Released in the first-ever DPC Report 2022, this executive interview with Simon Kim, of CLO Virtual Fashion, 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?

The turning point in the industry happened a few years ago, in 2017-2018. We were at the height of the retail apocalypse when the industry’s leading brands finally got together and admitted that it was “3D or die”. This was when changes really started to happen, little by little, within digital product creation.

Any innovation (“creative destruction”) once rooted, will still take a good 5-10 years to be fully adopted by the industry as there are many phases of testing and resistance to go through before finally being embraced by the users and decision makers. Add 5 years from the industry turning point in 2017-2018, and you get to where we are today.

Although COVID was certainly an accelerator to many digital-based processes, I don’t think that it was the primary reason for 3D design and DPC reaching critical mass. Even without COVID, the innovation would have permeated the industry by now because the benefits of 3D design and DPC are far too great to ignore, and the tech would have continued to improve to meet the industry’s needs.

There are two different aspects to the explosion of interest in 3D and digital product creation for fashion. The first is the expansion and extension of 3D-enabled processes and capabilities within organisations that have already realised value from digital-native design, and are now looking to build on it. But perhaps the more interesting is the huge untapped market of brands, retailers, and manufacturers who haven’t yet started on their 3D journeys – creatives who might only have recently been exposed to the potential of tools that can run at, or near, the speed of imagination. How are you seeing these two different markets evolve?

Naturally, there’s heightened interest in 3D and digital product creation in the fashion industry right now, as early adopters are currently reaping diverse benefits and latecomers are seeing it firsthand.

A screenshot of one of the many modules from CLO Virtual Fashion.

Early adopters of CLO are now enjoying supply chain advantages with an enhanced communication flow, putting an end to the era of “handovers” (handing over tech packs and blindly waiting for samples) and ushering in a new era of collaboration (real-time revisions and decision- making). As early adopters continue to grow and evolve, they are now focusing on how best to utilize digital design to the fullest, experimenting with new arenas such as virtual showrooms and virtual e-commerce fitting rooms, as well as using their hyper-realistic digital designs in marketing and the metaverse.

Latecomers are not at a disadvantage though; these days, with the continuous improvement of our technology and platforms, it is easier than ever to learn, collaborate, and experience an upgraded holistic workflow right away, compared to earlier days when it was not as fast or easy to see holistic changes.

However, it’s not just about being early to 3D and DPC–brands and manufacturers need to find the software and platform that’s right for them, and sometimes it takes time to trial. In our recent CLO User Summit in Munich, we met with a number of clients whom we had conversations with years ago that ended up choosing a different service, but now decided to restart with CLO as they did not see the results they expected from other platforms.

Everyone has their own journey but the ending will be the same–everyone will eventually adopt 3D, leading to improved collaboration workflows and digital designs becoming a new revenue stream and channel to engage with consumers in fresh and exciting ways.

When CLO and The Interline collaborated in 2020, we wrote about how fashion brands and designers were preparing to translate their short-term focus on using 3D to sidestep sampling challenges, to using digital assets as fuel for enterprise-wide change. It feels as though the industry has made some strides there since, bringing more stakeholders – merchandising, marketing, manufacturing, and more – into the DPC workflow, and making decisions across those different disciplines to refine each product before it enters production. Are you seeing more CLO users now taking these next steps to extract more value from the work they’ve put into 3D asset creation?

Yes, definitely. From the very beginning, we have tried to emphasize that 3D is not just a tool, it’s a new language to help all stakeholders and participants in the product creation process communicate and understand each other better.

In the beginning, many industry players saw 3D as a tool that was only used to cut costs during the sampling process. We know this far too well, as many prospects have asked for comparative studies on physical sampling time and digital sampling time–while this is a proven benefit, it’s not the only reason for adoption. Using a 3D design process allows for faster and better communication, higher quality output (reduced errors), greater control over patterns and designs, minimized waste and material costs, higher efficiency, improved collaboration between designers and manufacturers, and more, all of which contribute to an immeasurable improvement to the process and final output.

A screenshot of the CLO Virtual Fashion marketplace.

Technological advancements and continued innovations to expand the usage of 3D and benefit more audiences, such as the CLO-SET platform, have resulted in more and more stakeholders becoming involved in 3D and DPC. CLO-SET not only allows all stakeholders to review designs in 3D (with advanced version controls and real-time collaboration to make adjustments and finalize collections), but also creates further efficiency through features like automated 3D web tech packs (why do tech packs have to be generated in excel or illustrator?), assortment planning, virtual showrooms, and much more.

All of these expansions have led different stakeholders to experience improvements to their own workflows and consequently maximizes the value of each and every 3D design created. We are excited and humbled to see such rapid growth in the industry and how the endorsement of 3D accelerates when it is used by all stakeholders.

As DPC becomes more deeply embedded into the way fashion operates, the industry’s demand for digital-native talent is set to increase significantly. What roles do you believe brands should be hiring for, and how is CLO contributing to the ecosystem of education and grassroots creativity?

We do not think brands will need to hire new roles, as 3D empowers all current designers, patternmakers, tech designers, fabric specialists, and merchandisers in their own unique ways. Being young or digitally-native is not a requirement–rather, it is a question of how committed brands are to embedding 3D design in their processes and how devoted users are to learning new technologies. Anyone can learn, adopt, and enjoy working in 3D if they are given the right training, time, and capacity–this has been true for our customers throughout the last decade.

We partner with brands and train their existing staff to empower their roles and ultimately establish a common language between teams sharing the same 3D assets and tools. Successful adoption often requires a holistic understanding of the benefits 3D can bring to each role, rather than limiting it to a designated 3D design team. Many times, users will immediately see new benefits unlocked from embracing CLO first-hand, often resulting in a grassroots movement to adopt the technology and sparking an interest across many different departments in the organization.

A screenshot of the CLO-SET portion of the CLO Virtual Fashion portfolio of 3D solutions for fashion.

Regarding emerging talent, CLO closely collaborates with hundreds of academic partners to make 3D design software more accessible to instructors and students, and to develop curriculums that reflect current industry demands and ensure that students are prepared to enter this new era in fashion.

3D design education is also expanding organically; with our individual licenses being used by many students to actively learn 3D design on their own, we are seeing an increase in cases where students ask their schools to teach CLO in their courses. Additionally, many of our CLO-partnered schools will recommend CLO curriculums to other institutions. It is inspiring to see knowledge and experience shared in this way.

Just like how we once had dedicated courses to teach IT/ computers when it was first invented, only to disappear once computers became embedded in all aspects and curriculums, 3D will travel along a similar journey. One day, it will be rooted as a foundational technology in all aspects of the apparel ecosystem; until then, we still have a lot of work to do to make our software even easier to learn and use.

To help realise the visions we’ve spoken about, it will be vital for any 3D design tool to become part of the broader DPC technology ecosystem – through APIs and through file formats. Can you explain your perspective on integration, standardisation, and how fashion can start to make sense of the complex picture of managing its digital assets – from fabrics and patterns, to staging virtual photography and powering real-time experiences for buyers?

We’ve been actively improving our Open API and continuously developing plugins based on our users’ needs, such as CLO-Vise (integrating CLO/CLO-SET and PLM solutions). We also collaborate with many different partners such as Adobe, YKK, Chargeurs (Interlining), and major PLMs.

CLO’s core philosophy is to be user-focused; our roadmap highly depends on our users, but it’s important to keep in mind that the best way to serve users’ needs is not always exactly what they’re asking for. Sometimes, the industry is so attached to traditional workflows that we miss the possibility of a better solution.

A good example of this is tech pack integration–many users asked for an automatically generated, excel-based tech pack for their 3D designs, but when we presented the 3D web tech pack feature which completely eliminated the use of excel, our users found this more efficient and effective. Even though we also developed an excel-based tech pack generator, that feature will likely be made redundant in the next few years.

In terms of standardization, we are well aware of and have been in discussions around fabric file format standardization and interoperability. There is a stereotypical thinking that standardization will solve a lot of problems, but it can also bring rise to newer, larger issues. For instance, software simulation engines are all black boxes, so even if there is a magical way to convert a fabric file from one software to another, the physical properties of the fabric may seem similar but are never exactly the same. This means that fabrics will drape differently in each software, causing inaccurate designs and leading to more confusion. So we have to be prudent and discuss the boundaries of what technology can do and what is practical so that we do not end up with an additional competing standard.

Nonetheless, we will continue to develop new integrations to meet our users’ practical needs and improve the workflows of all stakeholders.

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?

We are excited for the future.

We were excited when we started the company in 2009, and now we are even more so as we witness changes powered by new technologies that make us dream further.

We believe that in the not-so-distant future, we will see…

  • … the adoption of virtual e-commerce fittings that not only reduce return rates but also allows brands to understand and engage their customers better. **CLO has already launched beta virtual fitting services and testing with several brands.
  • … all brands adopt virtual showrooms for practical purposes, such as wholesale and VMD operations. **In partnership with Pixelpool, we already have brands who are fully equipped in this area.
  • … all fabrics and trims digitized. **CLO launched Connect by CLO-SET Marketplace in August 2022 where designers can get all the ingredients needed for their creative designs.
  • … brands extending their design presence into digital worlds–animated movies, games, and the metaverse. **CLO has recently launched the Metaverse Converting Service to provide an easier way to convert 3D assets into different metaverses.
  • … all digital designs protected and verified by blockchain.**CLO has a dedicated Web3 team and is preparing to launch related services soon.
  • … the rise of new data analytics that connect fabrics, trims, patterns, and garments to body shapes.
  • … more brands adopting “Responsive Design” powered by 3D, where consumers can purchase designs before they are manufactured.
  • … and one day, a future where we no longer have size charts, just your size and my size, where garments will fit your one- of-a-kind body rather than forcing you to fit into averaged- out ever-changing size charts.

The list goes on and we are confident that our technology will power the future that we envision. Most of all, we are so excited to build this future together with our user community.