The footwear and apparel industry is rapidly adopting digital tools to gain or retain a
competitive edge. Digital Twins hold great potential for businesses looking to
simulate, test, analyze, and optimize their products and processes without relying on
Utilising Digital Twins in product design and development can accelerate the design
process, reduce the number of physical prototypes required, and digitally test
sustainable materials, processing methods, patterns, and styling details.
Incorporating Digital Twins into supply chain management offers unparalleled
visibility and control over processes, enabling proactive planning and decision-
making, reducing lead times, optimizing inventory planning, and minimizing
Digital Twins can help businesses reduce waste, work with sustainable materials, and
improve efficiency and accuracy in processes that contribute to returns related to
quality, performance, and fit.
In a market where a high-octane combination of speed, efficiency, creativity, price, and
quality are essential to success, the footwear and apparel industry is rushing towards digital
transformation and digital tools to gain or retain their competitive edge. And no one area of
technology holds more potential across all those areas than Digital Twins – virtual replicas of
physical products, materials, or process that allow businesses to simulate, test, analyse, and
optimise without being held back by the need to work with physical prototypes and fabrics.
As more footwear and apparel business work to build out and refine their end-to-end
workflows – connecting processes that have traditionally been disconnected from one another
– the use of Digital Twins is likely to prove key to them to model digital products,
revolutionise their workflows, streamline styling and manufacturing operations, optimise
costs, boost efficiency, and even transform the downstream customer experience.
Obviously each potential end-to-end workflow is unique, but I want to look at five different,
common areas where employing a Digital Twin will have a measurable positive impact on
workflows and business models of all shapes and sizes.
Enhanced Product Design and Development
The traditional approach to product design and development in the apparel and footwear
industry is time-consuming and costly – with a heavy reliance on physical prototyping and
numerous sample iterations, each of which extends time to market.
By shifting to a workflow centred on Digital Twins in place of sequential samples, businesses
can create virtual replicas of their materials and products, enabling designers and developers
to visualise and test in the design and development stage – in real time.
Here, Digital Twins will not only accelerate the design process but also reduce the number of
physical prototypes that will be required to move from an initial concept to an approved
production sample. Businesses will also be able to work together in real time with their
manufacturing partners, using a Digital Twin that – as the name suggests – accurately
represents the physical product, allowing them to visualise any issues that can be linked back
to design requirements.
Working this way, design challenges can then be resolved in the virtual world before the
prototype stage, leading to significant time and cost savings that would have otherwise been
incurred during multiple, iterative rounds of sampling. And what’s more: designers can
digitally test different sustainable materials, processing methods, Last or Block models,
patterns, and styling details, ensuring that only the most on-trend, well-fitted, and
aesthetically appealing options proceed to physical production.
Optimised Supply Chain Management
Incorporating Digital Twins into supply chain management offers apparel and footwear
businesses unparalleled visibility and control over their processes. Manufacturers can use
Digital Twins to simulate the entire production line, identify machinery or processing issues,
resolve potential bottlenecks, optimise capacity throughput, and fine-tune resource allocation.
Real-time data and predictive analytics also enable proactive planning and decision-making,
reducing lead times, optimising inventory planning, and minimising production disruptions.
Additionally, Digital Twins can facilitate seamless collaboration between different
stakeholders in the supply chain, fostering stronger eco-system partnerships and greater
efficiency by allowing stakeholders across the value chain to communicate and collaborate
based on a shared, digital representation of a physical product.
Environmentally Sustainable Practices and Waste
Sustainability is a vital concern for both sustainably minded consumers and businesses in the
apparel and footwear industry, with both parties seeking the same thing: visibility,
transparency, and rapid improvement to the environmental and ethical profile of finished
products. By digitally simulating the entire product lifecycle, from design to disposal,
companies can quickly identify areas where the teams can reduce waste, working with
materials that help to minimise the emissions and all-round environmental impact of the
product, and generally cut inefficiencies and inaccuracies that contribute to returns related to
quality, performance, and fit.
To make the kind of measurable difference that needs to be made in an accelerated
timeframe, Digital Twins will also be essential as a tool for educating designers on how to
understand and optimise their workflows to take account of processing impact effects. Digital
Twins will also have a role to play in ensuring efficient and sustainable manufacturing
processes, materials and products and even predicting product end-of-life scenarios for better
recycling and circular economy initiatives.
Crucially, working with an accurate Digital Twin is one of the best possible routes the
footwear and apparel industries have to help model, improve, and communicate the kind of
data that needs to be disclosed on a digital product passport (DPP) – which will be used in the
future by consumers and businesses alike.
Personalisation and Customer Experience
In today’s Mass Customisation and Personalisation era, customer experience is a crucial
differentiator for apparel and footwear businesses. Digital Twins enable companies to create
virtual avatars of individual customers (rather than traditional sizing demographics that
deliver just an average person’s fit!), allowing consumers to virtually try on different products
and styles – not only bringing the retail experience more confidently into the comfort of the
shoppers’ own homes, but more importantly providing an effective guarantee that the
garment or shoe fits their body, or foot shape and size.
This level of Mass Customisation and personalisation enhances customer engagement and
will dramatically help reduce the rate of product returns, which we’ve already established
are a prime contributor to waste.
At the same time, this approach will strengthen customer loyalty. Moreover, by leveraging
customer data and preferences, businesses can create bespoke designs and targeted marketing
campaigns catering to the unique tastes of their clientele.
Predictive Maintenance and After-Sales Support
Digital Twins also offer significant benefits in terms of maintenance and after-sales support.
Footwear businesses can use a Digital Twin of a shoe to monitor wear and tear, enabling
enterprises to offer proactive maintenance recommendations to customers. Digital Twins will
help enhance customer experience, satisfaction, and at the same time will help to prolong the
lifespan of the product. Additionally, for apparel manufacturers, Digital Twins can simulate
fabric degradation, assisting businesses to predict the durability and longevity of their
products and offer informed guidance to their consumers.
Integrating Digital Twins into the end-to-end workflows of apparel and footwear businesses
will help revolutionise the industry. The benefits are everywhere: from streamlining product
design and supply chain management to fostering sustainable material usage, process best
practices, and enhancing customer experience. Embracing this digital transformative
technology will allow businesses to remain agile, responsive to market demands, and poised
for long-term success in a rapidly evolving industry – as well as insulating brands, retailers,
and manufacturers against the uncertainty that continues to plague fashion.
As we evolve and mature workflows linked to DPC-3D, it makes perfect sense that we should
continue to evolve the Digital Twins workflow maturity both downstream (e-commerce,
consumers) and especially into the upstream (manufacturers, mills, and component suppliers)