An experienced red carpet patternmaker, fashion consultant, and 3D designer, Ewelina Barlak has extensive, first-hand experience of how digital tools – and especially 3D – have been adopted in the highest echelons of fashion.

Today, Ewelina works as a freelance consultant to luxury brands like Tom Ford and Gucci, as well as operating her own. She used 3D to visualise the dress that actress Amy Adams wears in the leading image for this article.

The Interline: Let’s start with the biggest question first: can couture and technology go hand-in-hand? There’s a perception that tradition is what makes high-end brands stand out, and that disturbing those historical ways of working could undermine what makes those businesses unique.

Ewelina Barlak: After years of working with many different companies and designers, as well as creating collections for EWELINEB, my own fashion brand, I think that what truly distinguishes high-end brands is not necessarily the tradition, but the quality of the finished product. That is: attention to detail, finishing techniques and touches, things like that. At this stage a human being is necessary because even the most advanced technology cannot replace raw human talent, skill, creativity, and imagination.

Of course behind the scenes, at the stage of creation process, each company uses some technology, to a greater or lesser extent. We’re talking about the latest technologies in fabric production, fabric dyeing, leather processing, embroidery design, and creating patterns using CAD software, to mention a few. The most important thing is to maintain balance, because technology is designed to help a person develop a product, not replace a human being completely.

The Interline: Prior to 3D, tell us about some of the technological changes you’ve seen over the course of your patternmaking career.

Ewelina Barlak: Fashion is a huge part of the global market, which also means that every economic or political change has an impact on fashion. The fashion market is ever growing, fast changing, and ever adapting. As the years go by the instruments of our trade get more and more developed.

Screens replaced sketchbooks for designers, CAD with 3D has arisen from 2D, plotters are becoming more and more advanced–now they can cut patterns by themselves. Fabric printers have better and better print quality. We also have new technologies in the textile industry: we have bamboo, hemp, and even paper fabrics, to name a few. The sewing machines themselves are now fully automated, with energy-saving motors whose efficiency is twice as high.

We have a lot of applications that facilitate international communications, and technologies that let us work remotely rather than in a studio.

When, 16 years ago, I first started on the path to my fashion career, back in my small studio in Poland, I had such great hopes. I’m glad to have witnessed the many good changes over the years, and happy that today I can fulfil my dreams.

The Interline: And where did 3D enter the picture? Was it something you were personally interested in as a creative tool from the outset, or did you initially look at it as something of a novelty?

Ewelina Barlak: The fashion industry is very demanding, and the pattern maker position is crucial in the process of creating, be it the entire collection or a single project, so wanting to meet these requirements, while maintaining independence, I decided to broaden my qualifications. For me, as a creative pattern maker, it was a huge challenge in the beginning – switching from the traditional table pattern making to a computer monitor, using a mouse instead of a ruler and a penci – -so before I made the final decision I ordered every webinar from every manufacturer. It was then that I learned about the 3D option. It was something quite extraordinary!

When I first learned about it I was stunned and awed. We have known 2D for years at that point, but 3D in CAD was, and still is, an absolute revolution, a revelation. Because it is not only a presentation or drawing in 3D, but it is a simulation of a pattern created in a 2D window into a real image. In essence, this means that 3D in CAD allows us to see clothes before the pattern is even printed. It allows one to check the pattern, balance, size, how different fabrics behave using the same pattern, not to mention the 3D visualisation of the final samples.

And even though at the time it was something completely new to me and somewhat intimidating, I did not hesitate for a moment, as I knew instinctively that 3D would be a perfect tool of the future. Today I can say that it was an excellent decision.

The Interline: How do you actually work in 3D today? Are you using it as more of an efficiency tool, as a way of bringing wilder creative ideas to life, or a combination of the two? Do you use it for collaboration – something that’s more important than ever at the moment?

Ewelina Barlak: As much as I appreciate the creative skills of creating patterns the traditional way, I know that 2D and 3D CAD gives us a completely new perspective on things, and so many new possibilities besides. I have been using 3D windows every day for years! I have built about 100 individual avatars of private clients and fitting models for external companies. Using Optitex I created several hundred patterns, which I checked in 3D first, and it works perfectly. Speed, precision, and, consequently, performance and efficiency are incomparable to the more traditional manual way of making patterns.
I think that this is creative in of itself, since, as a creator, you can react quickly to any project and improve it as many times as you wish.

To think that on the other side there is a pattern maker that can give life to any of your ideas, that you can, from the very beginning, regardless of where you are, participate in the creation process, influence it even before the first printing of the pattern itself – I think this perspective is very inspiring for many designers.

The Interline: As a technical patternmaker, does a 3D workflow offer you greater clarity when it comes to the practical and commercial implications of your decisions? Obviously you’re not really designing to a budget when you’re working on a Tom Ford piece for the red carpet, but how about ready-to-wear?

Ewelina Barlak: I am an economist by education and it has always been important to me that my work be sustainable. I still subscribe to that philosophy today whlist working in the fashion industry; perhaps even more, considering the industry. Regardless of whom my customer is, my services are always at the same level – every client receives the same package of high quality services.

Using CAD we have a pattern in 2D and we have 3D simulations, and such a package stays in our database forever. Even if the project has been changed every version is saved, and if the project has been paused, it is still in the database; if, after a few years, we want to go back to it, there is no need to print out the pattern. All one has to do is open it in 3D to have a full spectrum of the project image.

Creations for the Red Carpet as well – even if they are draped creations that may require a manual touch when creating patterns – are in the end entered into the database, because my client must always be able to use a given model in their Ready to Wear.

The Interline: Again, this applies more to the mass market than the high end, but how important do you believe a 3D workflow is for a more sustainable future?

Ewelina Barlak: Again, 3D in CAD is not a drawing, it is a real image simulation that we get through simulations based on an existing pattern. Just a few years ago I have never even dreamt of such a possibility! With such an incredible tool at disposal I think that every sector in the industry, whether high end or otherwise, will want to use, to a greater or lesser extent, the 3D option.

For young designers and brands that are just starting 3D would give them the opportunity to reach a wider audience without incurring the huge costs associated with creating a real collection. As for the High Street sector, it would allow them to maintain relatively low costs and prices, and to respond quickly to customer needs–3D scanners would take a huge part in that.

For individual projects building a mannequin based on the customer’s dimensions could be either shortened by many hours or completely discarded, because the avatar is very accurate and precise, and it stays in ones database forever; one can easily adjust it or change it at any time.

For me, personally, the most important advantage of 3D is the reduction of waste during the creation process, and I’m talking here about thousands of meters of paper, fabrics, and other materials that are being wasted in the process. As I mentioned before, sustainability is a big thing for me. The more I can reduce waste, the better. I think, in general, that each of us should think more about how, as a person, one cmay affect the balance in the world for the better. I believe that 3D is an excellent tool that can help us in that.