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Consumer Demand for Sustainable Fashion Nudges Brands Toward 3D Design

The adoption of 3D imaging and design tools has been giving brands and retailers a leg up when it comes to speed to market—and now they’re beginning to realize there are environmental benefits, too.

Using design and prototyping tools allows brands to shorten and streamline the production process, lessening the dependence on costly physical samples. Making alterations in person is laborious and wasteful, according to GlobalData’s apparel correspondent, Beth Wright. Switching to 3D technology limits the overall number of samples that need to be made and freighted to brands across the globe—saving time and materials while cutting carbon emissions.

“Companies from startups to industry veterans are exploring how to implement such technologies,” Wright said. They are “wising up to ways the solutions can benefit their businesses, not least by helping respond to the ever-increasing demands of consumers for the sector to operate in a more sustainable manner,” she added.

Wright pointed to PVH-owned Tommy Hilfiger, which is currently implementing 3D imaging tools across its global apparel design teams and at its Amsterdam headquarters, with plans to shift to 100 percent digital design processes by 2022. The move is part of a broader company-wide effort to digitize its end-to-end supply chain, creating greater interoperability between different stages and stakeholders in the product development process.

The brand has also announced plans to debut a capsule collection in Fall of 2020 that will be designed, developed and sold entirely using digital software. Styles will be modeled on virtual avatars instead of live models, and the season’s entire range of men’s dress shirts will be designed entirely with 3D technology, requiring no sampling.

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“More and more fashion firms are recognizing that 3D tools offer benefits beyond speed and flexibility,” Wright said. While adopting these new technologies requires a significant upfront cost and manpower, she said, both established and up-and-coming fashion brands are beginning to see the economic and environmental value in streamlining traditional production processes.

Danish startup Son of a Tailor, which specializes in men’s custom-fitted casual wear, recently secured $100,000 in funding on Kickstarter to manufacture its Zero Waste pullover. The sustainable sweater style’s production employs 3D knitting technology that helps eliminate textile scrap waste, and because the garments are made-to-order, the company doesn’t hold inventory that could eventually end up in landfills if left unsold.

Each garment is knitted in one piece—a process that Son of a Tailor claims reduces material waste to less than 1 percent. Traditionally made garments of a similar nature waste up to 21 percent of their overall fabric content, the brand claimed.

Production partners like sustainable knitwear manufacturer 22 Factor, which recently rolled out its on-demand 3D knitting service, stand to become valuable resources for brands looking to digitize their supply chains in the interest of mitigating ecological impact.

The company upcycles virgin yarns from luxury fashion brands to craft premium knitwear at prices affordable to brands. Using high-definition virtual sampling and simulation technology, designers are able to visualize and prototype their designs down to the exact color, style and material—all without creating any physical samples. And Tailored Industry produces 3D-knit garments like sweaters, dresses and beanies in its Brooklyn factory, with similarly minimal waste.

Brands are also partnering directly with apparel industry software companies in the creation and customization of their own technological tools.

In July, Baltimore-based athletic brand Under Armour worked with Alvanon, which creates 3D forms for apparel design, on a full fleet of “real” body avatars to replicate the company’s proprietary fits. Ranging from infant size 0 to men’s 5XL, the avatars encompass a broad spectrum of body types, and were created to help the company cut down on the time, cost and impact of the physical sampling process.