Following on from our discussions with the Optitex team including CEO, Asaf Landau, at the Texprocess event this year WhichPLM’s own CEO, Mark Harrop, was invited to attend the Optitex Vision 2015 customer event. Optitex Vision was held on 22nd June at the Crosby Street Hotel, Manhattan. The event gave Mark the chance to see and hear first-hand the experiences of Optitex customers – exploring the benefits of 3D technologies on business models, change management, and measurable profits.
The fashion industry is in a constant state of pressure – to improve design options, cycle times, quality, cost, and sustainability to mention but a few challenges. On top of this, businesses are entering a new phase of ‘digital transformation’. Put plainly, this refers to connecting the various solutions required to support modern businesses. Even the finest luxury brands can no longer afford to create their collections the traditional way; today every business is committed to developing more style options, creating new product categories, and catering to new markets in order to meet their customers’ demands for even greater choices.
These pressures are not new, but they escalate year on year due to advances in disruptive technologies, amongst them 3D and PLM. Especially in the mid-fashion market where, for example, the seasonal change cycle itself has almost ceased to exist, replaced by a flat line of constant design, development, iteration and innovation operating at an ever faster, permanent pace.
With the 3D tide we’ve all been swept away in, I was delighted to attend Optitex Vision 2015, and get the chance to hear face-to-face feedback from the industries early adopters. Optitex Vision is an event dedicated to Optitex customers, to allow them to share their journeys with one another. Held in New York City, the event played host to a multitude of retailers and brands, who delivered fantastic presentations throughout. And opening the show was Yoram Burg, Optitex USA President.
When you’ve been in the industry for as long as I have, attending events becomes second nature. Although no event is a carbon copy of one that came before, there are obvious similarities. It was refreshing, then, to be greeted by a fairly laid-back Yoram. Instead of being asked to switch our mobile phones off (or at least, to silent for those of us who can’t afford to halt our connection with the outside world), Yoram actually encouraged the use of them. Whilst this was primarily for the use of tweeting throughout the event, as opposed to actually taking calls, it made for a pleasant introduction. It was clear there was fun to be had, and ties were metaphorically loosened, even mine!
With a sense of calm over the room, Yoram began. He explained how the industry has changed since the last Optitex customer event (held in 2013). At the turn of the millennium the fashion industry was reported to be worth around $720 million dollars, by 2010 $1.1 trillion, and today an estimated $1.3 trillion. It is expected to be in the order of $1.7 trillion by 2020. Clothing sales in the same period (2000-2010) grew by 5% and according to the analyst experts they will continue to grow by 4-5% per annum in the coming years. Yoram asked the room if we felt as though we were going through change, innovation or even a revolution, linking back to when Optitex came to the market with their first 3D solution. He wanted to get across that we are in the midst of a revolution driven by technological advancements in our lives at home, and in our lives at work; we are being constantly challenged to stay ahead of the process technology curve. He also made the point that today’s business solutions are beginning to merge and will continue to link, sharing data from solution to solution (What we call Digital Transformation). He ended nicely by welcoming everyone to the digital era of fashion design and development.
The baton was then handed to Asaf Landau, CEO of Optitex, who delivered an updated version of what he considers to be the key drivers pushing this 3D revolution and the impacts helping to focus the minds of the Optitex R&D team. This team is continuously developing the solution roadmap to help support the ever-increasing demands of the 3D industry. His top 4 strategic drivers for the CEOs running the fashion industry: fast fashion, online shopping, Omni-channel, CSR, (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the form of sustainable sourcing. Asaf made the point that technology, and in this case 3D, can make a positive impact on the subject of CSR, especially in the form of reduced samples – samples that without 3D are being airfreighted around the globe and thus causing a great deal of unnecessary carbon!
The reason why 3D has such a positive impact on today’s businesses is that it helps to deliver real, quantifiable value across the entire enterprise. He reminded all present that we are talking about digitising a $1.3 trillion industry. Benefits include the speed of design sampling being reduced from months to a few hours, and the addition of cost estimations for material yields, components, trims and even synthetic labour estimates using seam lengths coming from 2D patterns.
On average the fashion industry will manufacture 3-4 samples in order to get a final product. With 3D, the average comes down to 1-2 samples and, furthermore, allows for many more augmented options of styling and or/materials in numerous colour-ways. The net result of this is the ability to visualise true-to-life photorealistic samples that can be approved by the internal team and/or your customers. Today, Optitex customers can simulate new designs directly onto the models in their own photographs. Asaf went on to say that, in his opinion, we are at the beginning of this 3D revolution and Optitex is taking the lead in 3D fashion innovation.
To deliver these innovations, there are four things that his team need to do. Firstly, to continue to develop an integrated solution platform, supporting digital merchandising, design, development and collaboration integrated into PLM and other enterprise solutions. Secondly, Optitex is challenged to drive the fastest possible innovation that they can, helping to bring new processes and products to market for their customers. Thirdly, they are targeting each company with the level of value that they are delivering to their customers and against their customers’ business goals. Lastly, seek out company cultures that believe in great people and innovation. He went on to describe how Optitex has delivered on these goals, to make a solution so easy to operate that even his toddler can use it!
Asaf finished his presentation by honouring his team for their dedication, passion and care, all of which has resulted in the tripling in size of the business in recent years. They have expanded by opening new offices in Hong Kong, India, Milan, USA as well as expanding their partner reseller network across the globe, with the objective of being closer to retailers, brands and extended supply-chain partners. He concluded by showing an internal video of the Optitex team.
Both Alexis Kantor, Director of Apparel & Accessories, Product Design Development for Target USA, and Sandra Gagnon, Senior Group Manager, NIT & 3D Virtual Product Development for Target USA, delivered the first customer presentation.
Founded in 1902, Target has a long history as an innovation retailer, with serious passion for design and development. This continued focus on innovation has helped the business to maintain its lead as an early adopter of new technologies, including 3D. Over recent years Target has explored the various 3D solutions out there and “absolutely believes” that 3D is the way forward. They presented benefits including a 65% reduction in time-to-market for sample development.
Alexis made the very important point that Target is looking out for our next generations when it comes to the subject of sustainability. In fact, she relayed that she wants a sustainable world for her seven-year-old daughter to grow up in. Target’s strategy around 3D can, and will, help to make a valuable contribution to our future when it comes to CSR. They have cut down the need for physical samples (and the cost associated with shipping them), and the design team is experimenting like never before, testing new ideas around design, construction, and even cost.
The 3D implementation is more than a single-department solution, but is rather part of the enterprise technology stack, given the same level of importance as ERP or PLM. Using Alexis’ words, “It’s going from soup to nuts.” She stated that in terms of the measured ROI they have reduced their previous product development cycle time by a full two weeks.
Sandra made the point that, as a civilisation, we have been using images to communicate for thousands of years. Whether creative or functional (2D CAD, Patterns, Designs, Components, Trims etc.), their design teams can make more inspiring images using 3D. Both women questioned the need for physical samples based on the high fidelity quality of their 3D virtual samples.
The duo asked the audience to “embrace change” and join the exciting journey of 3D. There will, of course, be challenges along the way. The journey cannot be taken alone. Even the most knowledgeable need help from the experts; there is no single 3D solution that can support a broad product portfolio (Apparel, Eyewear, Footwear, Bags, Accessories, Hard-Goods, Watches) and instead companies will need to select several from the new world of 3D. It may take several years to get to a point of satisfaction across all product types. Using their first-hand experience, the pair stated that any organisation thinking about 3D needs to face up to the fear of change, identify the issues and take action.
The last point made was on the importance of looking at the ‘big picture’ when it comes to 3D: look at the metrics and the long-terms benefits, and take on expert advice to ensure your own (and your team’s) confidence in the process. Confidence and support from within is paramount to success.
Although embarking on a new journey is often worrying, the project team is not asking designers, photographers, merchandise, and developers to do things differently, but to try and use a new medium. Remember, in the late 1990s Adobe Illustrator was an equally daunting product to those designers that only practiced hand sketching. I remember that time very well, thinking that this new technology was straight out of Star Trek!
Next to take the stage was Christopher Lo, DVP Project Management for luxury brand, Coach. Christopher is responsible for special projects within the Coach organisation, including 3D. Christopher opened with a slight back-story: the management teams of Optitex and Coach met two years prior when one of the senior directors of Coach approached Optitex to request a customised solution that would support their design and development process for luxury handbags. From there, the relationship matured. Two years later, and the teams have scoped, designed and delivered a successful implementation within the business.
Unlike pure apparel businesses, Coach’s needs were somewhat different. The users had particular challenges to overcome and needed confidence that this proposed 3D solution could support the designing of luxury handbags in a wide variety of materials (Special fabrics, animal skin) and using a wide variety of metals (like zippers, locks, hinges, and studs), whilst maintaining their renowned elegance.
Following completion of the new 3D module the team at Coach was properly trained. Christopher made that point that selling the idea of 3D within Coach was fairly easy; upon seeing high quality virtual images, the executive board simply asked, “when can we have it?”
With this, Mr Lo began to ramp up his team. In 2013 they developed a roadmap including supply-chain partners, then designers and merchandisers. The business case wasn’t for a reduction in physical samples, or improving time-to-market (like we often see), but rather a case for increasing the design options for the merchandising team.
As we know, making physical samples can cost a business several thousand dollars per sample and can take several weeks to produce. Coach produces 28,000 physical samples (costing millions for the business), before factoring in the need for changes in shape or colour-ways. With the new 3D solution they are able to develop an extra 10,000 design options per season, helping to provide an extra 40,000 options for the business. Sample design and development is split between New York and China; the business has extended its design options without having to drastically increase its resources, apart from a 3D artist.
Today, Coach has evolved into a full lifestyle brand by offering a complete range of apparel. 3D will eventually be in use across all design departments for handbags, clothing, footwear and accessories. Now, the solution is fully integrated to the merchandising front end of the business and integrates to the PLM solution (to enable sharing of image assets and associated meta data). The team has improved the internal selling process by bettering how the product is displayed in a virtual store. With the help of 3D, store managers can view a store via a virtual walk-through, complete with fixtures, fittings, market displays and of course the latest products.
With regards to the marketing and sales side of things, teams from around the globe are able to view a new product in 3D and use the data to improve store layouts, leveraging display screens, which show customers the complete range of products in high-fidelity 3D. Currently in progress is a new development that will allow customisation of the product.
There are 30+ people involved in Coach’s 3D design lifecycle, including supply-chain manufacturing partners in Asia. The process begins with illustrations of handbags, in parallel to designing the rigid hardware parts of a product. The team then combines all elements before adding the final visual effects to make the product photorealistic. Just over two years ago, the team completed a quality handbag sample in 1-2 weeks; with the help of 3D, today it takes no more than a few hours.
Following Christopher Lo was Lisa Struble, VP Apparel Development & Quality for Under Armour. Along with Jami Dunbar, VP Apparel Technical Design, she started her presentation by delivering a brief on the company’s nineteen-year history.
The team presented what they refer to as intelligent design through to virtual fit. Their 3D solution ties into other advanced technologies. The 3D solution was implemented as part of a broader strategy to help with the business’ extensive growth. The business wants to achieve more with their current resources and technology stack, in order to get products to market faster and of course profitably.
Under Armour’s mission is to be bold and brave – a culture that welcomes 3D with open arms. The business is backed by passion and continuous innovation, providing a great service to the athletes who support the brand. 3D and virtual fit help to support the companies mission.
All great stories begin with a crisis. Under Armour is a well-known menswear brand, so upon following the decision to include a womenswear line, it’s not surprising they encountered some issues with design and fit – largely having to go through numerous design iterations delaying the entire product process. Beginning with a pilot programme, designed to help the team understand how to virtualise products, the challenge was to develop a complete women’s wear range, so at this time the company started to work with Optitex to develop 200+ products in several weeks.
Further to this, they have since extended the project to include a partnership with Adobe. The project now utilises “screens”: digital walls allowing merchandisers to drag and drop 3D digital samples into collections. Seen as a huge win, this allowed the internal business partners to connect with the project and, more importantly, realise the value of 3D. Similar to Target’s story, for Under Armour the goal was never to replace physical sampling, but instead to gain extra time for design and development to deliver more, in order to create more photorealistic options.
Just like any modern brand or retailer, Under Armour continues to be challenged by the need for speed. They are constantly under pressure to provide aesthetically pleasing products, perfectly engineered for purpose and fit, more quickly than before. Adopting 3D enables them not only to compete, but to lead the competition. Today, they are able to use virtual 3D & 3D extended tools to complete a competitive analysis across a certain product type, giving them the competitive edge to lead the market.
When the team first began using 3D, their primary task was to digitise their fit models. The next task was to bring highly engineered materials into the solution. To test whether 3D could produce physical samples in the same way as 2D patterns could, they built several products using both methods to compare the results of physical versus virtual. The outcome? Virtually the same, but with greater options design and styling options offered by the 3D solution.
Using 3D to simulate the designer’s (who works from an office in New York) original vision, the patternmakers (in Baltimore) were able to work much more accurately. Interpretation was a thing of the past. With all departments working across the globe in real-time, the number of samples (along with Under Armour’s carbon footprint) were/are reduced.
The Optitex solution has become central in bringing together design, technical development, merchandising and sales. There are close to 100 separate software systems within Under Armour and the business is now looking into retiring those that are not part of their global transformation strategy and joining the rest into a single platform. The product design and development platform is based upon ENOVIA PLM (from Dassault Systèmes) and Gerber Technology’s pattern engineering solution (AccuMark). Working with Optitex and Adobe, Under Armour’s plan is to tighten the integrations across the entire platform.
For the first time the business is able to measure fit on digital avatars. Today, the team is using a ‘fit block’ library that allows users to go directly to the correct block (linked to materials etc.). The business is known for offering customised products for athletes. To save said athletes a lengthy fitting session, the business is now able to create custom avatars from scanning. These avatars can even be altered for fluctuations in weight, depending on whether the athlete in questions is on or off-season.
Under Armour are still in the early adoption process (under 18 months), with around 16 3D employees. They are moving forward, hoping to integrate 3D to other supporting solutions and departments. The plan is to use Optitex to support the graphic artwork design and placements based upon the entire size range. And also, to use a flexible digital catalogue. At the moment, designers are drawing directly onto a catalogue prior to first samples; advancements are being added to include a virtual catalogue and a Fit Log Application.
This presentation confirmed that Under Armour is set for greatness. They are willing to take 3D to a new level.
Mark Faber, VP Global Customer Success for Optitex, opened the next presentation by sharing the global service team’s mission statement: to advise and to help their customers maximise value from the Optitex solution portfolio, through on-going customer engagements.
This team is in place to ensure that customers obtain maximum value for their technology purchase(s). As the customer defines true value, it’s critical that the customer fully understands what they want from their 3D implementation. The team was established late-2013 and, today, comprises 25 individuals. The Technical Account Managers are responsible for detailed process walk-throughs with the aim of allowing every customer to understand each process fully. All industry experts, they understand the challenges of their customers. Today, the team is handling approximately 30 different projects, all at different stages of their implementation journey.
The metrics for customer success include scope, design, implementation, training, integrating to other solutions (2D CAD, PLM etc.), and on-going technical mentoring. The team helps customers from both the technical and business process perspectives, to see continuous improvements and catch new opportunities.
The day was concluded with a presentation from Josh Scott, Director of Technical Services at Optitex, demonstrating the new 3D version: 0.15.
Development highlights include:
- A new collar process
- Improved stitching methods, with a 50% reduction in time
- Incremental development & refresh combined
- Dynamic updates on both 2D & 3D linked to speed improvements and ease of use
- 3D simulation is now automated upon the opening of 2D patterns
- New pleat functionality, including the power of 2D & 3D working together
- New styling featured with the use of “magic glove” material simulation
- Large screen, real-time drag & drop functionalities
- Interactive edits, scaling, and mix & match functionalities
- A secure web publishing App, sharing the digital collection across the enterprise
- Digital photo-shoot, shared online with multiple variations.
With these new enhancements I expect Optitex to continue to help retailers and brands overcome the modern challenges brought by our industry. It is clear that they maintain positive relationships with their customers, all of whom have seen an increase in design options and a reduction in time to market.
Keep the innovations coming…