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.
Fashion is the zeitgeist of our times. It has evolved from necessity and protection for the body to a form of individual self-expression and identity. Like fashion, our identities have also evolved. We have already started to create different versions of ourselves through social media using words, images and video. Prior to the internet we led mostly private lives. Now we have digital and social identities, and soon to be virtual identities. All three iterations of self: physical, social and virtual, will intersect with one another just as our choice of fashion for each will play an integral part of shaping that identity. How does the fashion industry prepare for this? How will it handle the intersection of physical, phygital and virtual, tying each experience into an immersive brand story? And how can we unlock an ecosystem that supports not only the transformation needed to make our industry take action against the damage we’ve created, but that also prepares us for this virtual future?
Over the past few years we have witnessed many brands enter digital fashion from the completely opposite part of the digital ecosystem through marketing, metaverse and web3 explorations. Couple that with a global pandemic that allowed technology to push forward years beyond what any of us could possibly imagine, and we have a fashion industry that has outwardly reshaped itself.
But while a lot of brands’ forays into virtual environments are innovative and forward-thinking, the physical product creation processes haven’t even started to undergo their digital transformations. Asset creation and activations are outsourced to incredibly talented studios that have little to no impact on the problems currently facing our industry as a whole. I believe in DPC (digital product creation) as a tool, a new medium, but also ultimately a lifeline in fostering true sustainability for product- producing brands, provided it becomes an engine for more complete transformation than just what is seen on the front-end.
Digital Transformation for an industry such as ours is a herculean task. Brands are scrambling to improve their ESG performance under more scrutiny than ever, and cost pressures are being felt everywhere.
Today, most brands approach digital design with, well, design first – and rightfully so. 3D design helps create better product and improves the quality of production. The misconception of 3D design’s inability to maintain creativity or artisanal craft is a common one. These technology solutions are new tools that enhance existing practices of ideating, prototyping and producing physical product. It doesn’t mean the physical product ceases to exist. On the contrary, a designer, a buyer and the consumer will ultimately see a better product with far less waste in the process.
Once the weight of adoption is lifted and creators are given the opportunity to rediscover their imagination with limitless enhanced expression via digital tools, then and only then will you begin to reap the downstream benefits from upstream transformation. And this isn’t the only way to begin one’s digital transformation.
In addition to the industry-wide and cultural mind-shift needed for this transformation, and depending on where you start, you must also acknowledge that digital touches every part of the product journey – from designers, technical designers, merchants, vendors and suppliers, marketing, B2B accounts, B2C, technology solutions, consumers and beyond. This translates to accuracy, more purposeful intent, speed, improved communication to reduced waste and more. Once you’ve crossed this hurdle of adoption, you will then unlock the numerous ways these same assets can be leveraged throughout the business. And there is no one-size- fits-all solution, or the right roadmap to achieve it either. Digital transformation is an accretion of change, support and technology enhancements from all parts of the organization inside and outside, top to bottom.
3D: from product creation to buying and selling
For some brands, illustrations became sketches, sketches became CADs, and CADs are now digital assets. These digital assets can serve as an extension of brand IP, becoming digital IP in their own right. They are also often referred to as digital twins – a digital copy or record of a physical garment. They optimize the performance and execution of physical assets by empowering designers and other stakeholders to create better product. A library of digital twins can be likened to an archive of digital IP. Once created, these same assets can be leveraged in different ways, even unlocking a new class of asset ownership.
A 3D asset improves communication of intent and optimizes the execution of physical product. It is more accurate than any 2D representation and the process of creating and iterating is faster and far more efficient. The time saved eliminating any back and forth with physical prototypes is gained and real time changes can be applied. Created internally or through the support of vendors, these assets can be used for fit, product execution and finalization. While there are some limitations with fitting digitally – namely the lack of soft body avatars, there are many reasons to begin the practice of fitting digitally leaning into the capabilities of the tools at hand.
First and foremost, these are pattern-based assets dressed on avatars that reflect the body type of your average or ideal consumer. With physics-backed materials, you no longer need to visualize or wait for a prototype when you can see form, fit, function, intent, print scales, detail placements and proportion right away – giving you the ability to alter and create a myriad of different options without having to make a physical version until necessary.
Production calendars may shorten alone from internal digital efficiencies – designing, selling, producing and shipping product closer to season – enabling a shorter go-to-market calendar. It also opens up room for rapid product development to test and produce off-calendar styles and fast-track to market.
Value chain digitization: reduce waste, personalize and work towards on-demand manufacturing
The more demand-driven we become as an industry, the better prepared we are to produce products consumers want, and products that can hold lasting value – leading to a reduction in fashion’s current tendency to over-produce. Personalized products created in configurators yield higher conversion rates. Consumers are also willing to pay more and wait longer to receive customized product. There is also research that shows it improves customer retention to a significant level because of the emotional connection in co- creation.
The future of physical fashion consumption falls somewhere in the middle, no longer a top-down approach bombarded with product, too many choices and targeted marketing, but rather a meeting in the middle that brings real-time needs and desires from the consumers to life.
e-Commerce and marketing: consumer-facing assets
The possibilities with digital assets are not bound by physical restraints – i.e. waiting for a garment to be made, shipped, photographed, used in campaigns, arrive in-store or on your e-commerce site and then shipped to a consumer. The fluidity and agility of digital assets allow you to experiment in more engaging and meaningful ways to tell a product or brand story. With enhancing 3D tools to supplement your 3D pipeline, new use cases and workflows can be established for virtual photography, 3D viewers, virtual fit and AR capabilities – two perfect examples of phygital experiences, the latter through your mobile device. Consumers can experience and even interact with photo-real, high fidelity quality product before a product is even produced or comes close to hitting distribution centers – whether they’re relying on in-house DPC talent or working in tandem with outside creative agencies.
V-commerce: digital fashion and digital asset ownership
Demand for digital fashion is planned to grow 50B by 2030, while the metaverse is expected to be worth 800B by 2024. Digital identities are becoming more relevant as we begin to spend more time outside of the real world. In that timeframe, digital will cease to remain digital and become virtual. Similar to the real world, we will consume products that become part of our identity. We will look for similar tools to help create our identities in the same way we collect physical product. These virtual worlds will take on a look, act and structure of human behavior through fashion. Our digital assets will become as important, if not more, than our physical assets as we embrace these digital identities. We will have avatars, and most likely many avatars.
In the recent Roblox x Parsons Metaverse Fashion Trends Report, half of Roblox users surveyed say they change their avatar’s clothing at least every week. Additionally, “70% of Gen Z say their avatars dress at least somewhat like their IRL style, while equally as many users (70%) get physical style inspiration from dressing their avatars.” There are many use cases and much value in digital ownership for brands – from storytelling, brand-building, loyalty rewards, engagement, new revenue streams, community- building and more. All brands will eventually need a presence in the metaverse in the same way they launched websites and began e-commerce. V-commerce is a new channel and meaningful way to engage with new and future audiences, especially those born digitally-native. Virtual fashion is going to play an equally important role, and one without the limitations of our physical environment and only that of our imaginations.
I do not believe, though, that we will be spending every waking hour in a digital environment. Phygital experiences will become ubiquitous. We will see AR applications for digital wearables become the norm as fully immersive hi- fidelity VR environments and technology continue to evolve. We will also begin to see more blended experiences in brick and mortar environments.
Igniting your 3D ecosystem: preparing your future with the future of others
New pipelines can be created using digital twins by extending the use of your assets to increase consumer engagement. Imagine your archives being fully digitized at the same time and what value they intrinsically hold for internal efficient processes of inspiration and creation, as well as future ownership for consumers.
Preparing your teams, suppliers, vendors, and technology solution providers for this digital future will enable us to critically move our industry in the right direction. It will support brands to prepare for this digital future. New roles will arise within the industry, some of those closer to motion media. Interoperability will be crucial as technology and solution-providers evolve and work together for the new world of digital product creation and asset ownership.
The future of fashion is now, and the future of fashion will be immersive.