Digital product creation and 3D tools are transforming the way brands like yours work – everywhere from creative design and product management, to sustainability and supply chain collaboration. On 17th November at 4PM GMT, Style3D has teamed up with The Interline to host the first in a series of free webinars tackling the themes of this article, and looking at different ways fashion brands, retailers, and manufacturers can keep pace and stay competitive as fashion goes 3D.

Register today to hear live from: The Interline’s Editor-in-Chief, Ben Hanson; Danny Reinfeld, Managing Director of Style3D Europe; and Alexandra Vassilaki, Senior 3D Consultant for Style3D, or read on to uncover the importance of building the right capabilities and finding the right partners to make 3D fit your vision for the future.

No matter how far you’ve personally come with 3D, you won’t have been able to ignore it this year.

In a short span of time, fashion has moved very quickly through a digital product creation maturity curve. So if you’re asking yourself how the industry went so digital, so quickly… you’re not alone.

For a lot of brands, it started with necessity. Unable to create physical samples during the worst disruptions of the pandemic, they either turned to 3D sampling for the first time, or they rushed to scale 3D pilot programs and isolated implementations to cover more styles and more product categories.

The sharpest bite of that necessity might have faded now, by late 2022, but other factors have come flooding in behind it that have underlined the importance of being able to design, develop, prototype and iterate before producing anything physically. Every style costs more to produce today than it did pre-COVID. Your consumers are reining in their budgets in the face of global and regional economic instability. Your teams are distributed around the world, making it hard (and arguably unnecessary) to bring everyone into the same space to touch a physical sample.

For other brands, it started with engagement. Digital and social advertising had been consistently on the rise for several years before 2020, and the need to produce physical products before staging and photographing them was acting as a bottleneck for many companies. Combine this with the desire to build more captivating tools for consumer engagement, such as 3D product configurators, and many brands had already embarked on initiatives to either recreate their products in 3D for sales and marketing, or to scan those products in to generate digital assets.

Again, that original drive has faded into the background today – digital marketing is so high on every brand’s agenda that it’s no longer remarkable – but other forces have stepped into line to keep demand for 3D assets high. The same brands that originally concentrated on using 3D to replace static photography are now looking to the Metaverse horizon, aiming to partner with popular video games, or working to build virtual try-on and other real-time applications.

An illustration of a flexible fashion workflow, built on 3D rendering.

For the last set of brands, it hasn’t started at all. There are significant numbers of brands, retailers, and makers across apparel, footwear, and accessories who are still standing on the fringes of 3D, observing the benefits, but unsure of how to reach them.

No matter which of these brackets you fall into, though, late 2022 and early 2023 will find you facing the same direction as everyone else – with near-universal potential use cases for 3D assets, across technical development, digital engagement, and much more, but with considerable uncertainty around how to get there. 

The state of 3D today.

Later this month, The Interline will publish its first report on Digital Product Creation (which also features Style3D, our partners for this article and the upcoming webinar series) which will document fashion’s progress towards that vision for universal use of 3D tools and assets, but it would not be considered a spoiler to say that the industry has largely realised value from 3D within relatively narrow lanes. This is a conclusion that other research has already reached.

Digital sampling, for example, has been a significant benefit to efficiency, profitability, and sustainability for many brands. But the companies that started this way have only rarely found success in extending their 3D strategies downstream.

And the same is true for the brands that began their digital product creation journeys at the consumer engagement end. The companies that have also been able to work seamlessly backwards towards creative design, patternmaking, and technical development are the exception rather than the rule.

So while the possibility space of 3D working is vast, and while you have no doubt seen brands and retailers doing exciting things with 3D, it remains rare for organisations to manage to make the most of those possibilities at both extremes. And that’s without considering the huge untapped potential for manufacturing connectivity and supplier collaboration that sits in between.

This, then, is where the public side of 3D for fashion stands today: it has delivered a huge amount of value, both creative and commercial, but it’s done so within confined applications and limited objectives. And wherever you stand on the maturity curve, you will likely be looking at a much broader horizon.

Collaboration based on 3D assets is a key way to build a modern approach to flexible fashion.

And there is also the side of 3D that isn’t discussed nearly as often. For a range of complex cultural reasons, there have been numerous instances where 3D has been piloted, trialled, and then either scaled back or abandoned. These are companies that have experimented with 3D without finding success.

But even these brands are now likely finding themselves being pulled back into the orbit of digital product creation, because as the world around them digitises, and as the fashion market becomes ever more competitive, the potential for digital assets and digital workflows is the strongest it’s ever been.

Same road. Different turns.

But where, exactly, does that potential lie? And whether you’re embarking on a brand-new 3D journey, revisiting a temporarily-shelved pilot, or looking to scale a successful initiative, how many different places might you want to go?

Looking inwards, the different departments within your organisation may be looking to:

  • Rearchitect creative design and development to build seamless links between 2D patterns and 3D simulations.
  • Improve fit through the use of digital avatars.
  • Replace physical samples with digital alternatives, across multiple product categories.
  • Digitise your materials and products, collaborate with Tier 2 vendors and sell.
  • Stage your products with 3D renders, assembling product in dynamic and interactive presentations.
  • Conduct line reviews and make merchandising and planning decisions based on digital assets.
  • Consolidate product data and digital assets to improve internal collaboration.
  • Avoid costly mistakes centralizing all information in one DAM platform
  • Stay connected with industry players, access to new trends, fabric, accessories and 3D asset vendors.
  • Find new ways to engage with your manufacturing partners to improve product quality, reduce returns and more.
Being able to use 3D digital assets to make critical creative and commercial decisions is a big part of adding greater flexibility to the way fashion brands work.

Or, taking a more consumer-facing perspective, you and your colleagues might be thinking about:

  • Shortening the window between identifying a market opportunity and being able to capitalise on it.
  • Allowing shoppers to interact with and potentially customise products through your eCommerce storefront.
  • Opening up augmented reality and virtual fitting experiences through digital channels.
  • Tapping into the burgeoning market for digital fashion, Metaverse applications, and other real-time experiences.

And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Which means that, while the fashion industry as a whole might have a single roadmap that leads inevitably towards all-digital working, individual brands like yours are probably looking at many different potential use cases.

Which also means many different potential roadblocks.

If you haven’t yet started working in 3D, or if you have piloted it in just one particular area of your business, you may be asking yourself whether you have the ability to manage asset creation and use at the volume that’s going to be required.

If you’ve already grown your asset creation pipeline to meet that demand, you may have already encountered new challenges and bottlenecks in integration, interoperability, collaboration, or any number of other areas that stand between your current capabilities and the full potential of digital product creation.

And in the current global climate, the pressure is on for brands and retailers to overcome those roadblocks and either kickstart or scale their 3D strategies. Every business may have a slightly different hill to climb, but you and your competitors alike will all be asked to climb it just as quickly. 

Finding a flexible roadmap, with help.

So how can you start to plot a course from wherever you currently are on the 3D journey, to the all-digital destination the future demands? Is it a case of replacing or upgrading technology? Bringing in new talent? Upskilling existing creative and commercial teams? Connecting solutions and partners? Finding new and complementary solutions to build out their ecosystem?

Or, in the long-term, is it a combination of everything? 

The answer is that every brand’s starting point will be different, and this will shape the challenges they face and the opportunities that become available to them, but the arc of change is predictable in how comprehensive it will need to be.

To put it bluntly, fashion is going 3D whether your brand is prepared for it or not, which means that, sooner or later, that level of sweeping change – across technology, processes, and people – is something you will need to engage with.

The key to success, then, will be engaging with it on your own terms. Identifying which portions of the possibility space matter the most to you, across the full spectrum of in-house, downstream, and supply chain applications, and defining a clear route to those destinations that aligns with your overall digital transformation strategy.

If that sounds like a tall order… it is. Which is why many brands, retailers, and manufacturers who are looking to either begin their 3D journey or to scale it are looking for support that transcends technology and services. This is where Style3D have focused their attention, working to build out a raft of solutions that can be deployed in isolation or integrated, and that are designed to allow brands – whatever their stage of 3D maturity – to generate digital twins of garments that have the longest possible lifespans, from first digital thread to finished lookbook.

For brands that are either new to 3D, or that have previously trialled and shelved a 3D implementation, the Style3D team have specifically developed a suite of workflows, libraries, standardised posable avatars, digital fabrics, and an asset marketplace – all intended to make the next step on your 3D journey as accessible as possible, allowing you to bring designs to market faster than ever before.

And if time or capacity are particularly tight, Style3D has a dedicated content creation team on-hand to support businesses in the digitisation of their models – everything from environment and accessories, to mannequins and backgrounds.

For brands that are deeper into their 3D journey, Style3D has prioritised openness, integration, and collaboration. No organisation that has already achieved success with 3D up or downstream will want to replace their existing solutions, but with cloud-based asset management that supports files and workflows from other leading 3D solutions, Style3D has set out to provide ways for any organisation – no matter where it currently stands on 3D – to make use of skills, assets, and experience in entirely new ways.

Ready to move forward on building your own flexible roadmap to digital product creation? Sign up for the webinars hosted by Syle3D and The Interline on 17th November 2022 and December 8th, to find ways not to be left behind, and to remain competitive, as fashion goes 3D.