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 a few factors to consider when understanding why there has been such an increase in DPC.
According to the US department of commerce, in 2020, 46% of all apparel sales were made online, accounting for around US110 billion. Ecommerce growth from 2018 to 2019 was 4%, and from 2019 to 2020 was 16%. There has been a massive shift in channels, and this is only the beginning.
This shift has increased the need for digital product creation to cater to a more diverse and dynamic marketplace to keep up with and meet the fast-paced demands of this new world.
Digital product creation also enables a more extensive scope of sizing to meet real-world demands. Demographics give us an average height and an average bust, for example, but clothes made according to statistics don’t give us a comfortable, personal, or accurate size. A decent piece of clothing should fit the individual consumer’s body shape.
We also have the issue of sustainability. Again, substituting traditional fabric samples with digital equivalents is the smartest answer to helping reduce our environmental impact, eliminating waste, and contributing to a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.
Finally, the technology stack ecosystem is more connected, and the world is more connected now. Even if we cannot solve all problems in one place, we now have the option to connect globally. SaaS solutions are now easier to implement and manage, there are many options available now, and the majority of them are easy to integrate into existing workflows.
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, in 2021, fashion companies invested between 1.6 and 1.8 percent of their revenues in technology. By 2030, that figure is expected to rise to between 3.0 and 3.5 percent.
More than 60 percent of fashion executives believe creating integrated digital processes throughout their organizations will be among their top five areas for digitization as they look to 2025.
Over 50 percent of fashion decision-makers say traceability will be a top-five enabler of lowering emissions in their supply chains. However, many brands still find it almost impossible to talk effectively with their suppliers. They need an efficient way to communicate, and this is where Frontier.cool and the TextileCloudTM platform comes into play.
Brands are increasing their focus on traceability through their supply chains, helping them address demands from regulators, investors, and customers for greater transparency. As they aim to cut emissions and meet their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets, brands would benefit from the environmental impact indicators that we can provide.
Do you believe that the scalability of material digitisation has held DPC strategies back, or are brands and their suppliers only now identifying that capturing fabrics at high speed, in high volume, is going to become a pinch point? How are you proposing to use AI to alleviate that pinch?
The notoriously cumbersome and slow-paced fashion supply chain has faced real challenges when learning to adapt to, embrace, and adopt a digital workflow. Since the brands are demanding digitization at scale, the supply chain must keep up, or it will lose out.
Brands and suppliers must cooperate to reach the ultimate shared goal of digitalization, and eventually, the shared value through productivity will increase. All players must be aligned — the brands are pushing for this, but the entire industry needs to upgrade as one unit for digital fashion to succeed.
We can look at this in three parts.
We have the traditional process where brands send their sample requests to their suppliers, and physical samples need to be shipped back to the brands via conventional methods such as FedEx or DHL, for example.
We also have the common digital process, where there is an element of digitization — typically a third-party scanning center or hub — but the shipping component remains.
Frontier.cool’s proprietary AI and machine learning technology aims to reduce or even eliminate manual processes and the shipping of physical fabrics while providing a supplier-to-brand information exchange with all suppliers using a more interoperable solution.
Frontier.cool’s TextileCloudTM platform enables anyone to digitize fabric materials using a regular flatbed scanner by themselves, regardless of who they are or where they are located.
Our cutting-edge technology then transforms that 2D fabric image into a 4D-ready digital twin, which includes the fabric spec, AI-generated metadata (or maps) to ensure the digital material looks realistic, the physical properties which enable the digital material to move as naturally as it would in the real world, and a 4th level of commercial data — we are now 4D-ready!
It’s worth noting that the TextileCloudTM platform also has a built-in 3D viewer, which can be used to see a quick 3D preview of the digital material. It’s also great for the mills that don’t have any 3D design tools on site.
All of the above-mentioned data can be downloaded as a U3M file within 3-5 minutes. This file can then be plugged straight into future applications, including 3D design software, PLM systems, or ERP, for example.
Since the scanning can be performed by the user on-site, there is no need to outsource to a third-party scanning hub, which subsequently saves time, and resources and eliminates any training.
Beyond capturing core visual and physical properties, Frontier.cool is also committing to enriching materials with layers of commercial and – recently – sustainability data. Can you explain how this is intended to support digital product creation as an engine for more comprehensive digital transformation?
The commercial data, or 4th level of data, that we are able to supply is extremely powerful. This data includes, but is not limited to:
- Lead Time
- Construction Details
- Country of Origin
- Remaining Stock
- Production Capabilities Environmental Impact Estimations
This extra layer of data is beneficial for management, traceability, and tracking, particularly the environmental impact estimation data.
As we know, the fashion and textile industries are under the microscope – sustainability and transparency are critical. Unfortunately, brands are struggling to meet their sustainability goals due to the lack of readily available, scientifically-backed data from across the supply chain.
For greater transparency, brands must increase their focus on traceability through their supply chains, helping them to address the demands of regulators, investors, and consumers.
We are the world’s first material digitization solution to offer internationally verif ied environmental impact data estimations via our Eco-ImpactorTM module.
Thanks to our technology and our unique partnership with Made2Flow, we can now deliver material-level impact measurements such as Co2 emissions, water consumption, and even land use — instantly, at scale, and in a trustworthy manner.
Every piece of fabric scanned and uploaded to the TextileCloudTM platform will display the estimated impact that it has had on the environment. This information is essential for Informed decision-making and getting things right at the very beginning.
Moreover, we can even offer personalized environmental impact estimation calculations through facility-level data gathering (T2) and sub-supplier (T3) data gathering. Frontier.cool also works tirelessly with partners and research organizations to increase carbon disclosure accuracy, discover carbon inefficiencies, and uncover further development opportunities.
The environmental impact estimation data obtained via Eco-ImpactorTM is verified by Quantis and follows the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) software methodology in accordance with ISO14064 and ISO14040.
Having access to this kind of critical data is crucial. It’s safe to say that most brands, designers, and suppliers aren’t aware of the data needed to perform such calculations accurately. Inset decarbonization is now a reality — instead of offsetting, where we cause damage, then try to “make up for it” by planting a tree on the other side of the world — it is no longer an afterthought.
One of the key considerations when it comes to extending DPC throughout the value chain is onboarding users, bringing in expertise from brands and suppliers, and allowing them to collaborate and to share the task of creating and making use of digital materials. How does the use of AI and cloud tools help in lowering that barrier of entry, creating opportunities for knowledge sharing, and distributing the burden of digitisation?
The global pandemic has somewhat forced a new way of working upon the fashion industry — remote working, Zoom meetings, and online collaboration are now the new normal. As a result, innovation has increased, and new skills and technologies are being developed rapidly.
At the core of Frontier.cool’s TextileCloudTM platform is our AI and machine learning technology, which helps eliminate the friction and complexity of fabric digitization. In addition, our platform can interoperate and integrate easily thanks to its open API toolkit, enabling the entire industry to work together in sync.
The main challenges facing the value chain are how to improve collaboration and communication. The textile industry is unique, it doesn’t have industry clusters, and information is dispersed and siloed, making integration challenging.
When we developed the TextileCloudTM platform, seamless and efficient collaboration was always one of the fundamental challenges we strived to overcome — co-work, co-design, and co-develop was the aim of the game.
To solve collaboration conundrums, the TextileCloudTM platform incorporates a myriad of collaborative features to enhance, optimize, and speed up workflows.
Design HubTM enables easy and efficient external collaboration between brands and their suppliers. In particular, Design HubTM assists brands and brand designers with efficient, inspirational digital sourcing and allows for quick decisions regarding choosing fabrics, narrowing down options, and ultimately creating the product in the “real world.”
Beyond Design HubTM, the TextileCloudTM platform also offers solutions to the typical burdens of internal collaboration and communication, whether that be across teams, departments, or the organization.
It’s worth mentioning that Frontier.cool’s TextileCloudTM is not ‘just’ a platform; we also offer a painless shift to a digital workflow through our onboarding, coaching, and mentoring services. In addition, our follow-the-sun model ensures that support is always available — regardless of time zone or geographic location.
Do you see digital fabric sourcing co-existing alongside already established models in a hybrid arrangement, or are you predicting a complete retooling of how the industry operates? Where is the tipping point between digital and physical?
We have found that the more “advanced” brands that are further along their digitization journey intend to not use physical samples at all — eliminating them entirely from the development process. Again, this is because they see great value in digitization.
The intermediate majority, which makes up an estimated 80%, use more of a hybrid model with both systems working in harmony.
Eliminating samples enables a more cost-effective, efficient, leaner workflow. We are not doing it just for the sake of it; it will cut costs dramatically. We’re pretty confident that nobody wants to make a single sample.
Regarding the tipping point between digital and physical, we often think about this in a similar vein to a social media platform or a social media community.
Take Instagram, for example; it’s easy to get involved in, with a friction-free entry point, there is a community vibe, and when there are enough people involved and “doing it,” there is a snowball effect, and users no longer feel like they’re firstcomers, they’re made to feel more like a member of a community or network.
Just as we at Frontier.cool are striving to build up the community or ecosystem, there are many solutions out there that are easy to use, f rictionless, more user-f riendly, accessible, and affordable — a lower cost of ownership.
Fashion tech, in general, is easier to adopt and robust, and there are more and more people getting involved than ever before — this is becoming the new normal.
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 often asked how businesses can scale digital product creation to support multiple use cases both downstream toward e-commerce and upstream to development and manufacturing. DPC should seamlessly connect upstream and downstream, it can be done now, but it’s not commonplace.
Extending the value of digital assets in both directions should be the ultimate objective — increasing the usage of digital assets in consumer-facing scenarios, targeting digital fashion business models, and matching digital twins to the physical counterparts that must eventually be produced.
In our experience, the main goals of digital product creation are for companies to ‘accept change’ and to adapt their business strategy, solution modeling, and processes linked to new market realities.
Change and opportunity are everywhere, up and downstream. A comprehensive digital product creation strategy, including a solution such as Frontier.cool and the TextileCloudTM platform, can be the key to unlocking the right mindset to overcome challenges and seize new possibilities.
Additionally, the market of virtual fitting rooms has seen increased growth and demand in the last few years, reaching a market value of 2.97 billion USD in 2020 and is extending downstream. Looking towards the future, we can envisage a new generation of sizing surveys that work from continuous data feeds and tweaking measurement modules.
Further down the line, we can expect leading retailers to offer made-to-measure products.
On-demand manufacturing is, of course, one of the ultimate goals. We want to break away from the standard of minimum order quantity.
Instead of over-producing mindlessly, factories and production lines will be connected to downstream retailers and upstream material suppliers and integrated into a timely supply and demand network. We are firm believers in connecting the entire value chain, and this connectivity will open the possibilities for ODM.
Frontier.cool revealed the world’s first single-chip for the textile industry — based on FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) hardware acceleration — at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the beginning of this year.
The chip, which uses Xilinx FPGAs with Arm processor architecture, was developed to convert physical fabric into digital material, thus allowing virtual apparel to be designed directly f rom real-world textile fabrics — expanding the benefits of virtual fashion and powering up the value chain.
This innovative world-first can be installed in textile and garment factories and fabric manufacturers to speed up digital fabric layer computation, facilitating the connection to 3D apparel design software and enabling the representation of the physical fabric in the virtual apparel or fashion space in real-time.
Thanks to this groundbreaking technology, the product development process can now be achieved in the virtual world, regardless of geographical location or time limitations.
The future’s looking bright. We are positioned in front of a potential $2 trillion market. Beyond this, with the data Frontier.cool gathers from suppliers and brands, we can leverage this to work on advanced manufacturing and the stock market to predict demands and trends. Therefore, there are plenty of opportunities beyond “just” digitizing the value chain.