Many analysts describe 3D as 'disruptive' technology and its introduction into the apparel industry has not been without sceptics. But workplace examples show how apparel companies are successfully embracing 3D software.

Kate Kennedy, lecturer at the School of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Australia, believes organisational change could also be a large barrier to successful implementation. "Training and downtime are involved and many don't have this luxury. Many are also happier making things as they always have," she says.

Yet the number of apparel companies embracing some form of 3D technology appears to be on the rise. Asaf Landau, chief executive officer of 2D CAD and 3D apparel software supplier Optitex, says some brands have made a total switch to 3D in their design and development, and are increasingly employing it in virtual showrooms and online marketing.

"With regards to virtual prototyping it's almost the same process as employed before. Designers still design and technical designers still create technical packs, but after pattern making, instead of sending it to the sample room to create and then ship physical samples back to the brands, they digitally stitch virtual samples which are automatically draped and rendered and send to brands who may choose to modify pockets, curves, colours or whatever."

He says this process goes back and forth digitally, making the iterations much quicker. Some major brands have virtualised whole business units, notes Landau, who did not name names, although a good example is Adidas.

In one case, the use of 3D as an emergency solution had been a catalyst to advance virtual products from use in the design and development process to use in marketing.

"One of our clients is a major luxury brand accessories manufacturer. They needed to present a line of bags to the marketing department that was to become part of a collection. The leather for a large part of the sample line had got stuck in customs. It was Tuesday and they had to present on Friday. The marketing manager asked if the operations team could produce a virtual line in 3D with point of view (POV) video, [called] fly arounds, of each object by that Friday, so in just four days.

"The results looked so good that the brand decided to use virtualised products for their showrooms, so as to validate collections with buyers before actually making them." He says clients can now give feedback about what they like so early in the cycle that the company can make decisions to update the collection using this feedback.

Companies can gain huge benefits in multiple sectors of the business, such as wholesale marketing and online, according to Landau.

"We have a customer in India who designs and develops workwear. They now do their sales trips flying with a tablet instead of a sample rack. They can show collections, do colourways, [illustrations of possible colour combinations] on the fly, and buyers can create their orders as they want them. It's very liberating as opposed to showing a limited number of samples," he says.

Marketing and communication
Meanwhile, marketing and communication is set to be the next major expansion area in 3D software uptake in the apparel industry, according to Browzwear managing director Sharon Lim.

"We have definitely seen an increase in the last seven years with other image processing technology and rendering. Adidas, for example have taken their business-to-business (B2B) catalogues into a 3D space. This was a huge win for them and many other companies have also used it to their advantage in this way," she says.

However Lim warns against using 3D just for marketing. "I have seen some companies spend on creating 3D for digital catalogues purely for sales purposes but they are not leveraging the greatest benefit from the technology, as opposed to companies who integrate it throughout their workflow in a less expensive and frictionless manner," she says.

Kennedy says that a sustainable concept of 3D product development included closed loop thinking. "We [as academics] are here to critique the system and the current system is producing a lot of waste...3D software can take you from styling to catalogue without a lot of wastage and that has to be a good thing," she says.

Landau says that although 3D product development software introduced many revolutionary changes into the workplace, it would not replace every process.

"People still need to touch the product. I don't believe virtual products will replace physical products, I think they'll replace a subset of samples in design showrooms and online photos. Design, development and sales are all being affected significantly but we will still see samples at the end of the conceptual approval and as examples in the showroom", he says.

Using 3D technology intuitively to make business sense is important in the long run. "We recommend to all of our customers that they get development virtualised through to the point where they have the product with the right design, and then they go ahead and make the physical sample.

"First time approval ratings are then in the 90th percentile instead of between 40% to 70% because you have skipped all those iterations and in less than half the time," he tells just-style.

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