3D design technology has been on the fashion industry’s radar; the Covid-19 pandemic has surfaced it as a potential solution to designing remotely.
3D design assets can be used throughout the supply chain, in both design and sampling and in selling to buyers and customers.
Brands like DVF and conglomerates like Kering are investing in digital design to increase efficiency and decrease waste, especially while working remotely.
In 2015, fashion brand manager Ben Demiri, industrial engineer Goncalo Cruz and Farfetch CEO José Neves co-founded PlatformE, a business to help brands implement made-to-order production. The software allowed customers to personalise products online using photorealistic 3D models, which were produced only after an order was placed. The London-based company attracted clients including Fendi, Dior and Sergio Rossi.
But the founders realised they spent considerable time helping clients implement digital design, and that there was a bigger use-case for these 3D tools. After working with the company, the innovation team at Kering (parent company to Gucci, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen), encouraged them to formalise this education process. The result is Ddigitt; a consultancy and 3D product creation studio to help fashion brands transition to 3D design. Kering is one of the first companies to sign on.
Digital design is emerging as a crucial lever for the industry. It allows brands to design items quickly and remotely; once created, 3D assets — which are three-dimensional, photorealistic digital models of products — can be used in myriad situations, from creating marketing materials and virtual showrooms to customer-facing e-commerce pages and augmented reality experiences. A digital supply chain is also seen as a way to decrease waste while increasing production speed, offering a win-win for companies working to become more sustainable while cutting costs.
The technology has been of increasing interest to the fashion industry, and use cases are proliferating. But the past two months have forced an urgency on digital design that didn’t previously exist. Now, brands are racing to understand and implement a technology that could allow them to continue operations at a time when draping physical fabric, shipping samples internationally and showing on a runway are at a standstill.
“The confinement has been an accelerator for a revolution that was bound to happen, and it could have taken another few years,” says Sacha Djorkaeff, 3D lead of menswear brand Pink Shirtmaker. “Brands are calling us and [asking], ‘What tools do you use? What are the processes that you put in place’?”
Others are increasing access to 3D technology. Last month, Shopify made it easy for brands to create and add 3D models to product pages. And Farfetch’s startup incubator, Dream Assembly, just accepted M—XR, a company that helps brands digitise their product catalogues, into its latest cohort.
In November, Tommy Hilfiger announced that it was switching to 100 per cent digital design by 2022. To facilitate that, parent company PVH built an Amsterdam-based incubator, Stitch, to train employees with the intention to expand to other PVH brands including Calvin Klein and, ultimately, open it up to brands outside its ecosystem. PVH Europe CEO Daniel Grieder says that the company has gotten numerous requests from brands.
This month, Stitch partnered with 3D software provider Browzwear to create the Stitch Accelerator, a new training programme to increase the number of designers and patternmakers trained in digital design. Browzwear co-founder and CEO Sharon Lim says that business has picked up since January.
Browzwear, which provides a number of tools for using 3D design across design and merchandising, works with companies including Adidas, Nike, Walmart and VF Corporation.
© Be᛫nu Creative
“The majority of the industry is fumbling as a result of being in lockdown. China shut down in mid-January, and you could see the shift when a physical product that is needed for decision-making or e-commerce photography is no longer there,” Lim says. “People are discovering that the possibilities are endless.”
Designing more efficiently
To create new products, digital design uses software in place of paper and fabric, and designers can create and alter designs without having to physically produce them. The physical properties of fabrics are measured and recreated digitally, and avatars act as fit models to portray how clothes will fit in real life.
Djorkaeff says the lockdown has pushed businesses to operate in a more lean and nimble way. Traditional sampling and prototyping, for example, can take three months, but 3D design can render a realistic-looking shirt in one day. “That really unlocks immense capabilities,” he says.
He adds that the increased efficiency of creating a virtual collection is “dramatic”, especially for merchandising and design teams working from home. Pink Shirtmaker works with Swatchbook, which digitises the fabric libraries of the brand’s Italian suppliers.
This lets designers review fabric collections and digitally try them in various styles, in addition to creating virtual collections. Previously, the brand would need up to 14 weeks to try a fabric on a shirt, approve the sample and send it back for multiple rounds of prototyping, Djorkaeff says. He predicts that this process will have a long-term impact on the fashion cycle. “If you’re moving to a monthly basis or looking at capsules, you’re looking at a more iterative fashion cycle — and 3D permits that,” he says.
A Pink Shirtmaker product rendered by virtual asset maker INDG, which also works on 3D renderings of retail spaces for use in virtual reality.
© Pink Shirtmaker
Sergio Rossi CEO Riccardo Sciutto says that although the 69-year-old label embraces heritage — shoes are still made by hand in 120 steps — digital design accelerates the process up to that point because it lets designers immediately visualise and tweak designs before anything is physically produced.
He has convinced the brand’s designers to buy into the process by emphasising the opportunities to design more items. “You have more possibility of showing your capabilities,” he says. Often, it takes one enthusiastic person to show that the new way is better.
Selling and marketing before production
Three-dimensional renders can appear in lookbooks, virtual showrooms and online product pages as soon as they are created. “Showrooms are closed, so [brands] have two options: either stop doing collections or show in a different way,” PlatformE’s Cruz says. Brands that have adopted digital design, he adds, are more easily able to sustain the familiar work-flow, including pre-orders, until factories reopen.
When Sergio Rossi’s Italian factories reopen, the brand can go immediately into production, despite the team having worked from home for months, Sciutto says. Marketing new designs online before going into production also allows the brands to gauge demand. “It is fantastic — like a huge panel of 1,000 people in five minutes,” he says.
3D models can provide more context than static imagery. Rebecca Minkoff, who began testing Shopify’s 3D model capabilities during the holiday season, found that sessions that interacted with a 3D model were up to 44 per cent more likely to add to cart and 27 per cent more likely to convert to an order. Overall, Shopify reports that customers who’ve interacted with 3D models were up to two and a half times more likely to buy than customers who did not. “People are going to start expecting 3D models,” says Shopify head of AR and VR Daniel Beauchamp. Facebook, Snapchat and Shopify each have vetted partners that can create 3D assets for brands.
While they are most commonly used for isolated product imagery, 3D renders can also be used in on-model photography. Vue.ai, for example, virtualises models for e-commerce pages; while the images it creates are two-dimensional, 3D assets would allow the company to introduce 360-degree images of models wearing the clothing and would allow the company to provide more content, says CEO Ashwini Asokan. Similarly, digital modelling agency The Diigitals has to render all garments worn by its CGI models in 3D. A brand already equipped with these assets would be able to quickly hire the firm’s models for editorial shoots.
Enhancing the customer experience
Digital assets can be used beyond buying and selling. “We’re seeing more and more opportunities for these digital assets to be used across various channels,” Beauchamp says. 3D product models are the content that goes into AR features like face filters and try-ons, in addition to more nascent uses such as in-game content, dressing digital avatars, hologram-like displays and virtual reality.
A Loewe puzzle bag, created in 3D by Ddigitt.
Digital design is crucial for PlatformE’s original missive: to enable brands to reduce waste, time and expenses while increasing the appeal of products through on-demand manufacturing, which allows brands to either respond quickly to trends or let customers visualise made-to-order designs.
Diane von Furstenberg, which works with PlatformE, currently is transitioning to Clo3D software to turn two-dimensional sketches into three-dimensional renders, allowing the factory to visualise design tweaks before going into production. The brand is developing a platform for customers to personalise their own wrap dress, including sleeve length, skirt length and colour. The customer will immediately be able to see the outcome via 3D model, and then it will be made to order, obviating the problem of unsold merchandise.
The project was started as part of the brand’s sustainability efforts, says CEO Sandra Campos. “The goal was to be able to reduce waste. With an on-demand resource, you’re spending less on product that you’re developing and that you have wastage on,” Campos says. “But ultimately it’s about the customer experience.”
Meanwhile, Sciutto is digitising Sergio Rossi’s archives to make a digital museum — a promise he made to the late designer, who died earlier this month. This will allow future generations of customers and designers to experience the brand’s history, he says, and let them search by details such as colour or heel height.
“When I started this project three years ago, they looked at me like I was crazy,” he says. He has amassed more than 6,000 (physical) shoes from the 1960s onward. “Technology helps you to spread the voice. You can tell who you are or who you were in the past. And perhaps they look at you in a different way today.”
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