The fashion industry has been notoriously slow to embrace 3D design, citing the loss of “touch and feel,” not to mention the challenging existential mindset of moving on from more familiar processes. But converts to 3D design technology praise the agility, cost savings and sustainability it brings to design and production, and they are eager to spread the gospel to the rest of the industry.
Sourcing Journal’s Sept. 13 webinar, “Leveraging 3D Design, Adding Agility & Sustainability to Production,” took a deep dive into this topic with those on the ground. Panelists included: Amber Isaac, 3D apparel consultant for Artistic Milliners/Star Fades International (SFI); Bill Wilcox, president and founder of 3D Design fashion software company Clothing Tech LLC; and Ani Wells, founder and director of sustainable denim brand Simply Suzette. It was moderated by Lauren Parker, branded content manager of Sourcing Journal.
While the apparel industry has made strides into 3D design, the practice remains woefully behind other industries. Fashion is traditionally sketched in 2D then converted into a pattern that can then be visualized in 3D. The automotive industry, in contrast, has designed in 3D from the technology’s inception (imagine shipping in-development cars back and forth with every iteration) and remains far ahead of apparel in this regard.
Clothing Tech’s proprietary software and patented Garment Digital Twin mimics that technology; embedding the tech pack into the garment’s pattern, so any design adjustments are automatically reflected in the pattern, noted Wilcox, who worked in automotive and other industries before launching Clothing Tech LLC as a fashion-focused industry solution.
“The pattern is an output of the process, not the input into the process,” he said. The software also adjusts pricing for material changes, yardage, added embellishments and so on, providing a real-time assessment of what designs really cost.
The best part? Brand teams, even those without advanced technical design skills, can iterate and experiment until the design gets to the point where the product looks promising enough to start building out samples.
Sustainability and time savings
Aside from the obvious time- and efficiency-saving benefits, there are measurable sustainability impacts to adopting 3D design.
“If I had to ship 10 samples back and forth, that’s a lot of CO2 emissions,” said Simply Suzette’s Wells. “Plus, a pair of jeans can take up to two yards of fabric, so for every physical sample you’re avoiding, you’re saving usable fabric that could go into actual production.” In terms of time, physical sampling “can range anywhere between 15 to 25 days,” but, depending on a client’s products and many factors, 3D design “can almost narrow that down to as little as a couple of days.”
3D design doesn’t have to be all of nothing, either. “Looking at a model where we inject 3D in just the development stage, 3D ends up taking on average 12 hours of manpower,” said SFI’s Isaac. “Compare that to [a traditional physical process], which takes up to 40 hours sometimes. So you can see how just that alone, in one development, has huge effects.”
The process also streamlines interactions between designer and client teams, who are more often than not in different cities, countries and time zones.
In one instance, Artistic Milliners’ Isaac met virtually with Wells to discuss pocket placement on a pair of jeans. The pocket was moved on the shared screen and the new placement agreed upon in just a few seconds. In the real world, that tiny alteration would have “resulted in another physical sample to be created, shipped to me, measured, marked up, and shipped back to SFI with the hopes they would understand my crazy markings,” Wells said. “But with 3D design, it’s almost as easy as sharing a Google doc.”
As with any budding technology, resistance can thwart progress. The main objections to designing in 3D usually fall under the loss of touch and feel, the price of getting set up, training the team, or just the fear of not “doing things the same way as always,” but panel participants were quick to debunk these worries.
“I hear from my colleagues and friends that oftentimes their best work comes from mistakes in the physical sampling process,” Wells said. “Maybe it’s a little puckering detail that they didn’t intentionally design but they ended up really loving it. Maybe there was a different reaction in the laundry that was not expected but they ended up loving it.” But, she insists, with the digitization of fabrics now, the technology is so advanced that designs can showcase how a fabric blows in the wind or drapes over the figure.
Judging by the number of job postings for 3D designers on LinkedIn and other job sites, it’s clear that 3D is gaining traction. Isaac notes that there’s also a lot of overlap among industries, which will be good for the fashion world.
“The more we can cross pollinate all of these different disciplines, the faster and the more well rounded the apparel industry can catch up with the rest of the world, like the gaming industry, the film industry, etc.,” she said. “The more we can just reach out and collaborate, the better.”
Watch the webinar Leveraging 3D Design, Adding Agility & Sustainability to Production to learn:
- The industry pain points that 3D design solves and what the opportunities are
- How SFI/Artistic Milliners applies 3D design and how it has affected the sampling process
- How Clothing Tech embeds the tech pack into patterns with its patented Garment Digital Twin and how it differentiates between designing in 3D and visualizing in 2D, and why it matters
- What Simply Suzette learned working with SFI/Artistic Milliners on a 3D design and fit modeling project
- What other industries can teach the fashion industry about 3D design
- How 3D design can decrease returns and make a company more sustainable