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Will 3D and an End-to-End Digital Workflow be the Key to the Apparel Revolution?


In today’s guest post, Lena Lim, Chief Commercial Officer of Browzwear, follows up on Sharon Lim’s piece from last month and discusses the apparel design workflow in the digital age. Lena is an expert in strategy, change process management and business restructuring to enable digital transformation. She has over 20 years experience managing teams in Asia, France and USA in the fashion industry as well as a number of technology industries.

The digital age has arrived. Every industry has gone through, or is beginning, a digital transformation, and the time has come for the apparel industry to follow suit. In fact, several key players in the apparel industry are in the midst of a digital revolution, and 3D is at the heart of it.

Until now, one of the biggest challenges in the apparel design workflow was having an actual physical garment to work with. Brands would either be dependent on getting their hands on a reference garment which they modify for their own use or they would have to create some kind of sample from scratch. Few real decisions could be made, no meaningful feedback could be gathered, and no work could be done until there was a physical sample, and sometimes procuring this sample could take weeks, if not months.

And then came true-to-life 3D

With the advent of 3D in apparel design, a garment sample can be created from scratch almost instantly, allowing design teams to make decisions and significantly cut time-to-market.

When relying on 3D for design, though, the key to this step in the process is to be sure that when a 3D sample replaces a physical garment, it must be true-to-life. The only way for the process to run smoothly is to have a physical sample or a true-to-life digital garment that accurately interacts with and responds to its environment, whether draped or worn, including the texture and weight of the fabric as well as stitching, construction, trim and accessories.

But samples are only the beginning. The two-to-five-year apparel design forecast includes many changes in the way brands leverage digital tools. We already see how the top 20% of fashion brands harness AI and deep learning to follow fashion trends and the features and functionality of such tools will only become more refined over time. Brands will not only be able to see what their target customers are wearing in real-time, understanding what colors, cuts and fabrics are trendy, but in the next phase, they will be able to predict the trends as well. Top brands will be able to plug all of that data into their digital workflows to streamline sourcing and leverage 3D design for quicker turnaround on new styles and selections.

Leveling the design playing field

Over time, we will see that companies will no longer be reliant on following in the footsteps of the big names in the fashion industry. In fact, the playing field will begin to level, and every brand will have access to advanced 3D tools to become trendsetters. Collections will no longer take two years to produce and thanks to 3D digitization, the entire workflow from start to finish will be shortened to mere days, ensuring that each new design is current and relevant.

For the next step in digital transformation, we will see brands taking the trend analysis data and scaling it beyond just creating new styles, but to also understand which materials they need to source, and from where. For example, if the trend analysis shows that some colors are more popular in certain locations and among certain demographics, the company can add that specific color palette into their 3D design system and the system will offer colorways based on those findings. Designers can make quick decisions, see what materials are available from which factories and mills, and create virtual 3D garments for online stores before the garments are even produced.

Eventually speed manufacturing will become standard. The true-to-life 3D digital garments displayed on websites and in catalogs will be so accurate, the customer will not realize they have not yet been produced and that the brands will fill each order as it is placed. With smart manufacturing options, small local factories will pop up to fill orders more quickly and efficiently, significantly reducing waste.

Harnessing the power of accurate 3D in an automated digital ecosystem

The goal is for a fashion company to create its own ecosystem allowing them to understand exactly what their customers want to wear and then input each piece into their workflow and production cycle. Even during garment creation, the company needs to connect to their material sourcing options and know exactly what fabrics and trims are available at what cost and at what time frame. The information about how their customers interact to each product will go back into the system to influence the next production. Through the power of accurate 3D garments connected to an automation-driven digital ecosystem, this will all be both possible and scalable.

The current fashion and apparel design workflow including online shopping has some catching up to do, and the way forward is to move into the digital age. We can do that by taking the physical experience of designing, manufacturing and selling clothing and pushing it into the virtual world. With a perfect combination of digitized 3D pre-production plus a top notch online storefront, the future includes an authentic online experience with virtual garments and virtual fitting rooms that are so realistic, users will not even realize that their avatars are trying on digital garments. Eventually, we will see customized avatars with each customer’s personal measurements for a true-to-life garment fit giving users the feeling that they are seeing their own digital twin in a virtual mirror.

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.