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3-D Technology Can Increase Speed-to-Market, Reduce Company Chaos

Apparel brands beholden to two-year product-development timelines can change their culture.

“If we embrace technology that allows us to test ideas with consumers before we produce product, shorten our supply chains and integrate our nearshoring efforts, we can bring product together in six months, not 18 to 24 months,” asserted Ed Gribbin, president of clothing size and fit consulting firm Alvanon, speaking recently during a panel discussion at Product Innovation Apparel in New York City.

As his fellow panelists pointed out, a plethora of software options are on the market today, so the apparel industry has no excuse to stay stuck in the past.

“People think in 3-D. That’s the truth. Designers think in 3-D,” Sharon Lim, chief executive officer of 3-D fashion technology company Browzwear, said.

Asaf Landau, CEO of 3-D virtual prototyping provider Optitex, agreed. “I don’t think the fashion industry is slow in adopting 3-D. I think we, as the 3-D providers, had a while until 3-D got to the point where it became good enough for the industry.”

Lim continued, “But because of the limitations of the last 20 years, designers think they have to dump [3-D designs] back into flat.”

That’s no longer the case, and Landau said Optitex—and the industry at large—is starting to see uplift now. “It’s a lot about the supply, rather than the demand for it,” he added.

“I think it’s our responsibility to make [the software] easier, more user friendly,” agreed Simon Kim, chief strategy officer at Clo Virtual Fashion, the company behind 3-D garment simulation software Clo.

“And trust is consequential to seeing the results,” Landau noted.

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Steve Madge, vice president of industry and global affairs at Dassault Systèmes, an enterprise manufacturing engineering and design systems provider, echoed this point. He explained that when he worked in the automotive industry, companies started to use 3-D in 1985 and by 1990, drawing boards were gone.

“Adoption is very quick once you get there, but you need to make that move. Once you’ve got the designer in the 3-D frame of mind, the rest will follow suit,” he said.

Quick wins and ‘let me see’ visuals are critical

Starting small is key to success. As Gribbin put it, “You’ve got to try new ideas. But you have to be completely open to failing at them. If you test them in a small situation you can prove proof of concept very easily without worrying about infrastructure issues.”

And it’s much easier to implement 3-D in one area, as opposed to trying to get everyone on board with product lifecycle management (PLM) software, which is something that can’t be partially implemented but must be rolled out company-wide.

“Prove 3-D in one area and then let it grow when people see that it really works,” Gribbin continued, but noted, “While there is a great upswing in people using the technology, we’re still way underpenetrated in people testing it. Every organization should be at some level of trying to implement a 3-D strategy today.”

The most obvious “quick win,” of course, would be anything that could improve speed to market. Madge explained how it used to take eight years to design a car and get it to market; it now takes 24 to 36 months.

“That’s still a long time,” he admitted, “but we took out three levels of physical prototypes and trimmed two years off that straight away.”

Landau echoed that sentiment. “We have found that organizations want to create more sample iterations because they’d like to try different designs out. Or they want to go faster or cheaper, or validate and merchandise their line earlier,” he said, adding, “A lot of the [quick wins] are around ‘let me see’ visuals. Those are huge advantages for an organization. What would it mean for their business if they could find 70 percent of their fit issues virtually before ever making a physical sample?”

For Clo’s Kim, intangible benefits, like a reduction in internal chaos, are another obvious win. “A really refreshing comment I got from a client was that because of 3-D there was just a better relationship between people and less chaos overall,” he said.

Worried about factories? Don’t be, the panel said.

“Factories are always looking for ways to become more efficient,” Luis Velazquez, director of business development for Lectra North America, said. “The real question is, are you as a brand or retailer really committed to 3-D? For those of you that are maybe facing a little bit of pushback, that may be based on [the factory’s] belief that you’re not serious about it.”

Lim agreed. “In the early days [of Browzwear] we had early adopters but it wasn’t even the brands, it was the factories that went on and said ‘We’re going to do this.’ Because they’re the last guy on the food chain which means they get dumped with a lot of things,” she said. “Getting the factories on board with [3-D], they’re the ones that feel the pain when it comes to making samples.”

And yet, technology that can help bring goods to market quicker often plays second fiddle when it comes to what executives decide to focus their attention on. That has to change, they agreed.

“We need to do a better job of educating our leadership,” Gribbin said. “If senior leadership doesn’t adopt an attitude that embraces disruptive innovation, and risk and failure, then we’re not going to get any further than we are today.”