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? There have been a number of factors over the course of the past three or more years that have been the driving forces behind the mass adoption we’ve seen digital product creation reach.
Covid has been the leading driver in accelerating the digital transformation in the fashion industry. The pandemic didn’t just affect the in-store shopping experience, but also greatly affected sampling, production, wholesaling and runway experiences for brands, buyers, manufacturers, and retailers. Forcing fashion brands to turn to alternative solutions such as digital product creation in order to stabilize themselves and continue the releases of their collections while the world was in lockdown.
The pandemic made it almost impossible to get any physical samples at all, and if brands did receive physical samples they were often delayed, weren’t able to be photographed or showcased at a runway show and difficult to time for market dates for the buyers to see. Leading to design, production and merchandising teams relying heavily on digital product creation and turning to sample makers and manufacturers to retrieve digital patterns to showcase to buyers instead. This is where companies like NuOrder began to really take shape by offering digital showrooms to brands assisting in showcasing their digital collections to buyers on their B2B wholesale marketplace platform.
The transformative trends of digital product creation are no longer just attractive additions to the buying experiences, but are essential to assisting fashion brands in recovering and rebuilding from the economic downturn many have faced while maintaining their ecological goals and futureproofing.
Even before the lockdowns and supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, industry analysts and brands themselves were largely in agreement that changes were overdue in multiple aspects of business operations, sustainability and customer-centricity of the segment, with sustainability being a substantial focal point on how brands can cut down on waste, but also speed up their time to market. Taking a digital product creation approach has assisted in cutting down on physical sample production costs, excess, and overproduction for smaller labels, having these digital versions of the garments accessible allows for pre-sales.
As brands rebuild and strengthen from the pandemic and are seeking ways to re-engage with clients, we are starting to see a boom in areas such as Web3.0. An extensive amount of digital products have been created for NFT’s, metaverses and gaming, which is resulting in an enormous amount of skilled talent appearing on the scene, with the help from institutions like The Digital Fashion Group, offering specialized courses to enhance skill sets and techniques for digital product creation.
Digital product creation has provided designers and creatives with a global stage full of opportunities where designers can gain mass exposure at an expedited rate without the need to manufacture physical products, capital or risk exposure, by taking their digital designs and transforming them into NFT’s, digital campaigns, virtual runways, AR filters and digital photoshoots. The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we leverage DPC to it’s fullest?
Two of the key benefits of replacing disconnected analogue processes with digital ones are making people’s lives easier – across creative and commercial disciplines – and providing greater visibility and accountability into those processes. How far do you think those benefits are being realized today?
We are just touching the surface when it comes to realizing the benefits.
We’re only as good as the processes that we have in place when organizing, storing and sharing the data we have at our fingertips. Digital processes have the ability to expedite product creation, shorten supply chain timelines and launch products to market at a rapid rate. However, it comes down to ensuring the proper digital processes are in place within organizations and there are strong foundations. If strong foundations and structure are not in place, the management and organization of the digital product creation process can become overwhelming, cumbersome and out of control quickly.
CLO, Adobe Substance, SEDDI, Lectra, Browzwear, NuOrder, Joor, Vntana are some of the best tools out in the marketplace today, but if we don’t have processes in place to manage the output of the data then teams aren’t as efficient as they could be. Having insufficient processes can lead to teams spending more time navigating and sifting through enormous databases of files to locate digital patterns, trims, fabric swatches and graphics. After spending significant time in locating files they hope they have triumphed in locating the updated final versions of the files that were signed off and not just alternate versions. Brands need to reflect on how it affects productivity when departments are waiting to receive assets between teams when unweidly searches are going on when locating the correct files. If you’re just getting started in digital product creation it may not seem like it’s too difficult to build a process, but when you get to a collection of 100 – 500 pieces, per season teams need to take a look at the number of digital files that are produced per product between patterns, swatches, trims, hardware, graphics, 3D object files etc…and then need to multiply.
Safeguarding the information and data is essentially as important. The digital products, in essence, are a brand’s intellectual property so having proper procedures in place for departments and tracking how the data is being shared, on what platforms and by who will assist in reducing security risks, breaches and leaks.
We identified this very early on in our organization in our initial pilot launch of the Avant-Garde Fitting System (AFS) VTO in 2018. Our team of Virtual Sample Makers were creating digital replicas of a luxury designer’s collection, who was also very digitally savvy. While working together we found inefficiencies in the process and communication breakdown when it came to file sharing, deadlines, collaboration and receiving final approvals on the digital versions of the products, not to mention the security risk of how the files were being shared. This is what inspired the Virtual Atelier, our 3D digital asset creation and workflow platform.
The Modern Mirror Virtual Atelier streamlines the 3D digital asset creation workflow by providing a collaborative work environment that assists in organizing and managing the exchange of digital fashion assets while tracking the history of communication and the latest iterations of virtual garments and accessories for final sign-off across multiple departments. The platform was crafted specifically for the design and production workflows of luxury fashion houses.
Another question at the forefront is as our digital product footprint increases, how are we able to efficiently manage and archive thousands of digital files when older digital files from previous collections may be in outdated formats and can no longer be opened by current software?
This is particularly relevant in luxury fashion, as luxury brands regularly reissue classic products or use them as the basis for new designs.
Sometimes organizations that have to handle legacy data also retain out-of-date hardware and software configurations for when it’s necessary to access older files but that poses security, maintainability, and scalability problems. It is apparent that as we proceed down the transformation journey there is a need for automated systems that will open archived design files on a reoccurring basis and export them to the latest file formats so that designers and brands can be confident that their intellectual property is being protected as well as maintained in a fully functional state to serve their future needs.
Runway is another area where we can see significant improvement in terms of digital product creation. Specifically for couture lines where there are lead time issues and disconnect when it comes to 3D digitizing collections before they have hit the runway. This is primarily due to last-minute design changes and for some can be seen as a security risk as some brands may want to keep access to the runway collection limited to a small number of team members before its unveiling. However, opportunities are being missed where the runway collection can be tried on virtually by the audience as it hits the catwalk, therefore, generating pre-sales and increasing consumer engagement. In order for this to be successful, the digital process needs to mirror the physical sampling design process, where a digital designer or virtual sample maker is able to make the adjustments on the spot following the physical designer’s lead.
By making this process efficient for designers and brands, greater success can be achieved by taking advantage of see now, try now, buy now off the runway resulting in pre-sales, better inventory forecasting, minimizing production and waste, and reducing productions costs.
Research we partnered on a little while ago suggests that a good number of brands have been able to achieve self- contained success with 3D in specific use cases, but have struggled to translate that success into more comprehensive enterprise-wide change. Now, with the demand for digital assets increasing in a dramatic way both up and downstream, that seems like a more essential task than ever. How do you suggest brands approach the integration of digital tools and assets into all the different areas of their business that it can help to transform?
Prior to investing in any tools for design, production, merchandising, innovation, and marketing, all teams should come together to build a strategy around the specific use cases of digital products. Identifying the needs and desired outcomes for each department is a critical stage in the planning process, as it will determine the output format, the types of file formats required for creating the digital assets, and the timelines for their creation.
Depending on the use of the assets your teams will require a variety of file formats for NFT’s, Web3.0 platforms, AR/VR virtual runway shows, virtual try-on applications, e- commerce, virtual showrooms and so on.
As an example, for Modern Mirror’s AFS virtual try-on, our Virtual Sample Making team is required to produce two versions of each digital product which require different approaches: one for use in static renderings and the other for animated videos.
For the static imagery, the digital garment will be created using specific techniques to achieve the accurate fit and drape of the real garment, with a level of accuracy visible in extreme close-up images. Our Virtual Sample Makers are required to have real-life experience when it comes to pattern cutting and garment construction, as it enables them to note and recreate the hidden features that affect the final appearance.
For the second, animated, version the digital artist will selectively simplify the garment while maintaining all aspects that influence the fit, movement, and behavior of the garment. If the same garment also appears in Virtual Reality headsets, like the Oculus Quest, the asset will need to be simplified even further to accommodate the limitations.
Once use cases have been determined, teams will be better able to plan, set up a workflow and process of management, organization, transfer, and safe storage of digital files. This will streamline the approval process, facilitating sharing amongst teams, suppliers and buyers, maximizing success across the entire enterprise.
A lot of time and investment has been directed towards finding the right way to represent real people – both models and consumers – in digital applications, whether they’re immersive real-time experiences or virtual try-on. The figures suggest that this is having a significant impact on return rates, but it still doesn’t feel as though the industry has truly made sense of what it means for people to create and truly own digital selves that they are happy to represent them in multiple different applications – and that are portable enough to cater to both current and future use cases. What’s your perspective on this?
Since founding Modern Mirror in 2006 I have witnessed dozens of companies enter the virtual try-on and virtual fit marketspace trying to solve the main pain point of knowing how a product will fit and/or look like on yourself without the need of trying on the physical product.
This pain point is not new, but the market and consumers have been slow to adopt such solutions. Technology has had to develop further in order to provide adequate results that will meet the needs of the consumers and brands, without leaving them wanting more and expecting better.
Over the course of the last several years, I have heard virtual try-on companies, industry
leaders, and investors continue to say that people don’t want to see themselves, that a paper- doll cut-out version of themselves with a garment superimposed over their photo would do, that its sufficient to capture one’s face and apply it to an avatar even though the body and skin might not accurately represent them, or that a cartoon look-a-like is perfectly fine. I’ve even been told by many industry leaders that fashion brands would insist on owning the 3D client data if clients were to be 3D imaged.
I have continued all these years to disagree and continue believing that people do want to see a true 3D representation of themselves with their own motion but may want a few feature enhancements added such as filters, and in no way would allow anyone to own their personal 3D image data. This theory was proven with the first release of the AFS prior to covid.
Luxury London designer, Maria Grachvogel, had her Mayfair studio full with 50 of her top elite clientele, ranging between the ages of 18-77 years old in attendance waiting to be 3D imaged to try out the AFS Virtual Try-on system. A 2-hour event turned into a 10-day affair with many wanting to book private appointments specifically to go into her studio to be 3D imaged.
The overall pop-up experience affirmed that clients enjoy virtual try-on experiences and want to have a collection of digital versions of themselves to dress and use for other applications. The majority of the attendees felt it to be a confident and accessible experience and were looking for further features to be developed such as style profiles, personalization, digital self-enhancements such as adding digital hair and makeup, larger quantity of products to virtually try-on, and access to their personal shoppers online so they could have their digital selves styled.
“The CEO at Modern Mirror has an incredible eye for detail and is really pushing the boundaries and truly thinking about the customer experience holistically. From the experience when the client comes for her initial ‘imaging’ – creating a luxury fitting room experience, the fact that the image represents the client, not only in measurements but also with the details- the hair, movements and poses – as if it were an actual mirror and finally movement – clothing needs movement to have a sense of how you look and feel.
This level of detail is what my client expects to replicate the luxury shopping experience as closely as possible.”Maria Grachvogel, Luxury London Designer.
Luxury brands are specifically looking to offer these solutions to VIC’s to assist in re-engagement and to offer an elevated and unique experience to them, in order to stay connected and strengthening their everlasting digital relationship. However, with this comes a list of specific criteria when it comes to the experience, ease of use and integration and finally the craftsmanship, quality and accuracy of the visual results, which is why we haven’t seen VTO systems deployed on a larger scale.
We are beginning to see further traction and acceptance of Digital Humans, with Web3.0 being a main factor. Web3.0 has propelled the excitement and acceptance of Digital Humans, however, there is still not an industry standard when it comes to how to integrate digital humans into multiple platforms, and how to navigate the security, data and ownership issues of people’s digital selves.
Virtual try-on (VTO) systems are of particular cybersecurity concern to brands, as they tend to capture very detailed and confidential data of customers’ measurements and/or images and may also capture sales activity and analytics of business operations.
In a typical VTO system, multiple full-body images of the customer, in either form-fitting clothing or undergarments, are captured by a mobile camera or 3D body scanner. A range of measurements are extracted from these images, leading to fit recommendations or made-to-measure garments. In advanced systems like the AFS a photorealistic and dynamic animated model of the customer’s own body can be shown dressed in 3D digital models of garments in recommended sizing. Furthermore, detailed analytics can be generated about customers’ body shapes, fit and style preferences, interactions, and purchasing behaviors.
The purchasing history and customer preference data collected are similar to what e-commerce sites have been collecting about consumers for over two decades. However, the high-fidelity body data of the customer that can create images and videos indistinguishable from the real photos and videos, is what adds a whole new set of risks and opportunities for abuse if not protected adequately.
Proper protection of personal data and openness about its use is obligatory when maintaining trust. Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza observed, “It stands to reason that [consumers] should overwhelmingly trust luxury brands with their data far more than mass-market brands, but this is not yet the case. In a digitized world where privileged access to personal data for advanced personalization and deeper relationship building will be absolutely critical, luxury brands need to step up their trust quotient far above commodity mass market brands immediately.” (Luxury Institute, “Luxury Brands Missing Big Opportunity In Building Trust With Affluent Clients On Relationship Building And Data Sharing,” 19 May 2020)
We have always believed in a customer-facing business model centered around a unique approach to data ownership and control. Customers who are imaged by the Avant- Garde Fitting System (AFS) retain ownership of their data, have control over how it is shared and used, with what brands and platforms, and when it should be deleted. When aggregated analytics information is provided to brands about their customer bases the datasets are “de-identified” using the same processes that HIPAA-compliant organizations use when aggregating data for medical studies.
By designing a comprehensive cybersecurity architecture and implementation plan that takes into account best practices and regulatory requirements, and data ownership, a VTO technology partner can address the concerns of data breaches and empower consumers to have control of their own data.
What role do you see digital assets and experiences playing in the future of retail? Obviously a lot is being done to replace traditional product images with virtual photography, but this is more of a time and cost saving than a real re-examination of what consumers in different sectors want from online and offline shopping.
There is a huge opportunity to explore between digital assets and consumers. At Modern Mirror we’ve completed projects for fashion brands’ VIC’s providing interactive VR virtual runway experiences where the client can be their own model on the runway through the use of their own digital selves wearing the brand’s digital products. Gartner has predicted that over 100 million consumers are expected to use virtual try-on applications, so providing elevated realistic virtual try-on experiences in-store and online for client’s will be essential moving forward. Building platforms where clients can take advantage of special features once they have been 3D imaged and motion captured and have ability to participate in experiences such as see now, try now, buy now right from the runway knowing how the latest trends will fit.
We see this expanding further by brands’ stylists and sales personnel building a deeper relationship with their clients both offline and online. Pulling the latest looks and styles together digitally and virtually styling their clients, when provided access to the data by their clients. Continuing this trend to Virtual Atelier for Couture, where designers can use the platform to curate couture pieces with their clients, through virtual fittings versus physical, taking personalization to the next level.
As the Web3.0 market continues to grow, it will allow for clients to build digital wardrobes of both garments and NFT’s they have purchased, where they can utilize the digital assets in a variety of ways in metaverse and gaming platforms to have a more unified experience. The key to success when it comes to any digital asset is the variety of utilization behind the asset and the ownership and control of it.