Released in the first-ever DPC Report 2022, this executive interview is one of a twenty-part series that sees The Interline quiz executives from major DPC companies on the evolution of 3D and digital product creation tools and workflows, and ask their opinions on what the future holds for the the extended possibilities of digital assets.

For more on digital product creation in fashion, download the full DPC Report 2022 completely free of charge and ungated.

Digital product creation in fashion seems to have reached critical mass, with more brands than ever kick-starting or scaling DPC strategies. Why now?

Despite its glamorous exterior, fashion is a challenging business. In fact, over half of clothing lines fold within the first four years in business. Why? Well, the profit margins are painfully small, while wastefulness – in time and material resources – is rampant. With the emergence of fast fashion, we entered an era in which quantity was king, and because it takes 6 to 12 months to get a product to market, speculation-based overproduction became the norm. By some estimates, only 16 percent of garments produced are sold at full price and more than half never sell at all, it’s unsustainable economically and environmentally.

As for “why now,” the COVID-19 crisis really accelerated the pace of technology adoption in the industry. It became abundantly clear that businesses that had already undergone their digital transformation had a level of resilience far above that as their tech laggard peers. The pandemic also demonstrated how far reaching the negative impact of inefficiencies can be across the entire supply chain.

Amid all this upheaval, apparel companies could no longer ignore the value of technology and the way adding 3D in their workflows could streamline processes, eliminate guesswork, reduce resource usage, speed time to market and ultimately put their businesses on a much more solid, and sustainable, foundation.

One of the primary values of having a true-to-life digital twin of a garment is the ability for actors all along the value chain to make creative and commercial decisions based solely on that digital asset. Can you provide some examples of where shifting those decisions from physical to digital can realise the most benefit?

We’ve seen numerous Browzwear customers realize incredible benefits by shifting away from physical samples and instead, using 3D throughout the design processes and beyond. Where there used to be seemingly endless back and forth over designs, multiple rounds of sample creation and then more back and forth on revisions, entire teams can now collaborate and make changes in real time. Want to see this style in a different colorway or with shorter sleeves? You can do that in seconds, which makes a remarkable difference in time to market.

Another benefit of true-to-life 3D is the way it streamlines communications. Fashion is an industry in which different parts of the value chain can be located all over the world. The ability to visualize in realistic detail instead of having to express things with words that are so often misinterpreted dramatically reduces errors during production.

When we look beyond product development and manufacturing toward merchandising, 3D can also help the industry out of the “hope to sell” mentality. Instead, they can sell and produce a collection based entirely on 3D visualizations – no need to guess what may or may not be in demand in the next year.

We have encountered quite a few brands who have stalled after realising the initial potential or replacing physical samples with digital alternatives – making a narrow set of decisions based on a digital asset, but not being able to find those additional. For these businesses, there’s now a difficult transition from “3D” to “DPC,” placing greater trust in digital assets and digital-native workflows, and extending them to new areas. How do you recommend they navigate this shift?

Change is always difficult, and there is always going to be an inherent preference for “the old way of doing things.” During a presentation at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in 2019, Emily Roosen, Senior Manager of 3D Transformation at PVH’s STITCH accelerator said, “It’s very scary…when we talk about digital transformation in fashion. We’re under super tight deadlines. The calendar seems to be getting shorter every week, and we have to deliver the same amount of sales. Or even more, sometimes. So how within this crazy process are we going to implement a new tool?”

Reaping the full benefits of 3D as part of digital project creation requires you to dedicate time and put forward enough resources to really explore the utility from end to end. It’s not just about training a few designers to use 3D. It’s making it an essential part of the entire workflow.

One of the keys to building that enterprise-wide trust in 3D is having the confidence that, anywhere a 3D asset is used in place of a physical one, that 3D asset corresponds as precisely as possible to the garment that will actually be produced – aesthetically and in its full spectrum of physical properties. How can a brand create that confidence, and build that accuracy into their digital assets from the outset?

This is a case in which seeing really is believing. The more stakeholders in the process witness just how “twin” the 3D visualization is to a finished garment, the more they will trust the process. Of course, not all solutions are created equally, so the reverse could happen if the solution you’re working with doesn’t have the same level of accuracy, with realistic fit and garment physics, that Browzwear offers.

The technology required to deliver on the vision for comprehensive digital product creation is more accessible and affordable than ever, but across talent, culture, and supply chain connectivity and collaboration, there is still large-scale investment that needs to be made to move from design-only 3D to comprehensive digital product creation. And that investment needs to be made at a time of peak uncertainty. What advice would you give to a brand that wants to scale its use of digital assets, but is struggling to justify the investment?

The first step is understanding where, in your typical processes, you have inefficiencies that 3D can address. Get that part of the implementation right, then move to the next priority. For example, some may benefit the most from streamlining design. Companies making a lot of denim garments could fall into this group because the finish of the fabric and minute details of design can be visualized instantly. For others, the biggest problem could be errors in manufacturing. At Browzwear, we try to identify these areas at the beginning of the implementation process to determine priorities so they can start seeing the value quickly.

From a competitive standpoint, this investment isn’t a nice to have, it’s an absolute must. If the past two years are any indication, the companies that transform are going to be the ones that prevail.

Where do you see digital product creation – and digital assets – going from here? What does the near-future look like for the industry and for your business?

As the technology continues to evolve, it also holds great potential for consumer-facing uses such as virtual try-ons. This would address another large source of waste and resource consumption, product returns, which are as high as 30% for online purchases.

The burgeoning world of the metaverse is another place where 3D can be used in a host of new ways. For example, people are going to want the avatars that represent them to be dressed, and the more realistic the garments are, the more immersive and sticky the experience will be.

Companies can also leverage people’s interest in their digital fashions to inform their physical collections. Browzwear actually experimented a bit with this over 15 years ago when we worked with a fashion brand that wanted to expose their fans to new designs before they went into production. We made 3D versions of the designs and invited the brand’s core target of teens and tweens to play with the styles as part of an interactive, game-like digital experience. The brand was able to see what potential buyers really wanted, and that’s what they produced. When the items hit the stores, there was a 100% match between popular in the virtual experience and in store. The value of that type of predictive intelligence is immeasurable.