If you’re looking into 3D today, you’re not alone.

Each morning, retail owners wake to a world where most of their routes to market are closed. Every day, creative designers, technical designers, and product developers try to collaborate on styles with no idea when – or if – they will get to touch a sample. With all the traditional options for designing, developing, and marketing getting disconnected, 3D has become one of the only ways to keep moving in a world that is otherwise standing still.

Because as hard as they are to endure day in and day out – and believe us, we know – these are just bigger, uglier versions of existing problems. Not new ones. And in less terrifying times, 3D has already dealt with many of them – making it a safe bet to help your business cope with challenges that might have looked distant until COVID-19 stamped on the gas.

Before the crisis, a brand like yours might have turned to 3D to cut their prototyping and sampling costs for sustainability reasons. Today, rapid 3D simulation can instantly close the gap between sketch and prototype, turning an uncertain wait time (months at least for a physical prototype) into a matter of hours.

Prior to the pandemic, designers flocked to 3D because it freed their creativity – limiting their concept and colourway ideas by hard disk space rather than sample material yardage.

Today, any amount of physical material might be out of reach, while its virtual stand-in still has unlimited supply – as well as being joined by libraries of industry-standard components and trims, making it easy to experiment without sewing a stitch.

In the past, technical designers used 3D to make iterative, digital improvements to fit before receiving a physical sample. Today, that same link between 3D simulation and 2D pattern can allow them to drape, adjust, simulate, animate and repeat – all with total accuracy, and all without needing access to a physical dressform that’s under lock and key at the office.

Where a brand like yours might previously have used 3D to get an idea of material cost for some styles before the BOM was assembled, today – with revenues being squeezed tighter than ever – live estimates of material consumption and cost (both added to the latest version of CLO) can help make sure every design decision counts towards the bottom line.

And where 3D has always been used to cut ambiguity and improve collaboration with suppliers, clarity and speed could become fashion’s hottest currencies when manufacturing begins again, with scarce capacity. Here, having an unbreakable link between technical specification and 3D simulation could be the difference between resuming a relatively normal calendar, and struggling to get samples made at all.

If you have found yourself looking from the outside in, wondering where to begin with 3D, any of these proven sources of value is a good foothold to launch from. On their own, any of them can deliver a strong return on investment by solving a particular problem and helping to digitise a key process at a time when working digitally is often the only way you can work. And there are compelling 3D solutions that cater to each of them individually. But the real potential of 3D should spring into focus when you consider that the same asset could be behind all of these different sources of value.

One simulated 3D garment, or bag, or sneaker, tied to one set of 2D pattern pieces and manufacturing instructions – travelling together and delivering results from design freedom to cost and supply chain collaboration. And because of that, every discrete problem 3D solves can be a step towards larger-scale transformation as well as having its own time, cost, and creativity benefits.

If “larger-scale” sounds scary at the moment – again, you’re not alone. It would be dishonest to claim that end-to-end 3D, starting with bringing a pattern to life, and running through the supply chain and to the point of sale, was the quick option. And with the future as uncertain as it feels today, investing in the day after tomorrow might not be top of your agenda.

But the beauty of 3D – beyond the way good product renders look – is that once a pattern-accurate model of a garment exists, it’s ready to be used everywhere. The same 3D jacket can stand in for a line sheet during range building, be viewed and manipulated by technical designers in real-time to improve fit, then later draped on a more photorealistic avatar and rendered at higher quality offline for visual merchandising purposes. Or even virtually folded or posed to replace a physical product in your eCommerce catalogue.

And if you choose carefully, the same 3D solution can also be with you at every stage of that journey.  Even before the current crisis, this end-to-end philosophy was behind some of fashion’s most successful 3D transformations. As David Grant, VP at Theory puts it when discussing his company’s decision to invest in 3D with CLO: “Our vision was not to look at it as a 3D project, but instead as just the way we work now – with a 3D model living alongside our specifications and samples”.

For enthusiastic adopters of 3D, industry-wide, the investment they made in software was returned first in more tangible metrics. A reduction in sample costs, a quicker route to market, smarter material utilisation and so on. But over time, these changes each served as a stepping stone to the next source of value from that single asset, until they led to all-new ROI opportunities far beyond design and development.

As shopping shifts further towards online and social commerce channels, for example, 3D will reach places traditional samples and photo shoots can’t. Whether they’re rendered on a turntable for a more immersive Instagram or Shopify presence, or used for virtual try-on and augmented reality experiences, 3D assets can bring eCommerce to life at the same time as optimising sell-through and improving consumer buying confidence. And as product customisation become more widespread, modular 3D assets and standardised components will be at the heart of online configurators.

“Most tech designers and designers come to us looking to reduce physical samples and increase their ability to be digitally creative without sacrificing pattern accuracy, and CLO is a quick band-aid to do this within one season. However, once that is solved, the permeation of 3D can be quite endless,” says Ryan Teng, CLO’s VP of Business Development.  “You can leverage our software for virtual fit sessions, online merchandising assortments, internal sales reviews, and even push 3D assets out for digital photoshoots and marketing campaigns – all while collecting data points and metadata to generate analytics and tech packs. This doesn’t just create buy-in from the user level, but also from an entire organisation, because with wide adoption of 3D, everyone can speak the same language. 3D isn’t just a band-aid, it’s a cure.”

Above all else, though, 3D has the potential to prepare your business for the new creatives. Recently, leaving university as a designer has meant having your expectations squashed. Instead of living on the thrumming cutting edge, bringing ideas to life, young talent is inheriting a serious administrative burden. Rather than making the most of their experience, brands are asking designers to spend their time wrestling with spreadsheets and data entry. This has translated into a measurable talent drain from brands that have stuck with traditional design and development tools to the ones that have moved on.

Is setting up training to turn new graduates into 3D designers with job satisfaction a prohibitive cost? It doesn’t have to be. CLO believes that the best way to accelerate adoption of 3D and to empower the next generation is to offer educational and individual, low-cost licenses, meaning that anyone who wants to teach themselves 3D, in an open, standardised format can. And a lot have; self-taught designers flock to CLO’s community to showcase their output, and these kinds of hybrid skill sets – spanning 3D visualisation and creative design – are already in high demand in industry.

What’s more: 3D offers design teams an opportunity for diversification and specialisation. Some may opt to work in technical design, creating 3D blocks, while others might want to go down the route of creating CG-quality renders. Both add extremely current expertise to your in-house talent pool, and both can be offered opportunities for career progression under the same technology umbrella.

So if the crisis has drawn you to 3D for one particular reason, make sure you stick around to see what else it can do. Because one 3D asset could add a whole new dimension to your digital transformation.

About the sponsor: CLO creates cutting-edge 3D garment visualization technologies that cultivate a more creative and sustainable landscape for apparel industries. CLO can be used to express a variety of design details for every type of garment from simple t-shirts to complex outerwear. CLO is a global company headquartered in Korea with offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Munich, New York, Los Angeles, and Bangalore. Additional information about CLO is available at www.clo3d.com and you can stay updated about all things CLO on InstagramFacebook, and Linkedin.