Success Story is a Sourcing Journal feature highlighting innovative solutions across all areas of the supply chain.
When the Covid-19 pandemic forced New Balance to close its stores and five factories in Maine and Massachusetts, the Boston-based footwear brand needed to rely on digital capabilities to sell products.
Luckily, New Balance was already ahead of the curve on 3D technology as a partner of long-time visualization software provider Foundry. With the partnership, New Balance has embraced digital transformation through 3D design tool Modo and color design application Colorway across all footwear lines, whether performance or lifestyle.
Jared Goldman, senior director of design at New Balance, attributed the brand’s smooth transition to e-commerce-only sales in April and May 2020 to the quality of its online photography and 3D assets.
If Goldman could take one positive from the changes the pandemic brought, it’s how New Balance could use even more digital assets and tools to improve the sampling process.
“Our goal is to have a digital duplicate of every model that we make. If our factory makes a physical sample, we want to have a digital duplicate so we can use it for color work, material work and presentation decks,” Goldman said. “Once you have that 3D asset, there’s so much you can do with it.”
New Balance wants to eliminate the physical sample entirely to cut costs and enhance its sustainability efforts.
“Even if we didn’t have the physical sample, we were confident that we would represent a good portion [of the line] digitally,” Goldman said. “We’re not creating everything digitally—we’re just not there yet—but we finally knew the key models and key stories that we needed to tell, and we were ready.”
With Foundry’s Modo in tow, the design team builds high-quality 3D footwear models and shares them immediately with the New Balance merchandising and sales teams. This gives them a head start on selling product to regional teams worldwide.
The 3D tool also allows the team to visualize the shoe earlier in the process and accelerate design decisions, Goldman said. If he found a material or knit that would be a fit for a shoe, it would typically take four to six weeks to get a sample made from a factory. But now, it takes just a day to plug that material into an existing silhouette within the Modo platform.
“If I’m starting a full asset from scratch, it takes us four or five days to get a finished, polished model,” Goldman said. “We’ll create a seasonal palette of materials from all our suppliers, drape those materials on our dummy silhouettes, and take screenshots. Instantly, all the designers can see how these materials will look in a real form versus just looking at a swatch of material.”
New Balance still operates on an 18-month timeline from concept to market, but Goldman hopes the faster sampling and visualization processes will help it save time.
With current digital tools, New Balance can show client retailers a customized Modo asset only days after all parties discuss shoe specifications. Modo’s realistic modeling capabilities gives the client a full, detailed 3D visual of the product, ultimately resulting in more confidence and a speedier time to market.
“Customers are willing to put in the order when they see that 3D asset because they understand that’s what they’re going to get,” Goldman said.
Ease of experience
Derek Rathel, vice president of sales and design at Foundry, said that New Balance was an early adopter of the Colorway companion software, which is for designers who aren’t 3D experts.
“2D designers that can’t manipulate the asset in Modo can typically learn how to use Colorway’s features, like the image drag-and-drop tool, dynamic data tables and lighting editor, in as little as one or two hours and rapidly iterate on design every time they find a design that they like,” Rathel said.
New Balance uses Colorway 5.0 with both 2D and 3D assets, according to Goldman, as the platform enables designers to import any image or texture and apply their own custom color variations. Designers can rapidly iterate on an asset’s color, texture, materials and graphics.
New Balance also understands the importance of a customer experience that builds hype, particularly as consumers gravitate to experiential retail and digital assets like NFTs have gained mainstream appeal.
“The consumer experience can be improved just by creating 10-second social media clips using your 3D asset, or having the asset on your website and letting the consumer pull the shoe apart,” Goldman said. “We’ve used our Modo assets on our NB custom site where you can go in and custom-color a shoe. Again, it’s about giving the customer more control.”
Goldman advised that even though the Foundry technology has helped New Balance, the overall process should be thorough enough that goals are established for two or three years out, and can be revisited when necessary.
“Some of the things won’t work, some will, and some will work differently than you thought,” Goldman said. “It’s about being able to follow that plan and keep investing in the program.”
Soon after partnering with Foundry, New Balance brought in a 3D expert to assist in training the design team to use both Modo and Colorway. Goldman credits the expert for accelerating the program and setting up a proper image development process.
Now, alongside its design team, New Balance has in-house 3D modeling teams in both the U.S. and Asia.
With designers and 3D experts across the globe, New Balance will continue leveraging Foundry’s platforms to bring innovative, high-quality footwear visuals to its retail partners and customers alike.