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How This New Digital Fabric Library Cuts the Headaches of Textile Sampling

South Korean wholesale fabric sourcing platform SwatchOn is taking the next step in its goal to facilitate the product sampling process for all parties in the supply chain and eliminate excess waste, announcing that it has just launched a new digital fabric library, giving brands access to 900 “digital twins” of the physical fabrics it offers online, as well as nearly 19,000 colorways.

While 900 files are presently prepped to be viewed in full 3D, SwatchOn is expecting to upload 100 to 200 more 3D-variable files every month on its website. The company has an ambitious goal to digitize more than half of its fabric library by the end of the year, according to SwatchOn co-founder Will Lee.

All of the files within the digital fabric library are compliant with solutions from 3D garment simulation technology provider CLO, which first partnered with SwatchOn in 2020. The companies initially collaborated to provide 3D fabric simulations for every one of the 200,000 textile SKUs offered on SwatchOn, so that brands designing garments can access both physical fabrics and digital twins of the same fabric.

Although SwatchOn operates as a B2B, members-only platform, the company has been gaining momentum throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, as digital sampling processes have experienced higher demand. In fact, co-founder Yonmi Michelle Jung said that SwatchOn saw its revenue increase 3.5 times year over year in 2020.

Currently, digital fabrics can be downloaded directly from SwatchOn, which sources its fabrics from 750 suppliers across Asia. Physical fabric can be fulfilled on the platform in minimum order quantities (MOQs) ranging from three yards up to 500,000 yards. The high range of MOQs comes as SwatchOn makes itself available for brands of all sizes.

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According to Lee, most of the company’s customers weren’t fully aware of how the addition of 3D technology in the sampling process could benefit the product design process.

“It’s clear that there was a kind of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation in the CLO 3D partnership, because for fashion companies like Adidas or Louis Vuitton, they have money, and resources to make their own 3D fabric libraries and provide that to their designers in-house,” Lee told Sourcing Journal. “But for small companies, individual designers or starting fashion designers that just graduated from the fashion schools, they don’t have these kinds of resources where they can really can source the 3D fabrics from. So not a lot of fabric suppliers or manufacturers are capable of making their fabric into 3D fabric files because of resources and technological thresholds.”

On the CLO side, the company wanted to expand its technology to be used by a wider array of designers across all companies, and also eliminate any barriers that prevented certain 3D fabric files from being used on any CLO simulations.

“With SwatchOn’s Digital Fabric Library, going from concept to final design will be much easier and interactive for designers as it allows them to have the digital and physical versions of the fabric, while being able to visualize how it drapes in CLO simultaneously,” Simon JH Kim, CEO of CLO, told Sourcing Journal. “We’re excited that this is finally available for users and can’t wait to see what they create.”

In April, SwatchOn is leveraging the partnership to integrate CLO’s garment simulation capabilities into its platform so users can see how the digital fabric behaves when crunched, pulled or draped. This is designed to mitigate the need for more physical swatches in the sampling process, and cut overall time in product development.

“The garments simulations are actually more for non-CLO users or ‘yet-to-be’ CLO users, because CLO users can just simply download the file, put it in their software and bring it to life,” Jung said. “For the ones who are not CLO users yet, if we show them garment simulation, they’re going to get a better idea of how the fabric is actually going to look like when they actually make a garment.”

According to Jung, this process increases SwatchOn’s ability to convert the brand from just receiving the swatches to actually going into the sampling phase and then into the production.

“The reason why a lot of swatches get wasted is once they make the garment, they may like the swatch and the garment, but sometimes it doesn’t drape like they wanted it to in person. They’ll then just have to discard that and find a new fabric,” Jung said.

The digital fabric library launch coincides with the companies’ “SwatchOn+CLO” campaign, which consists of interviews with CLO power users and SwatchOn customers with the tagline, “Do More With SwatchOn+CLO.”

The campaign launched on SwatchOn and CLO Virtual Fashion’s channels on March 18, and emphasizes the partnership’s value add of enabling brands to operate more sustainably and more productively within their product development processes.

SwatchOn brings visual search into the mix

The next step for SwatchOn is facilitating discoverability among its brands, particularly in helping them find exactly the type of fabric they are looking for. Given the struggles that companies may have in describing their fabric needs within a search bar, SwatchOn has employed an AI-powered visual search feature, where an inspiration image can be uploaded, and the platform’s entire library will be scoured for fabric suggestions that match image details like texture and color palette.

The search feature is accompanied with a mood board, enabling users to post their collection works and use those concepts as referential images or inspirational images to visually discover matching fabric swatches.

“We are really used to searching some items on the e-commerce website by filters or text searches,” Lee said. “But we have seen that, especially designers or the fashion and fabric sourcing experts in our own company, are more natural, more comfortable and more intuitive when they’re using the mood board to find the right fabric for their concepts, or for their designs.”

While Lee noted that all fabric searches go well beyond the visual aspects, such as seeking out price ranges, fabric texture or surface feeling, he said all basic searches would be aided significantly by the images within the mood board.

In keeping with demand for differentiation and sustainability in an evolving marketplace, SwatchOn has also launched a digital textile printing division, using pigment and sublimation dyes on the only two Kornit machines that exist in South Korea.

Using no water in the digital printing process, SwatchOn is able to print on up to nine different textiles including wool and linen, and is able to accommodate custom prints in orders starting as low as five yards.