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.

DPC in fashion seems to have reached critical mass with more brands than ever kickstarting and scaling DPC strategies. Why do you think that is now?

There are multiple reasons, and some are more obvious than others. Of course COVID had a huge impact, especially for brands, who couldn’t get samples or photos, and whose teams couldn’t travel. But beyond COVID, I think there are some underlying trends that are happening – sustainability being a critical one. And it goes beyond brand reputation; employees and teams want to work differently, too. It’s not at critical mass yet, but as the younger generation starts to weave into the industry, they’ll bring fresh minds filled with different ideas when it comes to sustainability.

Web3 also sparked a further need for digital garments. But the latest change is that there are simply more solutions out there today. And the solutions are getting increasingly better, with an increasing amount of funding, too.

We’re seeing a combination of all of these factors coming together and positively impacting the way that we’re tackling these problems.

Your new motto is “changing the fabric of fashion”, which means fundamental change to the way fashion operates from concept design all the way downstream. What would you say is the major force(s) that makes that kind of sweeping change necessary? Why does fashion need a new fabric?

In fashion, we’re operating a little bit like Titanic: right now the ship from above still looks beautiful, the music’s playing, and people are still dancing, but at the same time, there’s this gaping hole in the bottom of the ship, with water literally streaming in, but not everyone realizes it yet. And that’s really where we sit.

At the same time, there are a couple of things that we know to be true:

  1. People will always use fashion as a form of self- expression. This can be done digitally, but we’re always going to have physical context. So, how do you enable people to still express themselves through fashion?
  2. Businesses still want to make money.

So the big crux sits in those two elements that you might not be able to change, because consumers are difficult to change. That’s why ultra-fast fashion still lives; younger consumers who might not have much to spend still want to dress themselves in what makes them feel good. But what you can change is what sits in between. How does supply and demand get matched? If we know what the consumer needs, and we know what we want to create, how do we not over produce? That’s something we can change. Because we want this industry to live and we don’t actually want the Titanic to sink.

And that’s where I think digital really starts to take a front seat. I’m a really strong believer in digital as an enabler, and not just tech for tech’s sake. So I think that technology is a way to enable that kind of change. And that is really where Stitch, as a company, plays a really big role. We want to help brands at least be able to create and sell B2B digitally – and to do that without your produce, without your samples, and in a much better and a much faster way. And, aside from the immediate reduction of samples, you’ll also start to see brands unlocking a new value chain: maybe they can go to market even faster, and maybe they go straight to the consumer without producing in between.

It’s a way to unlock new models for us. And it’s a way for the industry to leapfrog ahead of itself again, and prepare for the future.

Beyond tech and funding, one of the key barriers to either kickstarting or growing digital native workflows, is skills. You’ve got brands who are very keen to hire in new generations of people with hybrid skill sets, and you’ve got universities or colleges that are trying to train the next generation of that sort of talent. There’s a big gap in the middle, which comprises all of today’s fashion professionals who are very immersed and well versed in the traditional processes you’ve mentioned. These are the people who are keeping the Titanic afloat and there is a need for them to get a grasp on new ways of working if the industry is going to move towards these sort of digital native workflows. What do you think is the right approach to doing that?

In my own experience, and in our experience as a company, once fashion teams get past the initial hurdle that is the fear of digital product creation taking over craftsmanship, and instead realize this is actually a way to create better garments with less waste, fashion teams are very willing to learn. Where the challenge sits instead, is in the fact that many businesses have optimized and crunched their overall calendar to such an extent that there literally is no time for learning. And they see that DPC is still so much in its infancy, its uncharted territory. When you’re in territory like that, the best way to learn is by doing. You learn through experimentation: through trying, and failing, and trying again.

Now, the irony is that the calendar doesn’t have time for teams to learn by trying and failing, but it is exactly this that would create more time. As an industry, we need to find a way for teams to learn, whilst still keeping that calendar going. We need to change some systemic way of working to allow teams to upskill. And we can do gradually. At Stitch, with our Academy, we really help brands to do this.

The past years we have trained over 1000+ people – from designers and product managers to global sales teams – in digital workflows. Our Academy offers both online trainings where you can learn at your own pace, as well as on-site workshops for fashion teams that help accelerate transformation. Our trainings range from the first steps of digital transformation (including change management), to 3D design and digital go- to-market workflows. We are now expanding our offering to individuals, not just teams, and are excited to share our experience & knowledge with more and more people in the industry.

There are a lot of people very interested in the new business models that you can build for digital assets that then go on to become digital goods, whether that’s the slightly nebulous promise of the Metaverse, or whether it’s something a bit more grounded in selling digital goods, or in creating digital goods in a way that allows you to interact with them. Do you see a synergy between the reasons to create digital workflows today and those new business model opportunities? Is there a link between DPC for the sake of doing fashion better, and DPC for the sake of enabling these new sorts of downstream business models? Or should you be looking at those two things as completely separate?

Maybe there are two schools of thought, but a lot of people believe in digital for digital, and others in digital for physical. It’s one of my deepest wishes that those two are intertwined. On a macro level, the way you create digital garments, no matter where they end up, is quite similar. Yes, there are a lot of differences when you’re creating for manufacturing versus when you’re optimizing for different digital channels, but it requires a basic knowledge of 3D design. And it requires a certain mindset / curiosity / exploration that you need to do because, just like DPC, the world of Web3 is completely unexplored. And the way that brands are embarking on it now is learning by doing.

In the long run, businesses will be remiss not to invest in talent that knows how to create digital for digital, and how to really optimize for all the different platforms.

It feels a little reductive to say that working digitally automatically means working more sustainability, but surely it does, if every decision you take based on a digital asset instead of having a physical one, means less waste, less overproduction, less over ordering etc. What’s your take on how intertwined DPC and sustainability have become?

For me, technology and sustainability are completely interlinked. I want to stress here that technology isn’t the ‘silver bullet’, but it is an enabler for us to solve problems that we haven’t been able to solve before, working in the way that we do. And this goes across all of the big topics: traceability, overproduction, better decision-making, and even new models. If we open our minds to be able to look for solutions outside of the industry and take the technology that works well, and apply it to our own problems, we’re going to be able to make a lot of great changes. And I think you can see clear examples in ultra-fast fashion (which I’m not advocating for), just by matching consumer demand with production in a really fast and new way. It’s a terrible model, but at the same time these businesses solve problems using technology, and become very successful. It’s a way of thinking differently, and solving problems differently.

So DPC and sustainability are so incredibly intertwined. And it comes down to both mindset and software – with both, there’s no challenge we can’t solve.

We’ve seen a big push towards the use of 3D assets in selling – both brand to consumer, and in B2B wholesale relationships. One of the primary engines for encouraging businesses to scale their asset creation pipelines right now is because they want to sell with digital assets. This is an area you’ve been active in for a long time. Have you seen things change? And how strong do you think that mandate is now for using and creating digital assets for sales purposes?

The mandate is there. A lot of brands see the opportunity to tell better stories in wholesale, so grow their wholesale business without needing to invest in physical samples and invest in physical space.

With the unpredictability we’re seeing in the supply chain, DPC is going to become a necessity. Overall retailers are also looking at changing their business models, to get to market faster. If you think about doing a quick response capsule, or working with an amazing ambassador, these things are time-sensitive. They have to happen within the coming weeks (or maybe months). And that can only happen if you work digitally, because you just don’t have the time to wait for samples. DPC becomes an enabler to change and to grow wholesale businesses as those business models evolve themselves.

And some sales teams still need encouragement to work with digital samples. So we need to build trust around 3D samples. But how do we build enough moments that allow you to compare the digital with the physical, or compare the digital with a photograph to realise how awesome digital is? This is where collaboration comes in. Maybe you can leverage a virtual model to show your garments in 3D, and that becomes a really amazing asset for sales to use – and it has life. Exploring these kinds of things is exactly the opportunity that DPC gives you.

Whether you’re selling business to business, or whether you’re selling business to consumer, having those digital assets unlocks so many different ways for you to engage with the various stakeholders involved in that lifecycle, to make choices that previously they wouldn’t have been able to make. Where do you see DPC digital assets going from here? What does the near future look like for the industry? And for Stitch?

In the near future, the immediate win would be to have all of those physical prototypes replaced by 3D prototypes, and your physical samples replaced by 3D samples. And when you speak to the manufacturing space, they’re really ready for this. They really want it.

So now, it’s about how we can help brands to see that this is worth the investment – whether that’s direct, like reducing your FOB, or whether it’s because you can leverage these assets later in the chain. My hope is that brands truly collaborate, internally; marketing teams need to see the amazing wealth of assets available digitally, and get other teams on board to help take those assets to the next level, so that in B2B and wholesale, businesses can start giving a whole new experience to retail buyers that just wasn’t possible with physical assets.

That’s the future, especially for us at Stitch. That’s where the opportunity sits. Once multiple teams within a brand realize that they can all contribute to these assets, all take these assets and enhance them and give them new life and purpose …that’s when we’re going to see even more use cases take off.