, communicating garments using photorealistic 3D representation is second only to viewing the actual physical garment: it reduces the need for metadata, lengthy text explanations and guesswork; and it helps all the parties involved to be on the same page at any given moment, allowing them to make more educated decisions and achieve the required result when that first physical sample is actually constructed.

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Shorten product development cycles and reduce waste

The traditional paradigm of passing designs, patterns and samples back and forth around the world is a process prone to errors, rife with misunderstandings, and one that takes far longer than any business would like – particularly when we consider the demand for on-trend and “fast” fashion.

In its place, apparel companies undergoing a digital transformation need a shared platform for visualising designs, patterns and prototypes from the earliest possible stages. A solution that will enable them to shorten cycles, reduce errors, and communicate effectively throughout the product lifecycle.

This approach is already being pioneered by a number of forward-thinking brands: Adidas, for example, has invested heavily in three-dimensional working over the last few years, and has begun to achieve interesting results and a clear return on investment. According to sustainability figures published in April 2014, increasing their use of virtual sampling allowed Adidas to eliminate close to 1.5 million physical samples between 2010 and 2013.

When we consider the costs that would have been associated with making, shipping, revising and remaking those iterative physical samples, it becomes clear just how significant a part of the overall digitalisation of apparel 3D virtualisation can become.

Spurred on by Adidas’s success, I hope that leaders within a much broader range of apparel companies will begin to see the value in leveraging 3D visualisation beyond sampling – using the same assets throughout design, development, marketing and sales, and progressing towards what I see as a holistic, three-dimensional, digital process.

Increase creativity and innovation

The apparel market is more competitive than ever, and companies need a constant stream of creativity and innovation in order to get consumer attention. Designers need to move beyond the restrictions of 2D tools that do not come close to capturing the realism of their designs, and do not give them the ability to visualise them being worn in the full variety of poses. They need the ability to quickly and cheaply experiment with many different samples, colors and fits in order to perfect their designs.

Pattern makers, garment technologists and designers alike all need the ability to accurately visualise the garment with true-to-life fabric and draping, on realistic human bodies, even when that fabric is not yet available. Marketers, too, need to be able to interact with designs and patterns from the earliest stages to see if they speak to the consumer, and use that valuable data to actually shape the direction of products, lines and collections.

Without 3D visualisation and a true 3D design tool, none of this is possible.

Improve marketing, merchandising and sales

Without samples or accurate 3D prototypes, it is difficult for marketing and sales to provide feedback on designs in development. To get distributor and consumer feedback early, to promote products on time, and to effectively communicate the look and feel of the products that are now in development, marketing teams should have access to realistic, compelling 3D models of apparel long before production is completed.

Adidas, again, defined 3D virtualisation as a strategic initiative in early 2004 with the goal of mitigating these marketing hurdles. Their target was to integrate 3D images of their products – which are accurate enough for decision making – into their sales engine. The success of this initiative lead to a complete digitalisation of Adidas’s merchandising tools, reported in 2013 – one more step in that company’s march towards a complete digital transformation.

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Simplify process management

For apparel companies, managing a process with so many stakeholders and contractors is complex and high-risk. The way international collaboration, sampling, marketing and communications is handled today is both time and labour-intensive, and is often hamstrung by legacy systems.

Brands wishing to embrace the digital transition instead need solutions that will help them manage their modern workflow without stifling creativity, and without a big learning curve for any of the participants in the process. Photorealistic, true to life, 3D prototypes can be the centrepiece of such a solution; we have already seen how significant an impact they can have on everything from design to marketing, and as such I believe they should be afforded the highest priority when it comes to communicating and collaborating between stakeholders.

Some PLM vendors have already taken steps to allow 3D content to be embedded in their solutions, using it to enrich the usual “tech pack”. This sort of integration should only be considered the beginning, however, despite the significant benefits it can offer to end users.

I would like to see a greater openness when it comes to providing seamless integration between different core PLM, extended PLM, and 3D design and virtualisation tools. It will only be by working together, after all, that vendors can offer the holistic digital environment that modern retailers, brands and consumers demand.

Demand driven supply chain

Photorealistic 3D technology can also play a part in sustainability initiatives, leading to reduced waste and a ‘greener’ industry. No physical prototypes will be needed to showcase designs for shoppers and brand loyalists. Instead, digital iterations can be created and demonstrated at no cost to the environment.

Digital shopping experience

Finally, understanding how 3D could transform the retail experience requires us to exercise our imaginations, but only a little. Picture a world where each shopper has a fully accurate, digital “avatar” available to them on any device – one that can “try on” virtually-created garments, mix and match these with styles you already own, and create and share outfits comprised of pieces that may not even exist yet in the physical world. The potential is limitless for consumers to engage with the lifestyle experiences and products of the brands they love, all underpinned by high fidelity 3D assets created during the early stages of product development.

*All images within this post are property of Browzwear. 

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six 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.