3D design can streamline systems, enhance sustainability and – in times such as the COVID crisis – even maintain the concept-to-shelf cycle during unexpected challenges.
Can you keep your ability to maintain a design, production and marketing cycle while other brands are losing theirs? In recent months, with the restrictions placed upon all of us due to the COVID-19 pandemic, normal business even for innovative, modern fashion brands has been easier said than done. However, these circumstances have allowed computer-aided design systems – such as 2D design and 3D visualisation platform Optitex – to show a potential way forward with their ever-increasing capabilities.
“Before COVID-19, going online with 3D rendered images was perhaps daunting
for some retailers and they kept that aspect of 3D design internal,” Optitex Product Consultant Elizabeth Brandwood says.
“But the current reality is, photo studios are still closed and brands are having to ship samples to influencers to take pictures in their homes. However, with 3D design, you can make a beautiful design look so real now. You can add creases, change the lighting, have the right fabric textures, have the right shadows – we call it beautifying the product – and really get it to a photo-realistic level. So how long will retailers want to carry on doing what they’re doing when they can get a trend up onscreen in a few days and have it produced locally?”
Visualisation to production
That mention of local production is important. While one result of 3D design might be photo-realistic images on a retailer’s website, the effect of 3D throughout the entire production process and supply chain is possibly even more revolutionary.
In the case of Optitex, its 3D CAD software is also fully integrated with 2D pattern software, which means that what you see on screen in three dimensions is converted to a 2D pattern that can then be used to produce the finished garment. With the ability to perfectly specify brand-specific 3D human avatars to check for fit, and use embedded libraries of things like fabric types, trims and stitches – or even scan in your own – designers and product developers can pinpoint every detail in the virtual world before ever needing to go to production.
“We class ourselves as ‘design to make’ 3D software, where there is a 2D pattern behind the 3D visual,” Elizabeth says.
“If somebody has worked with other 2D software brands, sketched a draft pattern in Adobe Illustrator, you can import the pattern into the system and stitch it together – almost sewing it virtually – to create a 3D asset. Alternatively, you can scan in a traditional paper pattern from a digitising board, or draw the garment design directly onto the avatar and then flatten it to become a 2D pattern.
“The more innovative retailers are creating their 2D block patterns on screen and then sharing those with all their suppliers to make sure they have consistency throughout their ranges and from supplier to supplier. Then, any amendments that are done on the screen or in any virtual review sessions can update the pattern for everybody in the chain.”
More consistent sizing thanks to suppliers all using the same brand-approved patterns – meaning less need to process and transport returns – offers an instant benefit in terms of reduced costs and better sustainability. That’s further enhanced by the different tools in the Optitex system that allow designers to see where style lines sit on the body or how fit is going to be affected by different fabrics. In fact, Elizabeth says, a lot of the customers are so confident with the system – which offers about 98% accuracy – they go straight to production without the need to produce and deliver huge amounts of samples.
The fashion sector spends $6bn to $8bn on physical samples every year, which are all considered pure waste as they’re never sold and never worn
“On average, the fashion sector spends $6bn to $8bn on physical samples every year, which are all considered pure waste as they’re never sold and never worn. Retailers typically develop between three to 10 samples depending on the style, but with Optitex most of them are get that down to one,” Elizabeth says.
“One of our customers said their physical sampling has been reduced by 47% and 'right-first-time' sampling is at 90%. Another of the retailers we work with was spending over £600,000 a year on fit model costs but they’ve reduced that by 60%. Time benefits are substantial, too: in terms of critical path lead time, one retailer we work with has gone from 24 days to 2 days. Another has gone from 47 days to four or five days.
“Another major retailer is even using 3D design specifically to improve its sustainability and now has all its key suppliers on board. To make things more sustainable it has agreed to go straight to production with its carry-over styles, so it doesn’t even create any samples or ask for any screens. That brand was receiving 368,000 development samples a year, but if it’s managed to reduce that by 47%, that’s a lot less waste going to landfill.”
Optitex for print
There’s also another way that Optitex is helping to reduce waste, and this is of particular interest to the print sector.
“You can print match with 3D – so you can align the different placements and add logos, for example – and we’re seeing a lot more people doing multiple pattern prints within the pattern pieces,” Elizabeth says.
“The printer will then only print within the pattern pieces with a bleed line, which means printers can be more sustainable with their ink. They’re not having to print the whole fabric and then do the cutting – they can actually create five or six different prints within one lay and print them all on the same fabric printer.
Manufacturers now have the ability to offer short runs with a very quick turnaround using 3D and print-on-demand to make small capsule collections
“Some brands might have a core dress, for example, where they want to do five or six different prints. But because of a situation like COVID, they might not be able to commit to huge order numbers, or they might have missed a trend. Manufacturers now have the ability to offer short runs with a very quick turnaround using 3D and print-on-demand to make small capsule collections, without having the overhead costs and waste of having to print all the fabric before cutting.”
In terms of production line compatibility, Elizabeth says she doesn’t know of any printers that Optitex doesn’t work with.
Although it has mainly been larger retailers and brands who have been the first to adopt 3D, more and more SMEs, freelancers, manufacturers and suppliers are adapting to these new ways of working. A connected value chain all working and developing using 3D technologies ensures the foundations are being built for a more sustainable digital future.
One area that COVID has highlighted is by working in this way you can connect teams remotely and still develop garments albeit virtually. Reviewing details such as prints scales, graphic positions, trims and fabrics as well as assessing fit all from behind a screen.
Into the future
If we need to think about how we can transition to a better future we need to look at upskilling and empowering teams to have the confidence and ability to make decisions digitally, in 3D and to embrace change.
With the obvious potential for enhanced sustainability, consistency, accuracy and efficiency – as well as drastically reduced time-to-market and easier print-on-demand – fully integrated 2D design and 3D visualisation feels like the future of fashion, and apparel manufacturing has truly arrived.
by FESPA Staff