Over the past decade, early technology adopters in the apparel industry have opened their doors to innovation and are embracing the inevitability of digital transformation. However, the majority of apparel companies are still clinging onto the traditional means of operation, and are reluctant to adapt to ways of working that are already second nature across most industries. 

The global spread of COVID-19 has shaken things up this year.  In a time of crisis, the fashion industry as a whole has come to the realization that digital transformation is not just about enhancing efficiency – making it something brands could tackle at an uncertain point in the future – but is rather a necessity for survival. Apparel brands are now not just trying to calculate how to sustain profitability, but also figuring out how to best mitigate risks throughout the entire value chain.

The Impact of Visualization on Time to Market

Early adopters and innovators are showing the way. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, an  increasing number of brands were already beginning to think digitally to combat common challenges and speed up time to market. As part of this, the influence of 3D for apparel design has continued to grow throughout the industry, with companies like Browzwear providing cutting-edge solutions for true-to-life 3D apparel. However, 3D software alone is not sufficient to digitize the industry as a whole – to achieve transformation, a combination of complementary solutions are going to be needed.

One of the most time-consuming and expensive channels within the fashion industry is eCommerce. In times of financial uncertainty, although the margin of sale decreases, the user experience needs to be upgraded in order to increase the sales probability to the target audience. One of the ways this can be achieved is through the implementation of 3D; In a recent article, it was noted that “Rebecca Minkoff, who began testing Shopify’s 3D model capabilities during the holiday season, found that sessions that interacted with a 3D model were up to 44 per cent more likely to add to cart and 27 per cent more likely to convert to an order.”

image courtesy of metail

Companies like Metail are now providing EcoShot® , which compose 3D simulated garments over matching photographs of real people, and can display the exact draping of garments when worn, as if it were a real-life photoshoot. This has proven to be extremely effective when presenting a remote digital catalog to wholesale buyers. Realistic photography takes rendered apparel up a notch when combined seamlessly together, and has shown to be exceptionally efficient throughout the selling process. Designers can envision and showcase their design concept in a way that imitates a photography setting, without the need for physical samples with their associated cost and time implications.

Digital Wholesale

On the consumer front, as more shoppers are forced to carry out their purchases online, they are naturally looking for more engaging and interactive ways to visualize the piece before purchasing it. One of the market leaders in this field is Sketchfab, whose technology makes it possible to embed interactive and configurable 3D models within a webpage, without requiring any plugins. For many brands, not limited to apparel, this exposed an entirely new front for online consumer experience, that was simply unobtainable until very recently.

In a world of online shoppers, another way that consumer confidence can be solidified is through the concept of virtual fitting. This isn’t an easy field to adopt, many have tried in the past but have experienced low levels of accuracy and fit in comparison to the consumer’s expectations. However, innovative technological solutions such as Meepl, have introduced fresh approaches to virtual fittings. Meepl works to combine the retailer’s 3D garment database with the body measurements of the user, which through machine learning allows the garment to be adapted and fitted in milliseconds. By having an accurately fitted personal avatar, consumers can enjoy a personalized online shopping experience as an alternative to visiting the physical store. The virtual dressing room concept holds significant implications for online sales in terms of advancing.

IMAGE COURTESY OF BYONDXR

In light of the challenging circumstances that the world has recently been facing, the entire industry’s personnel have been forced to stay home and work remotely. Both brands and manufacturers soon recognized the need for new methods and platforms that would enable them to continue to showcase their collections. This is where the digital catalog comes into play. This is not a new concept, but its adoption was rare until brands found themselves in a situation where in-person meetings were not an option and a virtual alternative was needed. Companies like ByondXR specialize in providing digital showrooms for apparel collections where virtual garments can be presented to buyers in a life-like setting. This allows the selling process to be conducted with digital garments only, and buyers can enjoy an immersive online experience. Moving to a virtual showroom not only significantly reduces the cost of physical sample production, but it also facilitates risk mitigation.  Additionally, pricing can be aligned across the board, eliminating any uncertainty over costs.

Manufacture The Sellable 

As time goes on, price-sensitivity has become a major concern for key players in the fashion industry. Yet implementing a cost-saving approach isn’t as simple as switching to cheaper textiles or manufacturing methods, it’s more about making smarter decisions across the board to avoid overproduction. Although many brands tend to prioritize quantity, this approach has left stores with an excessive amount of waste at the end of each season. After being marked down in price, and later written-off as a loss, the leftover garments are typically burned in large volumes or simply discarded, leaving a trail of criticism, environmental concerns, and financial repercussions.

To avoid running into situations of excessive waste production, Voice of Customer providers, including First Insight, who recently partnered with leading apparel supply chain provider Li & Fung. First Insight uses predictive analytics to incorporate The Voice of Customer into the product development process. This is accomplished by presenting 3D garments to insight groups, enabling the brand to gain consumer knowledge and ultimately improve speed to market by selling winning products and minimize future costs.

Embracing the Change

The impact of COVID-19 has brought a wave of change to the industry, as apparel brands are no longer able to have physical samples at hand, they have been forced to search for alternatives. As brands seek to best mitigate these circumstances, the ability for all stakeholders throughout the process to trust a digital sample marks a turning point that has enabled apparel brands to move from a physical workflow to an all-digital workflow. The sooner digitization makes its way across the industry, the quicker brands can enjoy endless benefits, from cost savings, to speed, and sustainability.

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