[Header image: Digital Fashion Infrastructure – Created & Visualized by WORLD OF MESH]
This article was originally published in the first-ever DPC Report 2022. For more on digital product creation in fashion, and other perspectives on the sustainability impact of digital fashion, download the full DPC Report 2022 completely free of charge and ungated.
The Future is 3D
Fashion is highly creative and ever changing. We are captivated watching brands showcase collections at Fashion Week, patiently waiting for reproductions to arrive at stores. The current process starts with designers creating concepts, finishing products months later in time for go-to-market. But that snapshot is the old world: low tech. Picture the new world: high tech designers using three dimensional software to design styles, revising them on the fly, collapsing cycle time threefold. Industry leaders may feel hesitant and overwhelmed at the start of change, but calmness sets in as 3D technology benefits are realised. Leaders are discovering a more competitive, productive, sustainable and relevant work place where they are delivering products faster to customers.
Kicking Off Change
There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy that brands must implement to enter the digital revolution. Internal processes vary from company to company. But there are fundamental practices that organisations can take advantage of to ease into this transformation era.
To begin, a brand’s leadership must be fully on board to ensure success and commitment to change. Starting slow by identifying a single new project– a pilot– minimises company disruption. New infrastructure, including people, technology requirements and budget is approved. Management designates a Digital Transformation Team (DTT) responsible for pilot project development and execution, and a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) responsible for daily operations of the new team.
Digital Transformation Team Launches Digital Product Creation
The Digital Transformation Team (DTT) kicks off Digital Product Creation (DPC), with their deliverables being digital assets. The DTT is composed of product development positions f rom across the company, including pattern makers, designers, technical developers, sourcing and production, IT specialists, engineers and project managers – all specialised in 3D. Adding a 3D expert from a digitally- generated industry that is further along its maturity curve than fashion, such as Visual Effects or Gaming, to the team is a competitive advantage. These industries are established and have amassed a great deal of knowledge from which other industries, like fashion, can learn. Overall, find talent with a growth mindset who are enthusiastic about 3D fashion creation and embrace the start-up mentality.
The DTT sets pilot program goals, milestones and metrics, and solves any roadblocks that arise. The DTT is also responsible for researching and defining how processes and technology work together. As the team drafts the project plan, they scrutinise the current product development environment, people and skill sets, and expectations currently in place. The team explores 3D technology capabilities and brainstorms how they want to utilise them to design fashion apparel. Management grants the team freedom to probe, make mistakes and pivot, enabling them to discover optimal processes.
Documenting process details, challenges and victories are all part of transforming the business. It ensures knowledge is captured for future brainstorming as refinement of the 3D ecosystem is inevitable.
Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Ensures Continuity
Acting as a single point of contact between the Digital Transformation Team and management is the CDO. This role oversees daily pilot team operations and ensures management is apprised of project status. The CDO also assists with project escalations, transitions, decision making and obtaining quick approvals. The role prevents interference from other groups, and provides other support as needed.
Getting Started in Digital Product Creation (DPC)
A good strategy in selecting a pilot project is to identify a product group with low complexity and fewer style requirements. Selecting, for example, Sweat product group, as a first project may be the path to success. Simplicity may reduce frustration when learning something new, encourage team building between the DTT and the product group, and instil confidence in the technology.
This DTT is constantly refining new processes and sharing them with the product development group. The two teams troubleshoot together and work through many new challenges to determine the most effective outcomes. It is agreed at the start of the pilot that change must not interfere with productivity, and all must work to ensure seasonal drops happen without a hitch. The close collaboration ensures the product group is well-positioned the next time around to develop digital assets on their own.
Once the digital assets are complete, the DTT hands them off to the next cross-functional group in the product cycle.
An example of how the process moves forward, Marketing is next to receive the digital assets. Although Marketing is less involved with the 3D design processes, they are responsible for adopting new 3D presentation software, allowing them to showcase the 3D assets. They also incorporate the 3D assets into go-to-market strategies. The easier each group has handling the digital assets, the easier the entire process progresses.
Success and Next Steps
At the end of the pilot project, the Chief Digital Officer and Leadership review the project findings. The goal is to realise that digital transformation is a success, accounting for cost and time savings, creativity advancements and much more. Next steps are for the DTT to engage with other product groups and repeat the pilot process until all product groups are transformed.
In tandem, Leadership is evaluating how the new 3D technology and practices impact the broader business, including Finance, Business Development, Marketing, Quality Assurance, Manufacturing and so on. The rest of the business incorporates new workflows and 3D technology enhancements, and digital transformation is complete.
Depending on the size of the business, digital transformation can take a few years. Change is always ongoing once you introduce technology, but it is less disruptive as the complex evolutions are done.
A Robust Network Is Required
Many fashion organisations may need to renovate their technology footprint in order for digital transformation to be successful. Implementing a solid networking infrastructure that includes a variety of devices, storage, security and software solutions, and being able to connect teams in multiple global locations is critical. Because 3D technology is relatively new to the fashion world, having a stellar Information Technology (IT) staff to help employees make hardware and software decisions is indispensable.
Successful digital transformation requires evaluating how each group is impacted by change. Some brands have multiple locations to consider. The network, whether it supports a single or multiple sites, must accommodate Broadband as 3D software is data intensive. A sluggish network prevents teams from file sharing and reduces productivity. Product development teams specifically require robust laptops and desktops in order for the 3D software to operate properly.
As network infrastructure is expensive, upgrading multiple sites all at once may not happen. An added benefit of doing a pilot project gives companies ample time to upgrade. Be sure as you engage in the transformation process you are aware of which teams and locations have upgraded their networks. Otherwise, mistakes may happen, product delays may arise and productivity may be compromised.
Digitising Product Information
Other considerations in your digital journey include setting up digital libraries to create virtual samples. For example, every detail that makes up a sweat article in the physical world, needs to be accounted for in the digital world. You must create a digital twin for each fabric layer of the style, for any trims like zipper pullers that exist, for the stitching around the neckline, for the product label and so on. Don’t forget to include a representation of a tailor’s dummy or a mannequin, known in the digital world as an avatar, used to showcase your digital garments in various stages throughout product development.
The digital files are organised and reside in software libraries on your network for other DTT members and cross-functional teams to access in the development process. For example, Development may add digital labels or a specific branded trim to the product file, and Manufacturing may access individual brand avatars for optimal fit outcome.
Leverage an onsite IT professional to help connect software solutions with network systems, to help coach on optimal 3D asset creation formats and more. Creating libraries is complicated, so create a playbook and document standards to ensure consistency across teams and locations.
The New Fashion Showroom Is Ahead of You
Start small and evolve your business at your own pace. Be sure you are building a team that is enthusiastic and skilled. Transformation takes time and requires individuals who are team builders, patient, curious and able to adapt to new circumstances.
Accept that once you enter the 3D revolution, the process will take longer than you expected. Share knowledge with other team members and colleagues who have used digital technology. And most importantly, celebrate the journey, acknowledge the creativity and all of your personal and professional growth. Digital is here to stay. Jump on board.