Home Event Reviews PI Apparel 2016: Kilara Le’s Report

PI Apparel 2016: Kilara Le’s Report


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Kilara Le reports on Product Innovation Apparel 2016; this report follows our CEO’s exclusive coverage of the show, published last week. Here, Kilara shares her thoughts on the event, with a particular focus on the 3D element this year. Kilara shares the diversity at PI, and covers sessions from 3D, through PLM, to wearable technology. 

The diversity at PI Apparel 2016 was fantastic; the parallels in experience of attendees, combined with nerdy excitement, and passion for PLM, 3D and wearable technology was exhilarating.  I think I may very well have found “my people”.

There was such a mix of interesting attendees with similar experiences and interests – from PLM to 3D CAD research to incorporating wearable tech into textiles – I’m not even quite sure where to begin.


So, I think I’ll actually begin at the end with my debrief conversation with Craig Crawford, Chairman of the PI Apparel events. Craig, officially of Crawford IT, is a consultant with a great deal of experience in the apparel industry (and a WhichPLM editorial contributor) and a keen eye toward what is coming next. For most of his career his passion has surrounded technology, product design, customer experience and incorporation of these elements into innovative ideas and solutions.

Craig remarked that, for him, “the biggest thing, or the happiest surprise,” was seeing, “the simplification of virtualization of product, 3D rendering and the move of that upstream to design and concept.” This fits in with some wider discussions and desires being voiced about “need to have” tech in the industry. “What is starting to happen in the industry is design thinking,” in other words, “ if I connect this to this, what will happen? Can I sketch in 3D and see if it actually brings some of the promises of PLM to reality?” In terms of connecting data together and providing efficiency, with 3D, “if you are not doing something radically different, why even photograph it? Why not do it digitally?” he ponders while at the same time commanding the industry to wake up and modernize, like every other design-oriented industry. “Virtual sampling is revolutionary and now it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to do it.”

The candid journeys shared in the presentations addressed some of these issues and questions …so on with the show

Day one: 27th June 2016

As most of you will be aware, Mark Harrop has already reviewed Craig’s opening remarks in his report from the show, but what sticks in my mind is the number of people, globally, who are doing ‘cool’ things with manufacturing techniques – new as well as applying those that have been around for a while. In many of theses cases it’s industry ‘outsiders’ that are becoming the ‘innovators’ and Craig showed a program where children as young as 8 years old can team up and code awesome apps that could, quite literally, change the world. That’s some pretty inspiring stuff!

Final Frontier

I watched Final Frontier Design give an intriguing keynote on rethinking the space suit industry and on using new methods and materials to reduce weight and increase usability. The partnering of a costume designer with a seasoned space suit designer is a great example of how people with parallel experiences, in this case in engineering, materials and construction, can move an industry forward.

Then, Soon Yu gave a refreshing presentation on inspiring innovation in VF Corporation and enabling employees to get out of their comfort zones, try new things to get them thinking in different ways.  This is a tall order in a company as large as VF but, as an industry leader, it is exactly what needs to happen in order to maximize their talent and be a global influencer.

Breaking paradigms, entering into niche markets and training our brains to be more open to tangential inspiration …an exciting start for a conference!

While devouring fresh fruit and more coffee during the break, I spoke with some companies involved in 3D, and in particular one attendee from the 3D CAD team at a leading retailer; I asked her about her experience with the software. She was really positive about the aesthetic and fit aspects that their project was realizing.  In fact, during all networking sessions and breaks at PI, there was a general hum of positivity and openness, with companies discussing their 3D and PLM journeys – the pros and the cons.

Continuing down the 3D route, the next presentation I attended was ‘Ready Set Go – The Evaluation, Piloting and Selection of a 3D Technology Platform’ given by Denise Scott, Director Apparel Technical Design at Walmart. Trust, communication, and change management, as Denise pointed out, are key to getting buy-in from all ‘customers’ or stakeholders at the front end and back end of the process. “If you don’t have accuracy, you might as well forget it,” she stated. “In our business, selling to a designer or a buyer an image and saying that image is accurate is very important.”  She talked us through their Six Sigma driven approach of starting a diverse technical collaboration board, evaluating current processes (DMAIC’s), establishing new processes (IDOV’s), and how the company is working to experiment with and evaluate the potential of 3D CAD within the organization.


In a company as large as Walmart, and with many suppliers, in-house and external product development, most of us can just begin to grasp the immense task at hand – and we are only discussing apparel here, not the thousands of other types of products Walmart sells.

As the Technical Design lead team dug into 3D and picked a pilot partner (well-known 3D software provider, Browzwear) they found team members that were passionate about technology to lead the initiative. Their immediate defined ROI goals were to reduce the number of samples, eliminate multiple milestone meetings and do correct size scaling for graphics and prints.  Along the way, the team had to deal with things outside of their normal daily work, like discussions with the legal team about how the pilot would work, with the IT team surrounding data security, as well as spec’ing out new laptops to run the software. They are one year into their pilot and thinking about wider integration issues with supply chain and communication of product information, and other internal areas that touch product development. However, as with many technology disruptors, Denise remarked that, “You are not going to use it in the way you thought you were going to set out to use it.” But Walmart has begun their 3D journey and is open to the possibilities.

Next up was ‘Under Armour in 3D- Making All Athletes Better’ presented by Lisa Struble, VP Apparel Development & Quality, and Jami Dunbar, VP Apparel and Virtualization, both of Under Armour. Their journey began in a dissimilar way to Walmart’s, when they needed to change their women’s line and had no time to make prototypes for a sales meeting. So, as Lisa explained, they “looked at this crisis as an opportunity and worked with Optitex to create and bring virtual 3D samples to the sales meeting really quickly.” These samples were realistic and well received. In addition, they replaced what would have been a small fortune in prototypes.

By using 3D for designing and fitting custom garments for professional athletes they’ve gone from an average of 4-5 fittings down to 1. They’ve body scanned them, and continue to do so through seasons to accurately capture their body dimensions which helps to “anticipate what they need to excel in their sports.” The comment was made that their athletes need to focus on their game, not be tied up with multiple fittings. I think that’s something that relates to all consumers when trying on garments to find the right fit, so perhaps 3D, and maybe even body scanning, will help us all.

General 2

On the commercial side of things the accuracy of 3D allows Under Armour to see if the design works for avatars of different shapes and sizes. 3D has had an almost immediate ROI for graphics placement, where in the past they had waited up to 45 days to get a garment in with a graphic, only to realize that it didn’t look quite right for the smaller sizes in the range.

They also spoke about their new Lighthouse local manufacturing and product innovation facility that just officially opened right next to their design offices. Jami remarked that with this facility, they “are laying the groundwork for what the factory of the future looks like” and with 3D they “are already giving athletes an innovative edge and we are just getting started.”

Continuing down the 3D route

Following lunch was a presentation from Andreas Piras, VP Retail Operations, PittaRosso Retail Chain entitled ‘3D Product Development – A Look Behind the Scenes’. PittaRosso commenced their 3D journey using Human Solutions’ 2D and 3D software and Andreas stressed the importance of linking the two together: accurate fabric representation, print placement and, a key piece for them, being able to go back to 2D and create the fabric marker at the end. Andreas spoke of the need for brands to evaluate body shapes for different populations and the capability to do this through services such as iSize, as well as having avatars that you can move and pose to view how garments react. They found that at every step of their development process 3D could be applied in some way – such as visualization of options, review meetings, and for the suppliers making prototypes. Andreas believes that 3D cannot completely replace samples because, “there are some garments that are really still quite difficult to simulate, like a jacket for example.” However he also stated that, “the benefits that you achieve in this first concept are higher that the effort you have to put in to achieve this,” but that as each company is different they will have to find the path that is right for them.

Senior VP Fashion+Sports, at Otto, Oliver Klinck’s presentation was a good diversion from 3D and entitled ‘Supply Chain Optimization and Data Intelligence in Staying One Step Ahead of the Customer’. Otto is a well-known eCommerce site operating out of Germany, which Oliver said, is the country with the highest number of internet sales.  Their site has over 1 million products and they have an item number freeze because their systems were not built to handle more. Imagine that!

They sell a mix of brand products and private label and, aside from planning the logistics between their main and partners’ warehouses, they also track and trace customer site visits to better understand what to display when visitors come to their site. I learnt some interesting facts from Oliver: Otto’s average customer goes through more than 2 different channels and has around 7 different contacts with their site before buying a product, over the course of 22 days; the average return rate for online textile items is 45%; for every day in shipping time that a customer has to wait to receive an item the return rate increases by about 0.5 points. So access to stock and accuracy in inventory tracking is essential.

They are constantly analyzing current search traffic and trying to predict future traffic (they work with a company called Blue Yonder), which is the ‘holy grail’ in their business. There is great potential to use these predictions, testing the market with 3D visualization and using ready materials, akin to the fast fashion model, to really speed time to market.

Following Oliver’s session, I attended ‘Making Virtualization Technology an Integral Part of the Product Design Engine’ presented by Alison Page, VP Brand Operations Strategy at adidas Group, and Renate Eder, Senior Manager of Creation Technologies & Brand Operations Strategy and Projects, at adidas Group. Page has been with the company for over a decade, and her previous employers include GE and Intel, and she has an MBA from MIT. Renate Eder is responsible for ‘Apparel Virtualisation’ at the adidas Group. Joining the Group in 2008, she developed state-of-the-art technologies and processes, which enable the mass production of 3D apparel products for sell-in purposes. A technology expert, Eder has worked as a researcher for RTT (which is now, as readers will know, Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXCITE) where she focused on virtual material visualisation and material capturing devices.

In 2004 the adidas Group launched virtualization as part of their strategic initiative. They began with the creation of photorealistic images of footwear and apparel for their product and sales lifecycle. In not much more than a decade, this decision has led to savings of more than 1 million samples!

As well as sharing these obvious benefits, Page and Eder took this opportunity to share one of adidas’ future challenges: incorporating 3D to the product creation process, especially design. They discussed the balance between creativity and technology – traditional drawing and computer graphics.


Their session was somewhat of a ‘call to action’ for the 3D software and apparel industries to work together to create easily interchangeable data (images, fabric, trim, whole garments, avatars, etc.) and make it easier to take 3D data and move it through internal product development and sourcing teams and into the supply chain. Renate made some great points surrounding software for designers: it should be easy to use and you shouldn’t be able to identify the software used to create an image. adidas is currently working with Browzwear’s Lotta software as well as CLO 3D, and a very large percentage of their product concepts and design are now only in 3D.

Clo demo

Which brings me nicely to the last session for day one. CLO Virtual Fashion’s Chief Strategy Officer, Simon Kim, gave the closing Keynote ‘Why does 3D need to be at the Center of Process Innovation?’ and echoed the message of the day – that 3D’s time has come for the fashion industry. As Mark Harrop has recently reported on, Grace Choi did a compelling live demo showing how designers, with practice and skills, could create a concept line in a very short space of time, breaking the long held belief that 3D always takes a lot of time to create product concepts in.

So, we are moving forward in 3D software usability, adoption, rendering speeds and capabilities. The more the industry adopts 3D technology, the more improvements we will see and the further we can streamline our product data and extend it into PLM.

Day 2: 28th June 2016

One of the most amazing things about this conference was the openness – the sharing of information during both the presentations and the informal sessions. It confirmed that, not only is 3D really being used for apparel product development (and brands have embraced the idea of it, even if they haven’t finished their pilot programs yet), but also the importance of industry wide discussion(s) surrounding communicating across platforms and the sharing of information.

The second day saw an energetic focus group (actually, this met twice due to high demand), entitled ‘Forming an Industry 3D Technology Coalition’, led by Sandra Gagnon, Senior Group Manager NIT and 3D Virtual Product Development at Target, and Alexis Kantor, VP of Apparel and Accessories Product Development at Target. This session only confirmed my previous point and ended with the promise of a series of follow on conversations. [Editor’s note: I’d like to direct anyone wishing to learn more about Target’s 3D journey to check out Mark Harrop’s coverage of the show.]


The morning keynote came from Manufacture New York’s CEO, Bob Bland. MNY’s mission is to “reawaken and build America’s fashion industry, foster the next wave of businesses and create a transparent, sustainable global supply chain.” MNY – the social enterprise – got started through a Kickstarter campaign and is in the process of moving into a new collaborative space with support from New York City, DoD and MIT spinoff partners. Affordable space for startups is hard to find in NYC and Bob made the point that even if manufacturing does re-shore back to the U.S., its unlikely to follow the same model as before for a number of reasons.

They like to focus on sustainability from the beginning and “what we do is we bring fashion incubator and accelerator programs along with co-located manufacturing and development and small run factories along with scalable manufacturing, so you essentially have a vertically integrated supply chain on site that can be shared.” Not surprisingly, wearable tech has been a big interest and bringing people together has been a game changer, for both providing space and the sharing of ideas. One of the biggest public-private partnerships they are involved with is the Revolutionary Textiles and Fibers Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which launched in April and aims to be a national network of stakeholders and industry. Bland explained, “we need to think to the future of bio fabrication because the truth is, and one of my main concerns is, as someone from the fashion industry first, that we are already the number two polluter in the world.” I look forward to hearing more about MNY’s progress and emerging partnerships.

Mike Gawtry, Director of Sporting Equipment, Travel and Innovation at L.L. Bean presented ‘Achieving Tangible Innovation Results and Maintaining Brand Relevance.’ L.L. Bean has embarked on this journey with a thoughtful and measured approach, fitting with their 104-year-old brand’s values, which doesn’t compromise their employee centricity or their focus on creating high quality products to enable people to get outdoors. This started when they realized, after listening to feedback from an outside consulting group, that they needed to decrease their product lead times, keep up with trends and react better to the market. They also knew that their outmoded systems, with high levels of customization requiring substantial input from their in-house IT group, were a significant risk to the company. As a private company, they had been a bit sheltered from market pressures, but knew they had to adapt to maintain relevance whilst still staying true to their founding mission and core values. They needed to align their processes, create a common language and a map for going forward.

Mike made some resonating comments surrounding integrating innovation without quashing it. During the creation of this linear process and shrinking lead times, they realized that innovation doesn’t always happen on the same timeline as other products and they didn’t want to put it at risk. With the alignment they added clear roles and accountability but then design and technical design started to be focused on the next season, leaving little room for innovation.  They needed to create definitions to make sure that any innovations made sense across the company and as a story for the market and an innovation team that became accountable for injecting innovation into the product pipeline and monetizing it.  Also key was educating this team on the rest of the process so that they could think about and collaborate with other stakeholders.

They are now focusing on what their next generation of customers is interested in, which Mike says is that, “their gear and clothes have to do more” and “they have to perform,” which requires continual innovation. But, he adds, a caveat to innovation is communication, in that “you need to make sure that that organization and eventually the customer is ready to adopt that product,” because “that’s almost as important as the innovation itself” otherwise there will likely be resistance to it. Sage advice indeed.


Pilots & Prototypes

Next up was ‘Building 3D Capability into your Organization’ presented by Sean Lane, Senior Manager of Product Technologies & Global Information Services at Columbia Sportswear, and Gina Patterson, Manager of Fit Engineering at Columbia Sportswear Company. Sean has spent the last 15 years in our industry, first with Nike and now with Columbia, where his focus is design through manufacturing, looking at PLM solutions and trends with 3D platforms.

The pair opened by explaining that Columbia Sportswear is gearing up for significant growth in the upcoming four years, and is investing heavily in four core areas: supply chain optimization, PLM, intelligence data, and 3D. The duo explained how 3D is being treated as a product development and visualization tool for Columbia, with the goal of maximizing digital assets, creating more precise and quicker prototypes, and driving speed and flexibility.

Columbia had completed a 3D selection process and settled upon Browzwear as their vendor, whom they remarked, have been willing to work with them on adding features they need, especially for their more complex products.

Their long-term goal is to have 100% virtual first prototypes at some point in the future. However, just to get this far down the path, they did two pilots. So currently, “we are at the point now where we have to fly” and “taking this and ensuring that we can establish this as a platform that we can scale to help manage our growth,” according to Sean.

In the pilots they proved that 3D could be used across a wide range of their products.  However, due to the newness of 3D in the apparel industry, they’ve had to really think about how it integrates into the process.  “A big part of it is a cultural shift, with the acceptance and adoption of 3D,” says Sean. “Getting people to understand how this will benefit [all stakeholders] is a huge part of it,” Gina added. Sean continued, “The big thing is the collaboration you get much earlier in the process from merchandising and design.”

Gina explained that they gained trust one step at a time, such as by having the prototype onscreen and a physical one on a mannequin in meetings; they looked at the pressure mapping in 3D and compared it to the actual sample or on a fit model.  In their presentation the pair showed side-by-side images of the same garment – one 3D-rendered and another photographed and Photoshopped. They asked, as they had their internal teams, us to guess which one was which.  What do you think?

Shirt Comparison

To me, both images look realistic, but in actuality their Photoshoppers pinned the real shirt in the back and changed the neckline. Can you tell now?

Socializing 3D to other areas of the process downstream that might benefit from this has also been important to getting more buy-in at Columbia.  In addition, there are new elements to consider, such as the more complicated process of setting up 3D materials versus just static data in a materials library, each season. Which brings us to their end game question of  “how do they take it through the pilot and make it sustainable throughout the organization?” I hope we receive updates on the continuous outcomes of their trailblazing next year, as I predict they are going to be much further down the path toward achieving their goal.

During the lunch break, I caught up with Bob McKee, Senior Director of Product & Industry Strategy for Fashion & Retail, at Infor. He shared their recent acquisition of Predictix – demand management software, which uses machine learning and is a sophisticated way of analyzing big data to create actionable intelligence. By continuing to add solutions they aim to be able to provide prescriptive line and assortment planning and demand forecasting that links and loops back to PLM for their retail customers.

General 3

‘Wearable Computing’

‘Wearable Technologies, e-textiles: Opportunities and Challenges in the Fashion/Apparel Industry’ was presented by Despina Papadopoulos, Founder of Principled Design, and a professor at NYU. Principled Design is an innovation studio specializing in design strategy, wearable solutions, and prototyping, with a focus on creating value across entire systems.

Despina shared an insightful history of technological innovation in combination with the meaning of clothing or accessories as they connect or identify us with a “tribe” and our power or status within it. As we, as brands, consumers and a larger society, start to create and use wearable technology, which as Despina shared used to be called ‘wearable computing’ (along with the classic photo below, which may very well have found it’s way onto my wall by the time you’re reading this), we need to think about what it really means to us, as humans, and how we use it.

Wearable Computing

Actually, some of these devices don’t look dissimilar to the VR glasses of today.   However, due to more recent tech advancements, there is a lot of interest in e-textiles and using garments as a “platform for services” enabled by components such as conductive threads, sensors and powered by ever smaller and more efficient use of batteries. Despina brought up the point that factories making electronics and factories producing clothing are vastly different and, even when they can get clothing prototypes made, it takes much more time and cost to add in the electrical components, post-factory, than it does to sew them. So, we have a ways to go, but, eventually, says Despina, and I share this vision, it “will not be technology or clothes – it’s the same thing.”

One thing Despina mentioned has really stuck with me; and that is the thought of the Sony Walkman being perhaps the first true “wearable tech” that changed the world. When you really think about it, the iPod and subsequent evolution through the iPhone have affected the same type of tribal change within our society. It comes down to a device, a platform and a common file format.

Panel 3D 3

Which brings me to the final panel ‘3D Discussion for Fashion/Apparel,’ led by a roster of industry names: Natacha Alpert, Senior Manager of Innovation at Caleres; Ed Gribbin, President of Alvanon; Sharon Lim, CEO of Browzwear; Simon Kim, Chief Strategy Officer at CLO Virtual Fashion; Steven Madge, VP Industry & Global Affairs, at Dassault Systèmes; Christian Harris, 3D Product Owner at Gerber Technology; Luis Velazquez, Director of Business Development at Lectra; and Asaf Landau, CEO  of Optitex.

In terms of adoption in the industry Steven (Dassault) made the comparison that 3D has been used in the automotive world since 1985 and within 5 years the CAD drawing boards had gone, and that really “designers think in 3D but they are using 2D patterns and boards” and the transition to 3D is not that difficult of a mental leap.  It does seem like, from many of the brand presentations at PI Apparel this year, the apparel industry is at the same tipping point.

Panel 3D 2

With regards to challenges, Luis (Lectra) made the comment that, “defining roles is sometimes daunting” but there isn’t one path to follow as each company is different; he stated, “it’s really inspiring to see how open these companies are to talking about it because it helps everyone along that journey.”  Sharon (Browzwear) remarked that, “people do think in 3D, but because of the limitations of the last 20 years they find that they have to dump everything back into flat (patterns, sketches)” but this is changing, by users “finding the right user experience and bringing the right tools into the market.”

3D is different from other solution methodologies and platforms in that “you can implement in one little area of the business, grow your proof of concept and grow trust and have it spread” added Ed (Alvanon).  Natacha (Caleres) asked the panel for some key examples of first wins by customers using 3D. Answers from Asaf (Optitex), Sharon and Christian (Gerber) included: time to market, design variations, colorways, getting merchandising buy-in faster, better placement and scaling, approving fit faster and “reduction of internal chaos” (from Simon at CLO). “We just make better decisions earlier” is a comment that Asaf has heard multiple times from clients.

It’s hard to predict the future, but as Ed remarked, “when we can test ideas before we produce product and we can shorten our supply chains and integrate technology into lean manufacturing we can create product in 6 months, not 18 months.” Also, let’s not forget the impact that 3D has on a company’s carbon footprint. Will 3D help to enable this across the global industry? Only time will tell.

Rounding off

We heard some powerful and instructive presentations on the journeys of brands and retailers in their quests to incorporate new technology into established processes and to create new ones.

So, I’d like to circle back to where this report began – to my debrief with Craig.

“So, what’s next?” I asked him. “The next big wave – apps and mobile from a collaboration perspective,” Craig answered, which gives an interesting parallel from the banking industry. “I go in and tell brands this story: I bought my London flat on my phone in the back of a taxi.” OK, that seems fairly simple, but having been through the property buying process several times myself, I know it’s not quite that streamlined, so I ask him to elaborate.

“I couldn’t have done it if there hadn’t been enterprise systems,” he continues, “ but they had to be secure and talk to each other. This allowed me to login to my U.S. bank account, transfer money to my U.K. account and then set up a bill payment for my lawyer to do the down payment, all in between meetings. The apps let me surface in and do actions,” because all of these institutions have standards for integration and to communicate between them.

Another interesting observation was that, ”companies are now starting to put money into an innovation pot, and into innovation teams, realizing that people need to be able to play with technology.”

Craig 2

So, apparel industry – it’s time to collaborate, communicate and innovate people! Consider these your marching orders. Then hold on to your garments and get ready for some technological acceleration and true innovation within our industry. 

*If you missed Mark Harrop’s coverage on PI Apparel NYC 2016, you can find it here. This year, it took two of the team to really do the show justice. PI Apparel also has events in other global locations. 

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight 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 our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, 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.