virtual adaptation and digital fabric samples for a better fashion world

During the Re’aD Summit at the German Fashion Institute in May, the focus was on how digital solutions can prevent overproduction and waste in the fashion industry from the central theme “Digital x less”. From digital fabric samples to 3D applications and virtual customization to reduce returns. The innovations presented during the congress show the technical possibilities that can help to improve the fashion industry.

Digital fabrics for a cleaner supply chain

A key theme at the Re’aD Summit was the flexibility and adaptability of the supply chain. Digitization of substance samples and prototypes is crucial for this – and can reduce delivery times, development costs for collection and environmental impact.

Digitization of textiles requires different software and hardware. The Cologne-based company DMIx has developed software for color standards that standardize the digitization of colors on physical substances. This helps to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings between fabric manufacturers, clothing manufacturers and creative departments that are already working with partially digitized processes.

Italian drugmaker Marzotto Group uses DMIx software to create digital drug samples. In combination with other services, the Marzotto Group has managed to digitize more than 20 percent of its drug samples. For example, Marzotto uses fabric scanners that transform the properties of the fabrics into a “digital twin”. The data is processed with special software so that it can be used in pattern drawing programs such as Clo. This creates the opportunity to work digitally at the product development level – a step in the textile production chain that usually has a huge environmental impact.

Visualization of the supply chain with and without digitized work steps. Image: Gary Plunkett / PixelPool

Luca Bicego, IT specialist at Marzotto Group, illustrates the benefits of digitized fabrics with an example: If a product developer wants to offer an item in additional colors and sizes, he can first simulate the versions in his 3D software. By simulating the movement of the digital prototypes, it is even possible to test the freedom of movement and wearing comfort. These digital tests reduce errors, which would result in unnecessary transportation costs and material consumption. In addition, there is the time factor: 3D sampling saves work hours and potentially employees.

Gary Plunkett, Chief Commercial Officer at PixelPool, a company that offers similar tools, also notes this. He reports that instead of several weeks, a customer only needs a few hours to create and release new products.

“Every millimeter makes a difference.”

Technology firm Lectra cited a 2022 McKinsey survey: Just over a third of fashion companies surveyed identified digitization as one of the industry’s biggest opportunities, while supply chains, logistics and inventory management were seen by a third as the biggest challenge. However, the latter can be simplified by digitization.

Lectra develops software for various processes: from planning and sourcing to design, development, production and sales. Lectra’s computer programs allow companies to digitize their processes and thus become more agile. “By digitizing their processes, fashion companies can more easily respond to market demand, select fabrics based on sustainable criteria, optimize material costs and quality, and adapt their designs to the latest trends,” says Phillip Muehlenkord, Marketing Director for Northern and Eastern Europe at Lectra.

Stages of the production chain for which Lectra offers digital solutions. Photo: Phillip Muehlenkord / Lectra

The ‘Modaris’ program digitizes pattern making and speeds up the production process, while another program called ‘Quick and Flex Offer’ prevents waste – Muehlenkord says: “Every millimeter of fabric saved makes a difference to minimize your CO2 footprint”.

Companies that previously worked extensively with manual processes can save up to 10 percent on their expenses with Lectra’s programs, says Karin Schiller, Presales Consultant at Lectra. For companies where digitization is already well advanced, Schiller sees savings of 1 to 5 percent. It may not seem like much – but given the millions of euros that go into production, it’s a significant amount, she adds.

The Dutch technology company PixelPool presented 3D-based retail solutions. Chief Commercial Officer Gary Plunkett used a customer’s example to explain how 3D technologies can also benefit retailers: An international outdoor brand uses PixelPools Dtail software program to test visual merchandising standards and store layout. The instrument allows buyers to see new collections in the store. This allows them to better assess how the collections are visually translated to the store floor.

3D simulation of merchandise in the store. Image: Gary Plunkett / PixelPool

Digitization requires persistence

But what obstacles do companies need to be prepared for when switching to digital processes?

Plunkett touches on a topic that is often overlooked in the discussion of digitization: Digitization only makes sense when a certain level has been reached. This means that companies need to be prepared for a long way ahead before restructuring bears fruit. The transition from physical to digitized working methods mainly gives workflows complications, as the introduction of the first digital goods requires not only equipment but also expertise.

“It’s not easy to get to a fully three-dimensional workflow,” Plunkett says. For him, it is about having a realistic starting point, a “game plan” divided into smaller steps and decisions based on solid information and knowledge.

According to Plunkett, suppliers in particular can quickly implement a 3D-centric work model, as long as the proportion of cross-season-specific styles is between 30 and 60 percent. For these companies, a 3D library can be created, where recurring styles can be provided with new colors, sizes and details without much effort or technical know-how. The collection step is thus redefined and moved from production halls, sampling and transport routes to screens. But for fashion companies with frequently changing, complex styles, the shift takes longer – because the styles have to be reintroduced into the 3D programs every time. “The great thing about all of this is that you work much more efficiently, faster, and ultimately get a lot more done,” Plunkett said, summarizing the benefits of digitization.

Example of a ‘library’ of 3D styles, created by the program ‘Dtail’. Image: Gary Plunkett / PixelPool

Can the meta-verse satisfy the urge to consume?

Although consumer awareness of sustainability has increased markedly in recent years, this is not yet reflected in their buying behavior. There is a gap between attitude and behavior that needs to be addressed. Carl Tillessen, chief analyst at DMI, has high hopes for digital fashion. The huge interest of the younger generations to present themselves fashionably online could be served with virtual clothing. If the need to consume is met in a digital way, slow fashion can be put into use in the real world. Consumption does not stop, but digitalisation can create a new form of fashion that has less of an impact on the environment.

Simone Morlock, Head of Digital Fitting Lab Hohenstein, and Beawears CEO Verena Ziegler presented how this
brave new world can look when it comes to fitting clothes. Virtual customization helps optimize the fit, which can reduce overproduction and return rates.

Morlock reports that 70 percent of end consumers currently cannot find their clothing size. This has consequences for consumer behavior: Consumers order different sizes, but sometimes do not keep any of the goods. All that sending and returning causes high emissions. With Virtual Fitting this can be reduced. Together with Beaware, Ziegler has developed a tool that allows consumers to do a 3D scan of their body via their smartphone. Users experience an enhanced shopping experience thanks to size advice, while data on body shapes are available, helping the fashion industry make their fit and size range more accurate.

Virtual Fitting Tool from Beauwear. Photo: Verena Ziegler / Beawear

Conclusion: people are the key to digitization

The participants in the Re’aD Summit seem to agree on one thing: As good as the technologies are, they are only useful if people participate. In this regard, Morlock asks the question: “Are the new instruments serious solutions or gimmicks?”. For her, the core is the industry’s willingness to manage resources, because “technology needs technical processes”, and these processes are set in motion by people.

Rouette shares the same view: “Companies are so busy hiring CROs (Corporate Responsibility Officers), owners and managers say they want digitization and sustainability”, but words must be followed by actions. Christian and Andreas Büdel, directors of PB Accessoires, also see this shift in perspective as significant: “We have everything in our hands, we have the technology – why not use it?”

Gerd Müller-Thomkins, general manager of DMI, sums up the summit. “Less should be more in the future!” This means: “Less” waste from the fashion industry must be achieved through “more” effort and concrete action from the people who work in the fashion industry.

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