- The footwear and apparel industry is rapidly adopting digital tools to gain or retain a competitive edge. Digital Twins hold great potential for businesses looking to simulate, test, analyze, and optimize their products and processes without relying on physical prototypes.
- Utilising Digital Twins in product design and development can accelerate the design process, reduce the number of physical prototypes required, and digitally test sustainable materials, processing methods, patterns, and styling details.
- Incorporating Digital Twins into supply chain management offers unparalleled visibility and control over processes, enabling proactive planning and decision-making, reducing lead times, optimizing inventory planning, and minimizing production disruptions.
- Digital Twins can help businesses reduce waste, work with sustainable materials, and improve efficiency and accuracy in processes that contribute to returns related to quality, performance, and fit.
In a market where a high-octane combination of speed, efficiency, creativity, price, and quality are essential to success, the footwear and apparel industry is rushing towards digital transformation and digital tools to gain or retain their competitive edge. And no one area of technology holds more potential across all those areas than Digital Twins – virtual replicas of physical products, materials, or process that allow businesses to simulate, test, analyse, and optimise without being held back by the need to work with physical prototypes and fabrics.
As more footwear and apparel business work to build out and refine their end-to-end workflows – connecting processes that have traditionally been disconnected from one another – the use of Digital Twins is likely to prove key to them to model digital products, revolutionise their workflows, streamline styling and manufacturing operations, optimise costs, boost efficiency, and even transform the downstream customer experience.
Obviously each potential end-to-end workflow is unique, but I want to look at five different, common areas where employing a Digital Twin will have a measurable positive impact on workflows and business models of all shapes and sizes.
Enhanced Product Design and Development
The traditional approach to product design and development in the apparel and footwear industry is time-consuming and costly – with a heavy reliance on physical prototyping and numerous sample iterations, each of which extends time to market.
By shifting to a workflow centred on Digital Twins in place of sequential samples, businesses can create virtual replicas of their materials and products, enabling designers and developers to visualise and test in the design and development stage – in real time.
Here, Digital Twins will not only accelerate the design process but also reduce the number of physical prototypes that will be required to move from an initial concept to an approved production sample. Businesses will also be able to work together in real time with their manufacturing partners, using a Digital Twin that – as the name suggests – accurately represents the physical product, allowing them to visualise any issues that can be linked back to design requirements.
Working this way, design challenges can then be resolved in the virtual world before the prototype stage, leading to significant time and cost savings that would have otherwise been incurred during multiple, iterative rounds of sampling. And what’s more: designers can digitally test different sustainable materials, processing methods, Last or Block models, patterns, and styling details, ensuring that only the most on-trend, well-fitted, and aesthetically appealing options proceed to physical production.
Optimised Supply Chain Management
Incorporating Digital Twins into supply chain management offers apparel and footwear businesses unparalleled visibility and control over their processes. Manufacturers can use Digital Twins to simulate the entire production line, identify machinery or processing issues, resolve potential bottlenecks, optimise capacity throughput, and fine-tune resource allocation.
Real-time data and predictive analytics also enable proactive planning and decision-making, reducing lead times, optimising inventory planning, and minimising production disruptions. Additionally, Digital Twins can facilitate seamless collaboration between different stakeholders in the supply chain, fostering stronger eco-system partnerships and greater efficiency by allowing stakeholders across the value chain to communicate and collaborate based on a shared, digital representation of a physical product.
Environmentally Sustainable Practices and Waste Reduction
Sustainability is a vital concern for both sustainably minded consumers and businesses in the apparel and footwear industry, with both parties seeking the same thing: visibility, transparency, and rapid improvement to the environmental and ethical profile of finished products. By digitally simulating the entire product lifecycle, from design to disposal, companies can quickly identify areas where the teams can reduce waste, working with materials that help to minimise the emissions and all-round environmental impact of the product, and generally cut inefficiencies and inaccuracies that contribute to returns related to quality, performance, and fit.
To make the kind of measurable difference that needs to be made in an accelerated timeframe, Digital Twins will also be essential as a tool for educating designers on how to understand and optimise their workflows to take account of processing impact effects. Digital Twins will also have a role to play in ensuring efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes, materials and products and even predicting product end-of-life scenarios for better recycling and circular economy initiatives.
Crucially, working with an accurate Digital Twin is one of the best possible routes the footwear and apparel industries have to help model, improve, and communicate the kind of data that needs to be disclosed on a digital product passport (DPP) – which will be used in the future by consumers and businesses alike.
Personalisation and Customer Experience
In today’s Mass Customisation and Personalisation era, customer experience is a crucial differentiator for apparel and footwear businesses. Digital Twins enable companies to create virtual avatars of individual customers (rather than traditional sizing demographics that deliver just an average person’s fit!), allowing consumers to virtually try on different products and styles – not only bringing the retail experience more confidently into the comfort of the shoppers’ own homes, but more importantly providing an effective guarantee that the garment or shoe fits their body, or foot shape and size.
This level of Mass Customisation and personalisation enhances customer engagement and will dramatically help reduce the rate of product returns, which we’ve already established are a prime contributor to waste.
At the same time, this approach will strengthen customer loyalty. Moreover, by leveraging customer data and preferences, businesses can create bespoke designs and targeted marketing campaigns catering to the unique tastes of their clientele.
Predictive Maintenance and After-Sales Support
Digital Twins also offer significant benefits in terms of maintenance and after-sales support. Footwear businesses can use a Digital Twin of a shoe to monitor wear and tear, enabling enterprises to offer proactive maintenance recommendations to customers. Digital Twins will help enhance customer experience, satisfaction, and at the same time will help to prolong the lifespan of the product. Additionally, for apparel manufacturers, Digital Twins can simulate fabric degradation, assisting businesses to predict the durability and longevity of their products and offer informed guidance to their consumers.
Integrating Digital Twins into the end-to-end workflows of apparel and footwear businesses will help revolutionise the industry. The benefits are everywhere: from streamlining product design and supply chain management to fostering sustainable material usage, process best practices, and enhancing customer experience. Embracing this digital transformative technology will allow businesses to remain agile, responsive to market demands, and poised for long-term success in a rapidly evolving industry – as well as insulating brands, retailers, and manufacturers against the uncertainty that continues to plague fashion.
As we evolve and mature workflows linked to DPC-3D, it makes perfect sense that we should continue to evolve the Digital Twins workflow maturity both downstream (e-commerce, consumers) and especially into the upstream (manufacturers, mills, and component suppliers) workflows. The benefits are clear as we continue to progress forward on the Digital Twin journey.