As a professional in the apparel industry, I have spent much of my life in a business where processes are often slow, manual, repetitive, and sometimes tedious. And we get used to that, believing that it is the right way, the only way to do it.
Every so often, small changes, some hint of innovation, shakes us and produces the typical discomfort of adapting to a new challenge. So we have two options: we can adjust how we work and evolve, flow with the wave. Or we can continue with our known tasks and processes, hoping that these changes are not relevant and we keep doing the same as we have been doing.
Fashion & Technology
For the last decades, the fashion industry has been developing products following the same type of processes. We could say that there was some progress regarding materials, supplies, and sales, but not much had happened about the way we develop products.
However, the exponential growth of the apparel market, increasing competitiveness, and the need to generate profitability; are pushing designers, business owners, and entrepreneurs to create changes and transform the way we design.
When it comes to the fusion between fashion and technology, generally, the focus tends to be on the buying and selling experience. But what if this binomial could go in the direction of streamlining design processes and making them more sustainable?
With the introduction of 3D technology on the production scene, a whole different approach arises regarding creating digital patterns and prototyping garments.
But to understand what this advancement is about, let’s first review the processes involved in both development and methods.
While in the prototyping process with physical samples, the steps to follow are: technical specification development, search for materials, pattern-making, prototype assembling, checking the prototype, fitting, adjustments, pattern rectifications, making the second sample, check it, fit it and adjust it again, and hopefully, if everything is OK, approve it for grading, and then go to production.
By using 3D technology, these steps are simpler. The digital process excludes several of these steps. It also allows us to work on a 3D model and then convert it to 2D, and vice versa. So the steps are: technical specification development, pattern-making, virtual prototyping, checking the sample on a digital mannequin, adjust the patterns, making and checking the physical prototype, and if everything is OK, approve the style.
Steps for 3D Virtual Prototyping
The steps to follow with 3D software are as follows:
- Choice of a virtual model (mannequin), setting its measurements, size, body type, pose.
- Development of the pattern (or import it from a CAD system).
- Selection and application of materials: from a library where each fabric was previously designed to reproduce its physical properties and performances.
- Assembly: combining all the previous variables to obtain a virtual prototype.
Pros and Cons
Understanding the pros and cons of using 3D virtual prototyping can be overwhelming. There are concerns about certain subjects. For example, scalability or the time it could take to introduce this technology, among many others. However, the most important thing to consider is how far we could go if we open our minds and dive into this new era.
I think the main resistance has to do with the stress of the change.
Another main reason is related to the time it would take us to incorporate all this new workflow. Some designers, pattern makers, and technicians may feel that this training could take a long time or the tasks that are too difficult to learn. But even though the challenge can take some time to adapt and learn, this is overcome by the long terms positive results.
We must consider it as a new language. And, as with any new language, it requires practice to be able to get a good flow of work.
Still, and with many other industries moving to digital, the apparel industry can not remain indifferent.
A frequent doubt is if digital prototyping shows the garment accurately. And here I must make a “mea culpa” because until I had the opportunity to learn about it and use this tool, I had these doubts too.
However, a professional team of 3D developers tested a vast amount of fabrics (including their weight, drape, and flexibility) to replicate textile products accurately.
In this way, 3D solutions not only allow precise output visually but also in terms of fit. They offer the possibility of making and communicating changes quickly, avoiding the need to make several prototypes.
Physical sampling Reduction & Time
If we prioritize the positives aspects of this software, one of the most significant ones is the fact of reducing waste during the development process. We can significantly reduce the number of physical prototypes needed to check the fit and garment appearance. We can reduce them up to 80%.
3D virtual prototyping not only opens up the possibility of adapting to new roles, but it also gives us more time to be productive in other tasks. This software is not going to replace people. Instead, it will allow us to automate tasks and processes that usually take a lot of energy and resources.
It does not represent an additional step in the process of developing clothing, but a simplification of those that we currently do.
One of the best advantages is that the visualization of garments in 3D is an innovative tool that brings more creativity and sustainability to the apparel industry.
We all know that this industry (especially Fast Fashion) is one of the most toxic and damaging industries ar the world. It generates large amounts of waste. Using 3D technology could be a great way to reduce resources and make them more sustainable.
Another of the many advantages has to do with something that may sound obvious: the apparel industry has problems regarding fitting and sizing. It causes a lot of returns. The combination of 2D and 3D technology provides a powerful tool, identifying and correcting those problems earlier in the development process, saving fabric, shipping costs, and precious hours of fittings and adjustments. With this technology, the verifications are almost instant: we can see details, the finished look, modular lengths, and other points to assess to get the desired product.
It is also important to notice that it is no longer necessary to wait for a physical sample to verify proportions and details. The time spent on checking and fitting a physical prototype is highly reduced since the adjustments are made immediately (instead of waiting several days or even weeks). It allows us to review an entire collection in less time; and even before submitting the final tech pack to develop a physical sample.
Maybe, one of the most advanced benefits of this technology is the possibility of sharing, optimizing, and monitoring each design and its adjustments with the entire production chain, maintaining a transparent and efficient development in terms of communication and time.
Get to the Point
From the consumer’s point of view, using the 3D technology can be a practical solution to try on the garments, but it’s also beneficial to reduce the excess of production. By launching virtual products on social media, we can get relevant data directly from our clients.
3D virtual prototyping allows designers and pattern makers to make more accurate designs in less time, not only in terms of 2D decisions but also in visualizing the final results in 3D, in real-time. Therefore, it is necessary to consider it as a whole new and smarter way of creating clothing. The future of fashion is here; it is just a matter of time.
To sum up, 3D technology and innovation are reshaping the way we design and produce garments and any textile product. The entire production system has become obsolete; it is time to evolve towards the digital era.
It is the beginning of a vital transformation in the way we design and manufacture our garments. Now is the time to make the change. We have the tools, the capacity, and the determination. It is no longer an option but a real need.
As is often the case, when something new and disruptive comes up, there are doubts and resistance. The technology is now available, and even though the many benefits of using it, a worldwide use may take a few years. It only depends on the adhesion of designers, labels, and pattern makers.
Still, to survive in a highly competitive and saturated market, fashion brands will find themselves faced with the dilemma of adapting and evolving to transition or disappear under the competition pressure.
Time will witness this process.
CLO 3D Courses
Mercedes Sogo gives courses of CLO 3D (in Spanish only).
You can find more information here:
- 23 and 30 January 2021: Level 1 – Introduction
- 06, 13, 20, and 27 of February 2021: Level 1 – Advanced
Or, have a look here:
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