3D design Turning fashion industry ‘PhyGital’
Image Courtesy: BBC

The fashion industry is experiencing a new-age digital insurrection. Until not long ago, fashion designs transmogrified from paper-pencil sketches to paper-based patterns to hand-fastened samples. Presently, the next generation of technology embedded with designing techniques is paving its way as the dominant fashion retailers and brands are turning it all to true-to-life 3D creations.

3D design in textile engineering

The first breakthrough of mechanical design came through Ivan Sutherland, who spearheaded sketchpad in 1963 popular as ‘Robot Draftsman’. In the beginning, 3D designs were included in brand portfolios to highlight the artistic accent, which are now being explored as a functional value by fashion designers and retailers. The technology is a merge of virtual reality software applications laden with scientific models within the CAD systems.

The customisable digital ambience allows the designer to accurately validate the drape of the virtual prototype of his designs. A particle-based garment model incorporated within the dynamics of Newtonian physics is used to simulate the actual texture and shape of the garment.

Amongst the top browser-based software available for 3D CAD modelling, Autodesk, Human Solutions, EFI Optitex, Solidworks, AutoCAD, FreeCAD are the most popular tools. The software comes handy with features like 3D design creation, automated estimation of cost, 2D sketching, file management, photorealistic performance, ECAD/ MCAD collaboration, reverse engineering and much more.

Textile engineers around the globe are adopting advancements in design technology which have been a saviour during the state of worldwide chaos. 3D designing is being embraced by frontiers of the fashion industry as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to thwart the conventional means of fashion display.

Truly, 3D CAD modelling technology has come as a boon to product engineers and developers as the technology has accelerated the speed of creating tooling models, prototype generation, marketing, manufacturing as well as patenting. The ability to create fabric designs while digitally visualising the final product design in real time, provides the designer with an exceptional ease to scale the measures of repetitions and design engineered prints.

Virtual Dynamics of 3D Apparel Design
Virtual Dynamics of 3D Apparel Design

3D visualiser tools increase the speed of design yield and assist in reducing the probability of print strike-offs, while rendering flexible customisation as well as freedom of creativity. The software companies which are developing and selling CAD software are loaded with design print feature for virtual creations of 3D designs that can be directly printed onto the fabrics, before they are cut, trimmed and sewn.

Fashion Universities Providing courses for Virtual Stitching and 3D Designing
Image Courtesy: FIT New York City

To promote research and applications of 3D designing and virtual stitching, leading fashion institutes have come up with improvised courses and certifications which promise to build excellent Virtual Designers. Realising the need of the hour, FIT has launched a programme with Browzwear 3D as an open platform for anyone who wants to study 3D designing. When using 3D designs, it’s important to note that the software being newly introduced, requires daily, intense practice to gain perfection.

3D designs
Image Courtesy: FIT

The luxury and fashion Managing Director of brand Coresight, Marie Driscoll said, “The grid model is just so boring. People don’t just shop just because they need things. People shop to discover, learn and find out about new products,” agreeing to the importance of an online store experience.

A Virtual Reality technology not only creates a creatively entertaining milieu for customers but also plays a crucial role in driving sales. Adding onto that, Driscoll expressed that luxury brands, fashion retailers and beauty labels are best suited business segments for 3D design and display technology. As per her, “Luxury has been slow to come on board with online, and many brands do not offer their full assortment, but if they can provide a wonderful experience online, including with other technologies like livestreaming and consultations with store associates, it’s going to be a game changer.”

3D Designed Virtual Stores
Image Courtesy: Ulta Beauty

A virtual reality store ambience, also known as 3D shopping space, allows customers to evaluate the merchandise as if in a real outlet, but at the comfort of their homes. The customers can zoom in and out to configure the product from different angles and make purchases. Virtual technologies are empowering fashion retailers enabling new features to create an unforgettable experience while shopping.

With better advancements coming in each day, visualisations and accessibility of products have become easier than ever before. Fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret have shut stores in doodads since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, such brands are seeking to counterbalance the incurred losses from online store set-ups.

Obsess, a start-up using e-commerce VR, saw a collaborative project with Dior for the launch of its virtual store in Champs-Élysées, Paris. The Shanghai Luxury Art mall in China also launched the first virtual store in China, which gives shoppers a virtual tour of the mall and allows purchase from 46 different stores. Designers of Dior’s virtual stores say that Dior’s ultimate motivation was originally to share its Paris store experience with ‘a wider audience’ that otherwise could not have had the chance to visit Paris.

Dior’s Virtual Reality 3D store
Image Courtesy: Christian Dior

“For a brand, I don’t want it to look like a low-tech video game. The quality is so important; they need that for preserving their brand and their aesthetic,” said Neha Singh, CEO of Obsess. The entrepreneur agrees that millennials and younger generation are already familiar with the concept of VR stores through gaming and digital savviness being a part-and-parcel of their daily lifestyle. Moreover, the 3D design storefront has already found its presence in Mainland China.  For instance, the luxury brand Valentino recently inaugurated their virtual outlet on T-mall by Alibaba, which allows its shoppers to take online tour to the brand’s pop-up store physically located in Beijing, and even shop for products placed on the shelves through Alibaba’s Tmall.

Alibaba’s 3D Flagship Store in China
Image Courtesy: Digital Teahouse

Despite the wide range of possibilities created by the technology, the apparel industry is still reluctant to rely on digitally created designs over the conventional methods. While there are numerous benefits of 3D design, it is not very easy to change current set design communication for retailers with multifarious SKUs and product variety.

For example, Miroglio Fashion is an Italian women’s apparel retailer which houses 11 distinct international brands and thus has differentiated SKUs. Switching to 3D design has challenged the company with a lot of changes in the current methodologies. But, given the newfound situation, the positives definitely over-reign the fears.

Currently, after espousal of 3D designing, the company has witnessed a decrease in garment reworking costs by 90 per cent compared to the previous years. The Vice President of CLO, American 3D software company, said, “While there can definitely be some inconveniences in making the transition to digital, ultimately, the companies and brands that do convert to digital quickly see the benefits of doing so.”

Further, there have been reported concerns of work loss by designers, pattern makers and workers at related levels of product development, if 3D design takes over.

On this issue, former Design Director of Gant, men’s lifestyle fashion brand, said, “It’s asking the designers and product developers, or a graduate, to not only learn a new software interface, but to also be pattern cutters, sewers, fabric technicians, digitisers, e-commerce photographers and retouch artists. It’s creating new roles within the industry for visual effect technicians and directors.”

Thus, 3D design is being positively looked upon to open new doors for the fashion industry that might allow workers more time to be creative in their present job roles. Automation of their daily roles will not replace, but empower them to use their energy for betterment.