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?

Part of it is a sign of where we are in terms of tech adoption diffusion and maturity – it feels like the early adopters have proven the value, and the early majority are now adopting DPC, and that is an inflection point in adoption. I think that early adopters bringing DPC technologies into wholesale and retail was always going to be critical to that; it builds an ROI case that speaks to opportunity not just cost reduction.

There are also both strategic and tactical forces driving things right now. I think more brands have realised that DPC is going to be a key component of a more agile, accelerated GTM, which in turn will be important for competitiveness in the medium term. Quality is often cited as one of the differentiating attributes of seasonal, non-fast fashion brands. When 3D is used across a brand’s supply chain, it is probably the best technology to achieve the speed and agility benefits of fast fashion whilst maintaining the quality of their products. This is especially true if that supply chain extends all the way through to providing imagery which allows you to sell directly to consumers.

The combination of quality, agility and speed are reasons why customers are interested in EcoShot. Normally brands have to wait for physical samples to be made, shipped and photographed on models to have the type of high quality imagery they need to sell to consumers. But with EcoShot, customers can use their digital garments to get high quality images of their products on their existing real-life models within 24 hours. It’s all part of this wider movement towards agility and speed without sacrificing quality.

Finally, the last couple of years have been tough for apparel and with potentially ongoing economic stress and supply chain disruption to come, I imagine that the cost efficiencies and flexibility of DPC look like welcome solutions to shorter term problems too.

To bridge the gap between digital assets and real fit models and consumers, the industry has tilted heavily in the direction of digitising the people to meet the garments. You’re looking in the opposite direction: creating a turnkey way to dress real people in digital garments. Can you walk us through the workflow?

Yeah, absolutely. We start by body scanning a diverse range of models before photographing them in a wide range of poses using synchronised cameras f rom multiple simultaneous angles – a bit like a stripped down mocap studio, but with fashion studio lighting. We create a rigged avatar for each model, and for each photo, we repose the avatar using a combination of computer vision and artistry so that it is a really close match to the photo pose.

Users use the posed avatars through the EcoShot VStitcher plugin, dressing and styling their designs on the model, then we run the simulated garment through our rendering and compositing pipeline.

By leveraging VStitcher’s great physics simulation and dressing an avatar that’s of realistic shape and in the right pose we can show the highest level of physical realism. The images don’t suffer from the strange lack of creasing and poor drape effects you get with legacy approaches based on warping (digital or physical) mannequin images. It’s the closest true-to-life representation of how the final physical garment would look and sit on that model if you conducted a real photoshoot with them.

Why do you believe having real, identifiable, people offers such a benefit over more generic fit forms? How does that change impact the way in-house teams and downstream consumers perceive a digital garment?

One of the great things about digital design is how easy it is to interact with and visualise the garment in different ways.

You can look at technical fit on a fit form, and then when you need to communicate the context and intent of the design you can use an EcoShot on-model image. Then you can even see how the garment would look in-store. I think that rich communication of the design is something that on-model really helps with, and has previously been a weak point in 3D product design.

When it comes to generic fit forms, it’s worth taking a step back and considering what happens with the current physical process. Many brands use standard fit mannequins and real-life fit models as well. They often need the security of seeing the product on a real person before signing off on a design. Real people help give brands the confidence that they are picking the right designs to manufacture for their customers.

Ultimately, EcoShot makes it easy for 3D users to show their designs in their intended end-use form; clothes worn by real people in the physical world. It means that you’re not asking people who are not familiar with 3D to imagine what it would look like in the real physical world. Instead they can see imagery which shows it.

A Director of Digital Product Creation at VF Corporation – Joshua Young – wrote on LinkedIn: “We’re moving from a place where we think of digital product images and physical product images, to just ‘product images’. Digital vs Physical is irrelevant.”

The EcoShot combination of digital garments and physical real-life models makes this mindset shift change easier.

By bringing those two piece – digital garments and real models – together, you touch on a lot of different instances where a decision is being made on a hybrid of digital and physical components. Those decision- making processes are going to be one of the keys to unlocking more comprehensive digital transformation, so can you explain how your approach can create greater confidence in the choices a brand, their wholesale customer, or their downstream consumer might make?

That’s a really good observation.

In most cases the digital garment is a proxy for a physical sample, and despite the different-but-better advantages of 3D, it’s inevitable that the biggest contributor to confidence in a digital garment is how well it proxies for that physical sample. We’ve heard of a number of cases where buyers’ and leadership’s confidence in the digital garment is undermined because an avatar was used. The lack of realism of the digital avatar made the attitude towards the digital garment much more critical. And real humans are really good at spotting fake humans!

Feedback we received from Delta Galil’s Senior Director of 3D – Elizabeth Al Shehabi – also demonstrates how EcoShot creates greater confidence.

“We just did a pre-meeting and everyone LOVES the addition of EcoShot to our presentation! I cannot stress how much everyone LOVES the images we could add. They do not believe it is 3D!”

The last sentence in particular is key.

Combining digital 3D garments with physical real-life models makes the technology more invisible. Making the technology invisible allows people to focus on the real task to be completed.

On the consumer side, one of my favourite applications of this hybrid technology is to create product images on a diverse range of body shapes. As well as being an important way for inclusive brands to live up to their values, consumers use model photos as their first and most available way to assess size and fit. As a shopper, I’ve got less guessing to do as a retailer has used a model close to my body shape than if they’ve used the “aspirational” shapes.

This also opens up the possibility space of augmented reality – applying the same philosophy to real-time, consumer-facing applications of body projection mapping to allow anyone to virtually wear a digital garment. How far has AR come recently, and how important do you see it being in the near future, for both in-house and consumer-facing use cases?

The technology has been accelerating really fast, most excitingly by Snap Inc, and it’s been great to see the tech being used in the amazing work coming from the digital fashion community and in some brand marketing. The ultimate goal there is product marketing and e- commerce which is the area we’ve been exploring, winning a Snap GHOST R&D fellowship to look at ways to make apparel AR better and more scalable. I see the importance of AR being tied to the importance of Smart glasses. If (and it’s still a big “if”) Meta and others succeed in replacing smartphones with headsets and smart glasses, then AR and VR (and 3D as a consequence) will be massively important.

Shorter term, there are a few challenges that apparel AR needs to overcome to expand. The first is scalability of content, which is why we released our “Skinner Plugin” beta, which makes it really quick and easy to create AR Try- On lenses from Browzwear VStitcher garment files. Another challenge is that Snap is really the only marketing channel that can support AR try on, but they don’t seem to be top of mind for most brand marketing departments. Until there’s ad spend on channels that support AR, I think it will struggle for traction. The biggest challenge, though, is that the technology’s garment and fabric representation hasn’t yet hit the mark needed to make many brands comfortable publishing their garments in AR.

3D faced similar challenges but the scale of this challenge is even larger for AR try-on. You need to have a means of achieving a real- time simulation on each consumers’ own body shape. Also you have unlimited environments to handle an set of light the consumer might be in. And this all needs to be achieved on a much lower powered mobile device than the computers currently used for 3D DPC. It’s a tough technical challenge. However, we’ve been impressed with how Snap have been creating components which other people can build on. The best example of this is currently in footwear try-on where PUMA have integrated Snap’s footwear AR try-on technology into their own mobile app. We think footwear is a good early bellwether of when AR try-on will become important for apparel.

Beyond augmented reality, 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?

Whilst there are going to be innovations and exciting new tech developments and applications, I think the biggest progress is going to be in the area of emergence of best practice and standardisation, and the use of digital assets in more use cases, especially in e-commerce by D2C brands, who have a great opportunity for differentiation over the multibrand retailers who have dominated in the last decade or so. I’d really like to see better interoperability between CAD solutions, and between rendering approaches emerge as part of that standardisation. We’re excited to see how EcoShot evolves as part of that movement too. Longer term Metail is looking to innovate in the application of 3D in e-commerce; at different ways to improve the interaction between customers and brands using our 3D and AI expertise.

Recently we developed the capability for brands to photograph their existing models and have them digitised for EcoShot. This is important because of the point you made earlier about decision-making becoming hybrid processes. Currently the decision about which models a brand uses to sell their products is inherently a physical process because they are choosing from a selection of real-life physical models. This new capability means that they don’t have to revisit this decision. Instead they can use their existing real-life models with their digital garments.

Our hope is that the brands take this capability and go from only showing each product on one brand model to showing each product on a set of brand models with different sizes and shapes. If we get to that point, more consumers benefit as they get to see an accurate representation of that product on a model that is a closer size to them. This will then make it easier for the consumer to assess if they are buying the right product for them.