This March, the unthinkable happened: a public health crisis upended the world, and workers in every sector were suddenly uprooted from their offices and forced to work from home for an indeterminate amount of time.  A lot of them are still there.

In fashion, both commercial and creative teams went from being tight-knit collaborative groups that thrived on in-person contact and emergent creativity, to being disconnected and isolated.  And even more than the physical distance, the pandemic also forced teams into remote digital workflows that couldn’t replicate the spontaneous energy or the structure of being in the office.

In one quick swoop, those teams lost time gathered around moodboards, they lost in-person meetings, access to books of fabric swatches, prototypes they could touch, and ad-hoc approvals and amendments to line sheets.  The list goes on.

And even worse than the rapid cultural change was the realisation that many of them were not actually equipped with the right tools to actually carry on doing their jobs remotely.  A lot of creative design and technical development still relied on on-premise solutions – many of which were not integrated to one another, or to a central repository of product data.

Not every business was affected equally, though.  Those brands and retailers who had previously invested in 3D and digital product creation had a head-start.  They could use simulation and visualisation as ways of continuing their essential product creation processes virtually, and as a channel to keep communication and collaboration flowing between in-house teams who could no longer gather around concept boards or conduct line reviews.

But an investment in 3D did not guarantee that physical workflows could migrate seamlessly to remote working.  Some of those 3D solutions may not have been widely adopted prior to the pandemic, which will have limited access to a small number of users.  And when the need to onboard more users did arise, those solutions might have been too unintuitive for self-onboarding, at a time when on-site training was impossible.  And there is also the strong possibility that these solutions would have been limited to on-premise use only, rather than being cloud-based, or governed by perpetual licenses that made it costly and time consuming to add new users.

Most importantly, very few design and development departments could recreate the spontaneity and adaptability of in-person collaboration in a remote, digital way.  Instead, these processes fell back into a firm, inflexible sequence: start with a 2D pattern or sketch, choose materials, develop a physical or digital protype, commission a production sample and so on.

The result? Despite being free to work from anywhere, and sometimes being empowered with advanced 3D tools, design teams had less creative freedom, their output was reduced, and their workflows became fixed in place at a time when unpredictability was around every corner.

So how did this perfect storm of difficulty resolve itself? Sadly, it didn’t. 

New solutions can be identified and bought, and new users can be hired and trained, but there was – and remains – an almost total absence of tools, templates and other assets that can bring the remote, digital workflow up to or beyond the speed and adaptability of its physical counterpart.  The same people who were stuck with unsuitable tools, and fixed to the same starting point – physical sketches and patterns – for every new style in spring are still stuck there now.

In the last six months, we have seen years’ worth of evolution crammed into too small a timeframe for all but the best-prepared to manage. And while COVID may be resolved next year – I certainly hope so – in all likelihood remote working and ongoing, unpredictable disruption are going to become recurring trends.  All of which means that fashion badly needs a way to not just speed up its remote product creation and reduce costs, but to allow designers and developers working from home to start their process wherever it feels natural to them – or to skip steps entirely to create viable shortcuts to market.

My team and I designed TUKAcloud to provide that environment.  It’s a centralised database for the entire digital product creation process – from 3D samples and technical specifications to measurement charts and colourways.  It’s accessible from anywhere, and because it also plugs into the TUKA suite, which includes the industry’s first subscription-based 3D CAD solution, it also comes with access to a library of 3D assets that were created from 2D patterns and can be purchased at a low cost.

Instead of being forced to start from a sketch or pattern, teams can begin in 3D, then create colourways, place prints and repeats, and build our line sheets and range plans.  Only once those processes are done do they need to acquire the underlying 2D pattern, which we also sell at a nominal cost.

At a time of continuing uncertainty, we see this as the recovery package the fashion industry needs: an affordable, subscription-based solution that’s open to everyone, backed by a library of low-cost 3D assets that lead to tweaking pattern files rather than creating them from scratch.  This is more than just another 3D platform – it’s a launchpad for digital-native creativity for a world where creatives working from home need every help they can get to feel as though they are back in the office.

If we contrast spring 2020 to today, I think one essential theme emerges.  At the start of this year, having a live 3D initiative was enough to position a business as forward-thinking and proactive.  Now, things have changed so quickly and so comprehensively that being prepared for a future of remote working and ongoing disruption means having a more flexible approach to digital design and development.

About the sponsor: For more than 20 years, Tukatech, Inc. has equipped the apparel industry with advanced tools to maximize production efficiency through the entire product development and manufacturing process.

Solutions include an award-winning pattern-making system, a virtual sample-making suite, an advanced marker-making program, and a range of automatic computer aided machinery for plotting, spreading, and cutting fabric. These intuitive software and hardware systems are designed by Tukatech’s team of garment-industry experts to fit the unique intricacies of the apparel industry.

From recent college graduates, to freelance designers, to established manufacturers, Tukatech offers custom technology packages that are tailored to the needs of fashion businesses of any size.