Apparel producers face increasing options in digital design tools as software providers expand into new markets and offer more advanced and innovative features.

Take South Korea-based CLO Virtual Fashion Inc. Its CLO3D imports 2D ‘computer-aided design’ (CAD) patterns that can be arranged around an avatar of specified dimensions. A designer would then digitally sew the patterns together, change colours, and apply different fabric properties, such as cotton or leather, to change how it will drape.

"The simulation is very stable and fast. You’re able to make changes in real time," says Daniel Seo, US-based project manager, at CLO, which has offices in the US and China. He adds the system is a fast, easy way to test how various patterns will work on different fabrics.

Most of CLO Virtual Fashion’s clients are based in Europe and Asia, but the company is looking to grow in North America and opened its New York office last year, he says.

For a more accurate digital representation of clothing on a real fit model, users can also enter a 3D body scan of a model, acquired from a third party scanning service, and digitally design around that model’s exact measurements.

Seo says CLO3D is a useful technology that supplements the traditional design process. "Because fashion and garment making is still such a tactile experience, there is a challenge we face with companies feeling 3D isn’t enough…we feel it’s not going to replace the true product. It’s supposed to improve and have a smarter and leaner development process."

While the technology for digital simulations is improving, it is not yet able to provide precise copies of the human body, adds Seo. The avatar in the system is still a "hard shell," similar to a mannequin, and cannot replicate the body’s nuanced movements and its effect on apparel.

Certain avatars on the system can make certain poses and movements, including walking down a runway. Seo notes many customers go to a third party that can motion capture live models walking, and then import that data into the system.

Design software can help companies cut costs and time involved in creating samples as users can make changes instantly and avoid delays caused by errors made in physical samples, says Seo.

Integrated PLM and graphics

Meanwhile in France, C-Design Fashion is rolling out a new version of its software that goes beyond the initial product design, says Patrick Abbou, the company’s CEO. The version, being released this summer, will include a product lifecycle management system (PLM) integrated into the graphic software, which will give designers access to and share key product information in real time: "It is still from the designer’s point of view; still in the design world," he says.

"The designer initialises the product and then, automatically, the pattern maker gets the technical packages already prepared by the designer…they interact more dynamically…and it’s all in one central location," says Abbou. The designer can also access details of past products organised in the database. Other upgrades will include an updated library of trends and products and updated Pantone colour codes.

C-Design is tailored for the apparel industry and includes specialised tools, such as creating designs as specific as a stone wash effect. The system can simulate a variety of materials and textures and includes features for creative design, such as drawing freehand.

The software also includes a visual merchandising feature that allows users to create 2D simulations of store interiors to see what designed products would look like on the shelf. This helps users to plan ahead from the design phase and see how pieces might work together as outfits in store, Abbou adds.

Industry trendsetters

Last October, Israel-based Optitex Ltd, a virtual prototyping software solutions provider, opened an office in Milan, Italy.

"As a global fashion hub, Italy is a particularly important territory for us to serve," says Asaf Landau, CEO of Optitex. "Many Italian fashion companies are industry trendsetters, well-positioned to take advantage of the exciting innovations in 2D and 3D virtual prototyping for design and production."

The company notes key Italian brands including Roberto Cavalli and Italian and apparel manufacturer Crea Si are already using the Optitex 3D suite for garment design and development.

"With realistic 3D product representations taking a growing role in processes within fashion brands and amongst the various stakeholders in the ecosystem, more and more industry leaders are mastering 3D solutions in order to stay aligned with this market evolution," adds Landau.

Last July, Optitex integrated a printed fabric tool into its Optitex Pattern Design Software that allows designers to see how a printed image will lie on a garment and to make adjustments in real time. "This greatly increases pattern design accuracy for any garment that utilises printed fabric, and eliminates the time and costs of creating physical samples," says the company.

The company’s customers include Patagonia, Coach, Victoria’s Secret, Jones Apparel Group, and Brooks Sports.

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