“ 3D design isn’t just a technological revolution, it’s a people revolution too ”
Innovation reaches some industries slower than others, and the fashion industry is notoriously slow on the uptake of new technologies. That’s why Tommy Hilfiger’s pledge to ensure that 100% of their garments will be 3D-designed by 2022 is such a ground-breaking move.
“Fast fashion” is the buzzword of the last century, with brands churning out cheap, questionably-produced garments that are designed to last a season and be chucked away.
But for many mid to top-range brands, there’s nothing particularly fast about the design-to-production process.
It’s a lengthy process, and a pretty unglamorous one, the practical details of which are a long way from the glitzy world of Vogue covers and Instagram influencers that consumers associate with the world of “fashion”.
Initial sketches are created and 40 or 50 prototypes are designed. At this point, up to 70% of a collection can be dropped. Final patterns need to be translated across a variety of different sizes, and instructions need to be sent to manufacturers around the globe. The items then need to be shipped and distributed, a process which alone can take a month or so.
So, there’s plenty of room for the process to be modernised and digitised. And this is where 3D design comes in.
So why should brand bother ditching the sketchpad and pencil and embracing designs in a virtual lab?
Time is the new money. And saving time is one of the biggest selling points of 3D design technology. Because the initial garment designs will be created digitally, and presented in virtual showrooms, sample production times will be cut by around 40-60%. Brands only need to create physical samples of garments they’re committed to creating and selling.
Virtual showrooms also cut down on shipping times. Why design, manufacture and ship 50 sample garments from New York to London when you can display them in a virtual showroom?
Another time-saving bonus is that 3D technology allows designers to create up to 4 x more garments per day, as designs and patterns can be tweaked and refined on a 3D avatar in a matter of moments. Restitching an entire seam is certainly a lengthier process.
Ok, so we know that 3D design massively cuts the number of samples that brands have to create. In an industry that spends $6-8 billion on physical samples every year, that’s going to be a massive money-saver.
And following on from the time-saving aspects of making changes to a garment on a 3D avatar, the ability to make those immediate product changes will cut down on physical samples by 50%.
In fact, instead of using physical samples for e-commerce photoshoots, photorealistic designs could completely replace the existing trend for photos of actual, tangible products on websites.
There’s also money to be saved from higher levels of customer satisfaction. Digital fit sessions, which allow items of clothing to be fitted to virtual models will be faster and cheaper than using real models.
I can also see 3D design providing designers with a great opportunity to create more clothing for diverse body types, and for people with physical disabilities, as designers can make changes and adjustments without needing a physical model in front of them. It will be easier to see how different fabrics fit and move with a virtual model.
These ‘digital fit sessions’ should help to reduce the fashion industry’s 25-45% return rate, keeping the cost of online shopping lower and making customers happier.
3D design wasn’t created to solve environmental issues in the fashion industry. But it can help to minimise the impact of an industry that contributes "more to climate change than all international flights and maritime shipping combined".
3D design can help to cut down on waste by producing better, more thoroughly researched garments, by allowing designs to be accessed from around the world by manufacturers who are closer to distribution areas, by slashing carbon footprints generated by sample shipping and reducing fabric production.
If we can make 3D design fit into a sustainable workflow, it could be a great way of helping the fashion industry to become greener and shake its negative environmental reputation.
By teaming up with technology such as Zara’s user-data-driven collection (the retailer never produces more than 8,000 of any item, and changes its collections every two weeks), recycled and upcycled materials, environmentally-friendly fabrics and even new fabrics made from wood pulp, not to mention the potential of 3D-printing your new handbag on the spot in-store, the fashion industry can move towards a sustainable future, but there’s still a long way to go.
There’s plenty of room for personalising the customer experience too, with users being able to try products on their avatars in virtual fitting rooms through the power of 3D scanning. A much more sophisticated version of Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn’s attempt to get employees to upload selfies of themselves in underwear to get the right uniform fit. It backfired.
For brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, taking on a 3D design promise as big as they have is a huge leap of faith. They’re investing in training up digital tailors and designers, and getting people who are used to being armed with a pencil and a pad of paper up to scratch with 3D modelling.
Once they’re up and running, they’re going to re-package the tech and the training, and sell it on to other brands, placing themselves at the forefront of the 3D design revolution.
The rise of social media and the demand for constant content has put an end to fashion’s seasonality. The brands that are going to make it big are those that can keep up with demand and optimise their processes by embracing technology.
Fashion is getting faster, but can technology help us to deal with the issue of fast fashion?