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 are 3 main factors that explain the increased implementation of digital solutions in product creation over the last couple of years.
Firstly, the outbreak of the global pandemic in early 2020, which left all actors in the fashion supply chain facing unprecedented levels of disruption due to lockdowns and factory and store closures. Digital solutions became a lifeline for brands, retailers and manufacturers to be able to weather the storm. The upside is that, this disruption actually accelerated the fashion industry’s digital transformation as these actors became aware of how far technology has come and just how much they can do digitally, without creating physical samples. For those who had already started their digital transformation, the pandemic provided the opportunity to test digital solutions on a larger scale and further explore the possibilities created by designing products in 3D. This had led to more open discussions between brands and their supply chain partners with technology providers, in order to share their challenges and work together on building more inter- connected solutions and processes.
Secondly, there has been a significant shift in consumer behaviour, also influenced by the effects of the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, eCommerce sales increased by 77%, which represents a growth acceleration by 4 to 6 years! Recent studies have shown that the younger generations value the unique experiences that digital shopping can offer and there is a more general trend showing that all generations of consumers are looking for more personalized omni-channel experiences (over 80% say they research products online before purchasing in a store). The increase in online sales and the growing opportunities to engage with consumers in new ways across digital channels, justifies more investment in creating digital assets and implementing technologies to improve the digital shopping experience. Furthermore, the promise of the Metaverse and the potential to sell digital only products provide further opportunities for brands that are creating products digitally.
Lastly, in recent years the fashion industry has been shown to have a significantly negative impact on the environment through pollution, resource use, waste production and accounting for up to 10% of global CO2 emissions. More and more consumers are looking to buy eco-responsible clothing, pushing brands to adopt more sustainable product creation processes. Traditional workflows that rely on producing and shipping physical product samples use a lot of natural resources and produce a lot of CO2 and waste. Through the pandemic, brands have discovered first-hand how replacing physical samples with digital ones can, not only make product creation more sustainable, but also more cost-effective and efficient.
For brands looking to scale their digital product creation strategies, there is a mindset shift to be made – one that moves from framing 3D assets as tools for a single purpose, to seeing them as the key to digital-native ways of working that extend from initial idea to consumer engagement. Is technology now ready to support that vision?
This is something we see all the time. We often start working with a specific product team, a marketing or eCommerce team that want to create 3D assets for specific isolated use cases, often downstream such as Interactive 3D product presentation, Augmented Reality experiences, virtual photography, etc. A pilot project for a specific use case is often enough for them to realize how realistic 3D models of their products can be and to start exploring all the different ways they could use those 3D models. However, the use of 3D assets is often first explored either upstream for product creation or downstream for sales &
merchandising. Companies are still struggling to create a connected workflow that enables them to leverage the same digital assets for both of these activities. One of the main goals of Emersya is to empower brands using 3D from the early stages of product development, to leverage the same 3D assets all the way along the value chain.
Is technology ready? Yes, absolutely! Today, it is possible to use 3D technology and digital assets to: design new products; run simulations and digital fit tests; experiment with colors, materials and finishes; carry out online design reviews; generate production resources; automate the flow and management of data; plan assortments; generate photo-realistic images; present products to retailers and provide engaging consumer product experiences across all retail channels …The real question is how can you knit all the different technologies available together into one continuous thread, to create an end-to-end digital workflow? There are many challenges, for example, the requirements for the digital assets used for product creation are not the same as those used for creating web- based product experiences for consumers. It is necessary to be able to convert, adapt and optimize the assets in order to be able to leverage them to create value all the way along the product lifecycle. Technology providers are working together to standardize file formats and develop integrations that will enable brands to move their assets seamlessly between the different solutions they use for each stage of the value chain, adding data as they go. We are working closely with brands and technology partners to improve the interoperability of our solutions, in order to bridge the gaps and create an inter-connected eco-system.
Implicit in extending the utility of 3D assets is the idea of extending the culture around them, to become more collaborative and to support decision-making everywhere f rom creative design to range building and assortment planning. How do you recommend that brands approach that process evolution?
The challenge many brands are facing now is how to go from working in silos to implementing strategic change across all business functions. The key to digital transformation at an enterprise level is to define a clear vision, ensure everyone understands why the company wants to move in this direction and how it is going to help them in their part of the business. This helps people to better align with the objectives and become part of the vision and the journey to get there. Although the vision must be supported by executive leadership, in order to receive company-wide validation and resources, we have seen how a top-down approach does not often work well. It is more effective to create multi-disciplinary, transversal teams that will act as digital ambassadors within their respective business areas, to help change mind-sets and embrace the use of digital assets at scale. Through training and workshops, the ambassadors can help get all other team members on the same page, work together to overcome obstacles and experience the benefits of DPC tools for themselves. The strategic role of the digital transformation team is to be able to set short term objectives leading to quick wins for each business area, that will also contribute to the long term goal at the enterprise level.
Secondly, when choosing which digital solutions to use, it is important to choose ones that enable all stake-holders to participate effectively and collaborate efficiently. For example, it is often difficult for creative designers to adopt digital solutions if they have no technical training and find it hard to change the way they are used to working. It is essential to provide a way for these designers to get involved in the preparation of the 3D assets in order not to lose their creative approach in the digital design process. The right choice of tools could not only empower them to fully translate their vision into 3D but also provide them with more time and freedom for creativity, by automating the administrative tasks. As a technology provider, we have a responsibility to make our solutions as easy to use as possible, in order to facilitate the digital transition for non-technical teams. Our goal is not only to facilitate the access to digital tools, but to allow multi-disciplinary teams to use digital assets to make better, more collaborative decisions earlier in the process, to get to the best final product more efficiently and sustainably.
The fashion industry has an outsized share of top direct to consumer brands, and a significant consumer appetite for buying online that appears to have mostly carried over from the pandemic era intact. What opportunities does this create for interactive, immersive shopping?
Aside from convenience, recent studies have shown that today’s consumers are looking for two main things from online shopping. Firstly, they are looking for a unique, personalized and engaging shopping experience that goes beyond what they used to get in a physical store. Secondly, they are looking to gather all of the information they need, quickly and easily, to make the most informed decision before making a purchase. Interactive 3D and Augmented Reality technology open up a whole new dimension of possibilities to feed this new consumer appetite… With Interactive 3D, brands can engage consumers in an immersive experience that empowers them to actively explore a product from every angle, inside & out, in great detail. Each shopper is free to interact with a product in their own way, discover all the key selling points through dynamic annotations and seamlessly preview all colorways in a product range. Real- time 3D animations can be used to create unique storytelling experiences and, for more technical products, exploded views can provide further insight into the material layers and components. With Augmented Reality and Virtual Try-On, brands can offer an even more personalized shopping experience by enabling customers to visualize products in their own physical surroundings or on themselves. AR technology has been shown to be both a practical and engaging tool for customers that helps brands to build loyalty and reduce the number of returns.
And what capabilities do you believe DTC brands and retailers need to build to seize those opportunities?
To be able to offer these kind of online shopping experiences, brands and retailers first need to create high-quality 3D models and digital materials for their products. This can be done in-house or through external partners. They then need a solution that will allow them to organize & optimize these assets, to create and manage the interactive experiences and to deliver these experiences across their retail network, securely and at scale. This is where Emersya comes in!
For DTC brands in particular, the ability to create the foundational assets as part of the product creation process gives them a significant advantage, as they are able to create the online shopping experiences before the physical products are made, thus speeding up time to market. Being able to test, market and even sell products ahead of production, means a brand can more accurately manage their production to match demand. However, as I mentioned before, the digital assets created for product development are not always directly usable for online product experiences. For example, 3D models for product creation are usually very large files that need to be optimized before they can be rendered online in real-time or loaded in Augmented Reality. The brands that will be able to extract most value from their digital assets, are those that are able to create workflows with interconnected solutions, to make their assets evolve for different uses. At Emersya we develop solutions to empower our clients to optimize and adapt their existing assets and streamline their digital product creation to online product experience workflows.
Showcasing finished products in 3D also opens the doors to allowing consumers to interact with, buy, and customise products – and even to drive on- demand production of personalised products. How significant do you believe this method of engagement is today, and how likely is it to grow in the near future as relationships between brands and consumers evolve?
In the last 10 years, we have witnessed a growing interest in product personalization from both brands and consumers. From a brand’s perspective, offering customized products increases their value, drives engagement and loyalty, while reducing returns. From a customer perspective, product customization empowers them to co-create a personal product that incorporates their preferences and reflects their personality. However, in order for consumers to want to buy custom products, the customization experience has to be easy, enjoyable and above all, visual! Today, 3D technology makes it possible to provide shoppers with a photo-realistic, interactive preview of their product, as they customize it. The true-to-life quality of the 3D visualization is essential for gaining consumer trust and giving them the confidence to buy a product based on its digital twin. They can even try the product on virtually and share the image with friends to ask their opinion before purchase. After purchase, the interactive 3D preview of their customized product and/or image of them wearing it is ready for them to share on social media, increasing the level of potential engagement exponentially.
The implications of this go beyond consumer-brand engagement. As shoppers are looking for customized products, are willing to pay more for them and are confident buying online based on a virtual product preview, this opens up the possibility for brands to move towards pre-sales and an on-demand production model. Moving from mass production to mass customization would enable brands to only produce what they have sold. While challenging from a production perspective, the model comes with major advantages such as eliminating the production of unsold stock (on average 30% of all collections), minimising returns, optimizing the use of resources and reducing environmental impact. Lastly, the growing interest in consumers owning the digital version of their products for use in the metaverse, or even “digital-only” collections, provide brands with further opportunities to generate revenue from 3D product customization, with no production model required!
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?
With an ever increasing number of brands, retailers and manufacturers looking to create digital assets and implement DPC processes we believe the next big focus for technology providers should be on improving accessibility and interoperability, reducing bottlenecks and facilitating the scale-up. On the user side (brands, retailers etc.), we believe that as the benefits of having digital assets continue to grow and become more widely recognized, more emphasis will be put on turning short term change and isolated developments into future- proof transformation across all business functions. Our goal as part of this ecosystem is to continue to develop digital solutions that are simple, yet complete, to promote wider participation in DPC and collaboration around digital assets. Emersya aims not only to provide an agnostic platform for transversal teams, but also to deepen our compatibility with other software providers, to further streamline the data flow and empower our users to create even more value with their digital assets.
Emersya has been a pioneer in developing the use of real- time 3D visualization for both downstream engaging product experiences and upstream collaborative product design. The more we explore these areas and the links between them, the more possibilities we find with potential for future development. We have always and will continue to work closely with our clients to identify their specific needs and challenges, in order to develop best solutions, for the different stages of the product lifecycle. We share the same goals with our clients: to increase the efficiency of their design teams by streamlining and optimizing workflows; to reduce their environment impact; and to offer the best online product experiences.