A lot of the quick wins are around let me see visuals

A lot of the quick wins are around 'let me see' visuals

While the fashion industry still grapples to find the best ways to leverage the business benefits of 3D design and virtual prototyping tools, some of the tips for building buy-in include inspiring trust in the technology, and identifying quick and obvious wins.

Retailers and brands today "are completely under fire," points out Ed Gribbin, president at industry consultancy Alvanon, adding that against such a competitive backdrop "the technologies that help bring product to market get second-fiddle when it comes to the attention of executives in the industry."

"Culturally we've been slaves to a product development timeline calendar that is anywhere from 18 to 24 months at most companies. How do they know what we want [that far ahead]? That is part of the huge inefficiency in retail today," he said during a panel discussion at the recent PI Apparel (Product Innovation Apparel) event in New York.

"If we embrace technologies that allow us to test ideas with consumers before we produce product; if we shorten our supply chains and integrate technologies into our lean manufacturing and near-shoring efforts, we can bring product together in six months, not 18 months. And companies around the world are doing this."

For Asaf Landau, general manager at EFI Optitex, the adoption curve for 3D is "really seeing uplift right now," thanks to the results it is able to deliver in terms of speed, cost, earlier and better decisions and better products.

The executives from leading 3D software vendors agree that identifying where 3D works within an organisation and its infrastructure – the process, roles, responsibilities, and skillsets ­– can be daunting.

Natacha Alpert, senior innovation manager at Caleres, suggests starting with the designers who are the most willing, the most enthusiastic and ask to use the software.

"The transition from 2D drawings and patterns to a 3D mentality is very quick once you get there. Once you've got the design in the 3-D frame of mind, the rest will follow suit," says Steve Madge, vice president of industry and global affairs at Dassault Systèmes.

"You've got to try new ideas. But you have to be completely open to failing at them," Gribbin adds. "But if you test them in a small situation you can prove proof of concept very easily and get people in the organisation to grow trust without worrying about infrastructure issues."

He also makes that point that while "you can't partially implement a PLM system; every one has to be on the same page using the same information," this is not the same when it comes to 3D.

"3D you can implement in one area of the business, grow proof of concept and trust and let it grow through the organisation when people see it works. While there's a great upswing in people using the technology, we're still way underpenetrated in people testing it.

"Every organisation should be at some level of trying to implement a 3D strategy today."

Quick wins

While the end goal of a 3D implementation is likely to be different for each company, "you need to find the quick and obvious wins for your organisation," Landau advises.

"We have organisations that want to create more sample iterations because they'd like to try different designs out virtually. We have organisations that want to see all their colourways right at first prototype. We have those that are just trying to go faster or cheaper, or validate and merchandise their line earlier.

"A lot of the [quick wins] are around 'let me see' visuals: let me see what the different colourways would look like, or let me see what graphic placement and scaling would look like. Those are huge advantages for an organisation.

"What we really enjoy is that most of what's talked about after a year or two is 'we just make better decisions earlier because we get to see things earlier; we just make better products'," Landau observes.

Issues like "sustainability and knowing what your consumer wants should push you into looking at efficiency, productivity, less wastage, more iterations," adds Sharon Lim, CEO at Browzwear.

And for Simon Kim, chief strategy officer at CLO Virtual Fashion, intangible benefits such as a "reduction in internal chaos and a better relationship between people" are other obvious gains.

Factory-level focus

Getting factories on board is another key piece of the puzzle, but the executives say this is less of a challenge than might be expected.

"In the early days it was the factories who were the early adopters," explains Browzwear's Lim, pointing out: "They are the ones who feel the pain when it comes to making samples; they understand the return on investment."

Luis Velazquez, director of business development for Lectra North America, adds: "Factories are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient, and they absolutely bear the cost. So for them, 3D is a lifesaver. The issue on the other side is are you as a brand or retailer really committed to 3D? As soon as they get that commitment from you, they're full steam ahead ready to go.

"So for those of you that are maybe facing a little bit of pushback, that pushback may be based on [the factory's] belief that you're not serious about it."

Another key to encouraging uptake is to ensure compatibility across all the software formats, so that data can be used across different systems in an open and collaborative environment.

"Open source is important for factories to be able to work with different [customers] yet choose what's best for them, cost, usability, and then be able to float it up," agrees Lim.

"The industry understands this is really necessary. We understand the benefits that come from open source, the flexibility, and the diversity of creativity that comes out of open source."

Landau points out the likelihood of "everybody saying we're all going to be on the same standard is going to take a little bit of time. But we make a significant investment in being able to create an open environment where you can take from one software and bring into another, and have that be as effortless as possible.

"It's not easy, but we believe in keeping an open environment; I think it's our responsibility to the customer."

Caleres' Alpert also believes teaching teams the new file languages [SDL, DXF] "sometimes seems a lot more complicated than it is. It's not a Word document or an Excel file anymore, it's a brand new language. And educating your team on that brings some peace of mind in the beginning, rather than thinking that everything's incompatible."

Talent gap

Gribbin believes implementing new technologies like 3D design and development tools requires senior leadership to adopt an attitude that embraces disruptive thinking, innovation, risk and failure.

But he also identifies a talent gap across the industry today that is impeding progress too.

"We have people who have similar sets of skills in our companies, we all develop similar product and sell it at similar prices, and we're all trying to get the consumer's attention.

"And there's a gap between the talent that we have in the industry today and the talent that we're going to need to take it forward. Both at the leadership level – a lot of CEOs talk about the fact that they themselves came up either as a merchant or as a financial person, and they don't have the skills to understand how to engage their current customers, millennials and the next generation after that.

"When you get to the factory level, that same talent gap exists and we can all do a lot to train and educate our professionals in our home offices, sourcing offices, and factories on how to use these new technologies.

"And some of the vendors are doing that today. But we need to do more of that training and inspiration if we're going to close that talent gap…because that's what's going to allow us to take full advantage of technologies."