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The rise of fashion's 3D digital product creation

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Since the second half of the 20th century, the rapid advancement of digital technologies has essentially changed every aspect of human life. Shortening distance, bringing people closer, speeding up developments and discoveries in many categories of human knowledge from sciences to arts and entertainment, redefining some words and actions' meaning: "to be", "to do", and "to have", as well as the way we live, produce, and consume, were all redefined. Senior citizens are particularly notorious for discussing this topic at length.

With music and cinema being the most popular entertainment industries, fashion has become one of the main signifiers of distinction and individuality among music and cinema celebrities and their audience. For many decades, they set fashion trends, as fashion goods became one of the favorite ways to express oneself. Emulating the beautiful people on screen became a way of life for generations of young consumers. 

We were gradually moving from a world of mass production and mass consumption, in which collective desires were shared worldwide through mass media, to one in which individuals were viewed as unique. People today strive to establish their own unique identities in all aspects of their public and private lives. What people buy, do, and consume has become a sign of their own individuality.

Despite the fact that fashion has almost always been able to capture and embed popular culture trends, even with some delay, riding the wave of social media, the industry has remained conservative in its mindset and manufacturing system, reluctant to adopt new technologies in its design and production process.

Fearing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry was forced to adopt digital technologies in its creative process, which had remained largely unchanged since its founding, relying on almost artisanal analog technologies that make the process extremely bureaucratic, time-consuming, and costly.

To mitigate the risks of maintaining some essential processes in product design and development, the industry turned to digital technology as a means of keeping operations running. But sooner than we expected digital technology went from a distant promise to a "must", being used as a tool to rescue the industry from the pandemic's devastating effects. So, the shift from a physical to a digital mindset is going to have a long-term impact on the industry, changing its entire business model.

3D Digital Product Creation is Fashion's Holy Grail

Despite its early origins as an emergency measure during times of crisis to overcome unpredictable challenges, the adoption of digital technology and 3D design has proven to be a great boon to the fashion industry.

As fashion houses are discovering the potential of 3D assets and leveraging 3D design, they will be able to transform sampling and e-commerce visualization, as well as create engaging AR experiences, virtual stores and showrooms that can be applied in both physical and virtual or even hybrid spaces (like Gucci Garden Archetypes Exhibition that was launched to celebrate the brand's 100th birthday).

Virtual ownership is gaining real value, creating an evolving market for digital-only clothing, videogames, and blockchains in the realm of digital fashion. Though the term digital fashion is most often associated with virtual fashion and fashion in-game - which is a big part of the reasons why it's gotten so much traction recently - it's also becoming an absolute necessity within the industry.

3D digital sneaker animation
3D Digital Product Creation

Given 3D's ability to generate quick and limitless editions, as well as the ability to create entirely virtual true-to-life hyper-realistic goods that can look even more real than a photograph of the item, designers are beginning to recognize the astonishing potential of 3D assets. 3D design is the key to transforming, diversifying and amplifying fashion's supply chain and marketplaces.

There are substantial obstacles to switching to digital design, not to mention fashion's overall resistance to change and the competitive nature of the industry. 3D modeling can be expensive and time-consuming, but it is worth investing in if the brand plans to use the 3D assets systematically and in multiple ways. Slowly but surely digital patternmaking is becoming a required skill in the fashion industry.

Designing with 3D technology has the potential to significantly cut the time and waste necessary in design since it's possible to edit pieces quickly without shipping physical samples. Since 3D modeling allows for the creation of lifelike samples, the 3D assets may be employed in e-commerce and marketing campaigns to sell to retailers and end consumers without having to spend a lot of money, time, or materials on physical sampling and photo shoots.

The lack of experience luxury fashion brands have in 3D design makes setting up an in-house 3D design team difficult. Therefore, many are turning to specialized companies for help. However, it is the marketing and innovation teams that are embracing 3D design rather than designers. Many designers still rely solely on sketches and physical sampling and refuse to use digital technology.

Digital Product Development Disrupting the Fashion Supply Chain

From concept to shipment, the sampling process is typically long and there are several critical approvals and tasks that must be completed at every stage. The Design Phase, Evaluation Phase, and Quality Audit Phase are all required.. After COVID, digital products have changed the game, providing competitive advantage and speed to both suppliers and brands alike. With digital product development, physical samples are eliminated, which reduces costs as well as increases production speed and accuracy.

There are four critical pillars within the apparel manufacturing pipeline in the present fashion business model: Product Development, Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. From design through bulk shipment, there are crucial tasks at every stage of the pipeline that ensures accuracy in the style lifecycle. Establishing a diversified digital product development team that embraces all departments involved in the product lifecycle will be critical in shifting the fundamental philosophy behind product conceptualization and production.

The apparel sample journey

The development of digital patterns and samples is transforming fashion product design. Due to the efficiency of digital assets, 3D digital product creation is driving apparel manufacturing into a more sustainable business model. 

Additionally, advances in 3D fabric printing and product design software open a whole new world of possibilities for fashion design, prototyping, and manufacturing. By converting to 3D pattern making, product development and manufacturing processes become less time-consuming and costly. As a result, a lifelike and high-quality digitally designed piece will surely inspire new ways of marketing products and engaging consumers.

Enhancing Consumer Experiences Through 3D Product Design

The North Face Duffel Bag designed in 3D by VF Corporation & DDIGITT & Anton Kalinin

The appeal of a healthy lifestyle is fueling the expansion of ready-to-wear, streetwear, and sportswear brands. And it is precisely these fashion categories that are driving the adoption of 3D design in fashion in order to engage with their digitally savvy customers according to Lui Iarocheski, DDIGITT's Head of Innovation and Group Marketing Director at PlatformE.

Recently, The North Face (a VF Corp brand) and DDIGITT collaborated on a special project showcasing the iconic TNF duffel bag. DDIGITT has been engaged by the American brand to deliver a higher level of realism and storytelling by utilizing the brand's in-house 3D assets.

For years, VF Corporation has pioneered the adoption of 3D design and creation of digital products, having established global teams of digital product developers to implement in-house digital libraries (digital materials and trims) and 3D product development, up to advanced digital creation (like experiments with AR).

Since the brand was working with an experienced and qualified 3D design team, the collaboration was seamless. There is no doubt that having a digital product development team is critical to leveraging not only product development but also visualization of products in e-commerce, digital POS and product marketing and manufacturing. 

Moreover, the use of technology is crucial to brand growth, reducing costs while increasing revenues, as well as extending the lifecycle of products. Increasingly, 3D is being used to develop products, sell them, and market them, as it transforms the retail industry. Brands that are able to fully exploit digital technology and 3D design throughout the product lifecycle will see a significant increase in performance, product quality, cost savings, and profit.

One of the most difficult challenges ahead is to integrate 3D digital product creation across the whole supply chain with an end-to-end real-time connected manufacturing system that gives brands, retailers, and suppliers complete control over the full product lifecycle, from purchase order to fulfillment. Like PlatformE, for example, a technology platform that connects POS to production and shipment in real-time, providing scalability, full visibility and enhancing production efficiency, and is paving the way for the emergence of e-fashion.

The integration of 3D digital product development (e-fashion) across the digital value chain allows brands to sell products first and then produce them after the point of purchase. This means that there will be no overproduction or dead stocks.