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Better, Faster, Cheaper: How 3-D Technology Can Disrupt Fashion

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“The fastest way to get faster is to think about how you can develop it in 3-D,” declared Ed Gribbin, president of apparel sizing and fit company Alvanon, speaking recently as part of a Product Innovation Apparel panel discussing how 3-D technology is disrupting the fashion industry.

“The opportunity to speed product-development cycles is tremendous,” he added, pointing out that it could potentially help brands and retailers compete with Spanish retail giant Zara, which releases 24 mini collections each year. “NPD Group said the average person who’s loyal to a specialty retail brand visits that brand physically three to four times a year. The average Zara customer goes into Zara 17 times a year because they have new product every two weeks and they’re building scarcity.”

His sentiment was echoed across the board, with Asaf Landau, CEO of 3-D virtual prototyping provider Optitex, explaining, “You can see the entire collection through software design instead of six months later. You can show it to buyers, show it to customers, find out what they like and don’t like, do it early enough that when you can prevent over-development and over-production and actually design more of what’s most popular you have an impact on the top line and on the bottom line like nothing else out there.”

It some cases it can even reduce repetitive work. “If you’ve created a shirt or a handbag, is that form repurposed or reused season after season? Because if it is, that’s where 3-D comes into play; once you’ve created that form once, you can reuse it season after season,” offered Steven Madge, vice president of industry and global affairs at Dassault Systèmes, an enterprise manufacturing engineering and design systems provider.

But it’s not about doing less work—it’s about being more productive, Landau said, noting that his customers want to make five times the number of samples virtually. “Instead of four samples taking six months, you do 10 iterations in three weeks. It’s hugely impactful,” he said.

It’s no surprise, then, that more and more brands are beginning to grasp that investing in 3-D technology can boost their business in today’s ever evolving apparel industry: Gribbin said that in the U.S. a year ago, customers approached Alvanon about once a month looking for an avatar to add to their 3-D CAD (computer-aided design) system; now the company gets up to five inquiries per week.

Darioush Nikpour, executive vice president of 3-D fashion technology company Browzwear’s North American operations, noted that it’s because those companies understand it can save them more than just time. “In apparel we’ve seen 35 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent reduction in costs,” he shared, adding, “You have companies that want to achieve speed, companies that want to achieve cost reduction, but I think just for the foundation alone it’s really critical to understand what the business challenges today are and then ask more questions. It’s an evolution.”

Gribbin agreed. “We as an industry can do a better job of educating brands and retailers because if they’re not going to be faster and more accurate, and more efficient and sustainable, they’re going to be less relevant to their customers,” he said.

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