Released in the first-ever DPC Report 2022, this executive interview with Renate Eder of Vizoo 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?

Indeed, we do now see an exponential growth of brands and suppliers adopting 3D technology.

Even some years ago, 3D was still questioned as a technology which might not last, as a hype. When advocating that less physical samples mean higher speed, less waste and reduced travels many brands did not feel any need to change the status quo – in times where sampling was easy and travelling exciting.

Then, during covid everyone experienced what it means to be without sample, and not being able to attend meetings physically. Consequently, 3D started to be accepted by a broader audience, as it moved f rom a nice-to-have technology to a tool to mitigate risks and dependencies.

However, it is important for me to say that this all would not have been happening if the appetite for 3D had not been established before the pandemic. It started already as early as the beginning of this millennium, where a handful of early adopters in the sporting goods and fashion industry were pathing the road for all the clothing & textile companies who are today enjoying easy to use state-of-the- art 3D tools and established processes.

How is this heightened demand for digital assets translating into greater need for digital materials? Have similar scale-ups taken place in other industries, and is the fashion industry prepared to meet that demand?

Companies are moving away from selective 3D sampling to a scaled 3D process. However, scaling DPC will not happen without assets, like materials being available in the form of a digital twin even before 3D Designer start their work. It is the foundation.

Many of our clients are now actively expanding their material creation efforts. They are formalizing quality standards and business processes to move to mass digitization. Technology features like scanning speed and consistent workflows become more relevant as well as which platform to use for storing the materials.

Looking at other industries, 3D is a bit more established in their creation pipeline. We all know that automotive is using 3D for a long time. Also, the furniture and home fashion business is worth mentioning as the organisational setup is like the fashion business: Furniture brands are implementing 3D and are also requesting their suppliers to provide the assets.

Taking account of the importance of digital assets and digital materials, what steps can brands and their suppliers take to define and adhere to archival quality standards for material digitisation – incorporating the right resolution, PBR properties etc. to cater to both current and future requirements?

First, every brand has their own expectations and problems to solve when it comes to 3D and the related assets. Requirements for a speedy 3D Design workflow differ from eCommerce high-end visualisations. This is where our expertise come into play. We consult clients how to define quality standards which work for their use case and future goals and how to communicate those to the scanning entity aka supplier. To further standardize this process, we have recently launched a certification & auditing program to make sure the onboarding of the scanning entity was successful, and all quality measures are in place.

Obviously capture hardware is a significant part of a material digitisation workflow, but it’s only part of the picture. Can you explain why the right unity of software and hardware – physical scanners and cloud-based systems – is going to be critical to truly scaling material digitisation to meet the industry’s needs?

The current situation is that there is working technology to efficiently capture materials, regardless of whether this is done by the brands or by the suppliers directly. However, to truly scale material digitisation and digital product creation, we also need to efficiently transport materials from the digitizing source to the user.

This is where cloud platforms for material management (like swatchbook) come into play. They allow for a supplier to digitize all their materials using xTex technology, and thanks to a native integration, to directly upload the digital twins onto the platform.

A brand designer sitting on the other side of the globe can further access the 3D material via the cloud instantly, without the need of sharing the data explicitly first via email.

As we are facing millions of digital materials and assets, centralized platforms that simplify the transfer of digital data will become essential to scale and transform the industry.

Considering the scale of the task of digitising existing material catalogues and new fabrics, how do you believe the average brand-to-supplier relationship is going to be reshaped in the near future? Where is the task of digitisation going to fall, and how can sourcing processes evolve to accommodate and take advantage of wide-scale availability of digital materials?

In my previous job at adidas the mantra was that the digital ownership has to sit with the same party with the ownership for the physical item. Thus, in my view the only logical consequence is that the fabric mill must own the responsibility of the material digitization task. And we do see more and more fabric mills and vertical suppliers are getting prepared for this.

I can imagine that it could foster relationships and evolve as some brands still see them as pure fulfilling party and not a technology partner.

Digitization will soon become an inline task for a fabric mill as their ROI for digital materials is increasing. As an example, when it comes to material sourcing, the selection of material is supported by digital twins already now. As an example, in our cooperation with the functional fabric fair Performance Days we make digital materials available for the exhibiting mills. Thanks to this initiative a vast number of suppliers understand the importance of digital materials and how to enhance the customer experience with digital files.

More generally, 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?

I guess now, mentioning the Metaverse and NFTs would be a suitable answer. However, whether the fabric fair happens physically or in a virtual world is not the point in my opinion. And 3D is a foundational technology of the metaverse anyways.

In any case digital assets will be an integral part of the brand and supplier conversation. Relying on and sharing high-quality assets will result in more sustainability and speed gains on both sides.

Suppliers like MAS (Sri Lanka) show that the topic is not only pushed from the brands but also from supplier side. This turns the table and puts responsibility on the brand to commit to sample reductions and faster decision making as they promised.

In my opinion it is now time to deliver and commit to the promises the brand make towards suppliers when it comes to sample savings and speed gains. Let’s start leveraging the foundation we have built over so many years by also putting trust in digital swatches.