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Despite the prospect of significant gains in efficiency and sustainability, 3D adoption within the apparel industry remains relatively slow compared to the otherwise fast-paced world of fashion. A lack of skilled workforce with practical know-how as well as direct experience of the benefits and gains a company can reap from implementing 3D tools are the main factors to blame for the sluggish uptake. Yet, those who have embraced 3D are eager to point out that it’s one investment worth making.
According to Eryn Gregory, owner of Ergodesign and specialist in the field of 3D applications, the advantages of using virtual tools in product development speak for themselves. “Developing products virtually has gained ground in the past 3 to 5 years as consumer habits have decidedly shifted. The need to deliver fresh product faster and with less impact on the environment has mandated that apparel brands take a serious look at how to satisfy this demand. 3D processes allow fashion brands in particular to make better decisions, faster and with more confidence along the entire development cycle,” she says. “Taken to the next level, fashion brands can ‘test-market’ styles on their websites without ever having to make a physical prototype or invest in raw materials. These consumer insights have the ability to impact which garments are adopted in a range and can direct the supply chain to create only what’s ordered while eliminating waste in the process,” she adds.
For brands to successfully adopt 3D, new ways of thinking and working are required, and of course a new set of employee skills, which can be the first and biggest hurdle, according to Gregory. “Adopting 3D represents changes to every facet of the working life: new technology to be learned, new processes to adhere to and ultimately, a completely different result: a virtual asset versus a physical sample. It’s a lot to ask a team of professionals who have probably designed and developed product using legacy processes for 10 or 20 years,” she says. “The apparel sector has lagged behind its industrial and architectural design peers with the adoption of 3D in large part because of the limitations of life-like, digitally rendered ‘soft’ materials, along with the reluctance of an existing supply chain that has relied on deeply embedded legacy systems and processes. But, as 3D has quickly shown its benefits across the apparel design and development spectrum, each of these barriers is beginning to fall,” she adds.
This is mirrored by Idy Lee, Senior Vice President at Li & Fung Sourcing, which has been providing 3D services to customers across the apparel sector for the last four years. Lee confirms that 3D is gaining traction within businesses who understand the value of using 3D tools to help with initial decision making, product creation, prototyping and line-planning, and agrees with Gregory that adequate skills and training are needed – embedded in a wider digital strategy – in order to drive the transformation of businesses towards 3D. “Adopting to a completely new way of working and characteristics of the tools provided requires a completely new mindset and a focused commitment and digital strategy to successfully implement 3D. Identifying the purpose of usage will then lead to what skills and training will be required in implementation. With the evolution of the technology, it is important for the workforce to understand the fundamentals in building the foundations of 3D and knowledge of construction in apparel.”
Identifying and addressing the 3D skills gap within an organisation are therefore key in order to create an adequate framework and to reap long-term benefits. Both Gregory and Lee agree that the positive impact of 3D adoption on the wider business and its success and scalability should not be underestimated. “Beyond the sphere of designing and developing in a 3D ecosystem, the benefits to the broader business landscape is being recognised. The quality of digital assets that are being created at the front end of the process are the same assets that can be used when interfacing with the consumer or retailer. A brand’s ability to replace vast quantities of physical samples with an iPad presentation of virtual ones has dramatic implications to the environment and the bottom line,” says Gregory.
For many companies though, the move still appears daunting as navigating the world of 3D, building a strategy, setting relevant business targets and implementing best practice seem like complex pursuits. To address this issue, Gregory has been collaborating with apparel knowledge hub MOTIF to offer an online course, to be released early September 2019, that will help companies embark on this transformative journey confidently. “Essentially it’s about establishing a level playing field, bringing executives, managers and teams up to speed with the fundamental knowledge, helping them build their own business case for adopting 3D and equipping them with a framework to pave the way for a successful implementation within their organisation,” says Gregory.
Brands who have already successfully implemented 3D tools include US sportswear giant Under Armour, which has started to use 3D virtualization to significantly reduce the time and cost of product design and development and minimize physical sampling. According to Jami Dunbar, Vice President, Apparel and Accessories Development and Supply Chain Operations at Under Armour, 3D is the future. “3D is definitely changing our industry; everyone in retail is starting to touch the technology,” she says. “And the beautiful thing about it is that there’s a great deal of collaboration across brands. Everyone protects their IP, but we all know working together is the way forward, and the way we’re all going to be able to visualize and make great product,” she adds.
Idy Lee agrees: “As the technology matures and becomes even easier to use, 3D adoption in the apparel industry will accelerate,” she says.