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Tech Leaders Discuss the Future of Fashion Technology

Having revolutionized industrial design, aero and automobile design and architecture, Optitex USA president Yoram Burg said the apparel industry is due reap the benefits of 3D rendering.

High-quality 3D rendering, digital printing and virtual fit programs took top billing during a panel discussion last week at MAGIC called “Cool Technology for Fashion Savvy Companies.” The talk, moderated by Will Duncan, Textile and Clothing EVP of [TC]2, featured insight from Burg, SGIA vice president of tech services Johnny Shell, and Tukatech-Styku founder and CEO Ram Sareen.

Early market validation, lower costs, faster prototypes and tighter alignment with consumer trends are just a few of the benefits of 3D rendering Burg named. He noted that a 3D collection with a variety of colorways and fabric can be created within two to three weeks, and reduce over-sampling by 50 percent. “Oversampling is our worst enemy. Selling products at a sample sale is not our dream,” he added.

Duncan said, “Samples typically take three weeks. There are three to five iterations of samples. In total, that is four months of sampling and we wonder why it takes so long to bring product to market.”

Adidas saved one million samples by implementing 3D technology to its design process last year, but as Burg pointed out, the athletic giant was successful because everyone—from designer to corporate—stood behind the technology. He added, “[3D technology] needs to become part of a business’ culture in order to work.”

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And if done properly, the technology can enhance showroom experiences. Recently, leather goods company Coach implemented 3D sampling into its buyer presentations. Burg said, “Not a single product was in the showroom.” Buyers viewed the designs on iPads (which they got to keep) and were able to share the collection instantly with their colleagues from around the world and visually mix and match products on the touch screens.

Speed is becoming increasingly important to fashion brands. As Sareen said, “Fashion trends happen every ten weeks. Long gone are the days with four seasons.”

Likewise, Shell said digital printing allows manufacturers to get their samples within a couple of days. He added, “You can order one garment, full color, photographic customization because there is no minimum.” The technology’s scan-to-cut system also cuts down on waste and prevents print distortion.

While Shell noted the technology is disadvantaged by the fact that there are no volume discounts and that some colors like yellow and pink can be a challenge to product, he said the digital printing will be vital to the fast-paced, customized direction fashion is moving toward. “Digital printing allows consumers to dictate the trends. Everyone wants to be different,” he added.

But good design is not enough. Sareen said, “Brands don’t sell, fit does.” Sareen sees brands moving toward digital fit models of all varying sizes, body shapes and movements to ensure that fit flatters all. He added, “The shape of your customers should define your designs.”

Some manufacturers are taking a step further by selling clothing online directly to consumers without ever producing a single sample. Sareen named India-based Aviraté as one company that is all digital. “Once their design team agrees on a look, shoppers can view it online on a digital model and order it,” he explained. The garment is cut, sewn and shipped within three days. The process saves about $7 in sampling and warehouse costs.

Other technology, such as Sareen’s Styku, enables shoppers to scan their body shape at home through the Microsoft Kintect (or equivalent), and then shop online with recommendations on what size garment they should purchase.

Sareen warned, “There are too many changes that are happening too fast. If we are not connected with the customer, we will fall behind.”