Today, there are two sides to 3D: the practical and the pioneering. Amsterdam-based digital fashion house The Fabricant are resolutely all about the latter.

To make sense as an investment for brands, retailers, and their supply chain partners, 3D needs to deliver measurable value. And it does that in vital areas like speed to market, improved fit, reduction in sample costs and others.

But 3D has a wilder, more experimental side. Freed from some of those commercial constraints, designers and artists can pursue the bleeding edge of digital design and creation. From one-of-a-kind virtual garments and digital catalogues shown in physical pop-ups, to artistic, all-digital brand collaborations, the team at The Fabricant have built their reputation by showing the fashion industry a different way forward.

The Interline sat down – virtually, of course – with Adriana Hoppenbrouwer, who is a Partner at The Fabricant, to get her perspective on what it means to push the envelope at a time when fashion needs all the inventive energy it can get.

The Interline: Right now, in the midst of the biggest existential threat to the existence of traditional fashion and retail, what does it mean to be a digital fashion house – practically and in terms of principles?  What does your day job look like, and what drives you to do it?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: The near global lockdown, and the necessary reduction of physical interactions, has collided with our mission in an entirely unexpected way. Suddenly the fashion industry woke up to the immediate need to digitalise. From a nice to have, digital fashion became a must-have for the industry to continue operating. Due to COVID-19, the transition that was already in process has accelerated. We have experienced a significant increase in requests varying from digital samples to digital-only collections.

The Interline: It looks as though there are two prongs to what The Fabricant does.  The first being completely digital products, from start to end of life, with no physical counterpart.  The other is digital experiences created in collaboration with brands – like Puma – that are using virtual garments as a new promotional and visualisation tool for a business that has a physical output.  The latter of those is probably going to be the closest to our audience’s experience, so we’d like to start there.  Why does a brand reach out to you, and how does the collaborative process operate?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: Currently we help brands to embrace 3D technology in phygital customer facing narratives and through commercialising 3D digital-only garments. Brands that have worked with us experience reduction of sample waste, cost effectiveness and a much higher consumer engagement. The solutions we provide are ready to address both the short-term needs as well as the long-term gains. Some brands are very aware of the benefits and have a clear agenda, while others require our consultancy to guide them through right route to implementation. We believe in co-creation and we engage with brands in a collaborative and open way.

The Interline: Let’s talk about the second part of The Fabricant’s mission: digital-only fashion.  This is a vision that incorporates a lot of technologies, all working in concert with one another: 3D material simulation, the creation of a non-fungible blockchain asset, fitting a bespoke garment, remotely, in three dimensions, and more.  This is, if you like, your proof of concept for digital-only fashion, so explain to us how it came about, and what you think it means for the near and longer-term future of the industry as a whole?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: The Fabricant was born out of the intersection of fashion and technology. From the start, we believed that the digital-only fashion arena is a place of freedom, fantasy and self-expression and that we can help brands and individuals to explore this place and its unlimited possibilities – wasting nothing but data and exploiting nothing but imagination. 

Through our work, The Fabricant is returning to the heart of what fashion was always meant to be – a playful arena to explore and express our identities and individuality. The fashion future we are building is collaborative, creative, diverse and inclusive. In digital fashion people are not passive consumers, but creative agents crafting their self-expression and curating their virtual identity through digital clothing.

The Interline: You also have projects where the two sides merge: the phygital work you mentioned.  This aligns closely with a message The Interline has been putting forward for a while: creating a 3D asset once, and using it to add value and create new experiences everywhere.  I know you’ve worked on virtual recreations of new garments that were used in in-store displays, eCommerce listings, and AR/VR experiences.  As fashion embraces the idea of a 3D / digital workflow, how would you encourage brands to follow this path and maximise the potential of the digital twins of their physical products?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: We believe Fashion is in a state of flux. Digitalisation is a critical move to ensure the industry resilience, sustainability and long-term relevance. From a consumer point of view, we are all living digital lives, expressing ourselves in multi-media, virtual realities. The expectations is to be able to self-express, unlimitedly, through fashion in sustainable and democratic ways. Brands will be able to answer to their needs and increase their relevancy by embracing digital fashion. On the short-term, brands can benefit from a more cost effective and sustainable practice.

The Interline: Whether you’re talking a digital counterpart of a physical product, or an all-digital garment that will never physically exist, in both cases there’s a need to fit a digital product to a representation of a consumer’s physical body.  So whether we as shoppers, are going to be buying virtual clothes or trying on virtual versions of physical ones, we’re going to need accurate virtual versions of ourselves to stand in for us.  With that in mind, how do you see people’s bodies being represented in digital form?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: Digital fashion challenges the norms of the fashion industry. From this standpoint the very idea of physicality, sizing, trends and seasonality is not relevant. Unless it is meant for practical purposes, our research suggests that most people do not want to have a perfect copy of themselves in the digital space. The digital reality is one of exploration, where people have the freedom to play with their identities, without the boundaries of physicality.

The Interline: Commercially speaking, a lot of this is a big leap.  What The Fabricant does is clearly visionary and experimental, but it’s going to feel quite remote for a brand that’s only just beginning to experiment with a 3D workflow for technical design, or to replace an iterative physical sample.  For those brands, what’s the path to get from here to there?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: We believe brands should start by embracing the vision of digitalising “from the designer table to the end consumer, wasting nothing but data” and then decide which entry points makes most sense strategically. Quick wins – both from efficiency and sustainability point of view – can be easily implemented in the commercial process by digitising samples and creating virtual showrooms, while taking the same content with further enrichment, into consumer-facing campaigns. 

The Interline: What does the future look like for brands that want to start making meaningful moves towards a partly or wholly digital workflow?  Is this kind of digital product creation going to be managed in-house or in partnership with houses like The Fabricant.  And what sort of hybrid skillsets should fashion be looking to hire – beyond the traditional design and development talent, and into the digital world?

Adriana Hoppenbrouwer: In the future, all designers should be skilled with 3D design capabilities. Starting at the designer table, yields long term benefits for the entire chain. In order to achieve it, brands should invest in training their teams. In the meantime, we partner with brands to guide them in this transition and start the journey that will take them into a more resilient, sustainable and creative fashion industry.