We recently hosted a webinar featuring Avihay Feld, Co-founder & CEO of Browzwear, Yazan Malkosh, Founder and CEO of Swatchbook and Greg Moore, CEO of WAIR. Flora Davidson, Co-Founder and Head of Product at SupplyCompass sought to unpack with the panellists, how 3D fashion and the inclusion of digitalization have evolved in the fashion industry, and what the future looks like for a more technologically capable industry.
The past and future of 3D fashion
The first question that Flora asked the panellists was why businesses have struggled to deal with the onslaught of the global pandemic. Avihay explained that brands were caught off-guard as factories and brand offices shut down and physical samples could no longer be sent across the world. Greg corroborated this by saying that WAIR works with big brands who still work on spreadsheets in Excel which doesn’t solve any of the major workflow issues.
Highlighting the future-facing nature of the webinar, Flora asked the audience about their predictions for the future of the industry. Greg explained how most companies don’t have enough information on their consumers’ bodies right now to determine the right shapes, dimensions and sizes, which leads to greater returns. He explained that Wair can integrate all this information through web stores so that collections are built around their actual customers, leading to higher conversions and lesser returns and enhancing the customer journey in the process.
The potential for products to be sold without already having been made was also discussed, in the case of true-to-life digital garments. Avihay predicted a future where shoppers can walk through door fronts, be scanned for sizes and use smart mirrors to try on digital garments, with smart factories producing smaller, made-to-measure quantities in just 2-3 days.
We’ve been so integrated with a rise in production, quick production, quick pace but we are forgetting the tools that allow us to do that from an efficiency standpoint. While we have this desire to move towards digitization, we also have the need to be nimble.
Flora then asked if the future of trade shows was a thing of the past. Yazan replied that the onslaught of Covid-19 had meant that international material shows and on-site supplier visits were cancelled. In general, suppliers have to send huge volumes of books of cuttings, and packages of material samples for each style that a brand makes which is not only costly but also leads to some uncertainty, which then translates to bigger physical samples being flown around. Yazan explained that designers are trained to know what fabrics feel like through visuals and that if a consumer can shop through a screen, a designer with much more experience is better suited to do it.
3D enables sustainable processes
Questions from the audience centred around how 3D fashion technology can help brands become more sustainable in their processes. Yazan mentioned that reducing sample waste was one of the biggest contributions, estimating that around 1.8 million samples were being made in a year by a brand he worked with 6 years back and ultimately destroyed. This was equivalent to shipping containers stacked to 4 times the height of World Trade Centre, a gargantuan amount for just one brand and in just one year.
Being able to cut down 80% of the cycle time, which means that they can start and end the preparation of garments very close to the market time and being on-trend, means they can produce less and sell more of what they have produced.
Greg also explained that this lack of sustainable process is present across inventory forecasting as well and that brands ultimately burn millions of dollars of unsold product not to tarnish the brand’s name. Returns can be above 25% of the sold product and reverse logistics is a huge contributor to C02 emissions as well. Adoption of these circular workflows and digital tools is therefore of paramount importance.
Avihay also explained that reducing cycle time on physical samples was crucial as well, as several weeks were spent on sending samples back and forth across the world. When they finally hit the stores many weeks later, the trend has vanished and a large part of the stock is left unsold and sent to landfill—digital sampling can instead cut 80% of cycle times.
3D fashion and design is now past the early adopter phase
Flora concluded by commenting that the sustainability conversation is often focused solely on materials but equally important are the processes and efficiencies in place that conventional LCA analyses often don’t take into account. She then asked the panel on how the industry has evolved over the years with respect to embracing technology.
Avihay, the most experienced panellist explained that his journey, in the beginning, was hard, with people reluctant to change their old, dusty ways of working and that it took a lot of time to get people to trust the new technology. This was aided by certain decision-makers in brands championing new technology and with the arrival of new players like Amazon in the arena challenging the supply chains of the past. He said that it was now crucial for moving larger portions of workflow into 3D, upskill on a large scale, onboard vendors and suppliers and change mindsets as the industry is past early adoption and has now reached the early majority stage.
What is so interesting about the sustainability conversation is that it so quickly goes to materials….but we are talking about efficiencies here. And often efficiency and sustainability aren't married in the fashion industry so obviously. Not all LCA analyses take this into consideration. It’s about a holistic approach and looking at this on top of seeing where you are sourcing materials from and their impact.
Flora then posed a question that several audience members were hungry to learn about: Is 3D only accessible to enterprise, or is it feasible for fast-growing and hungry SMEs?
Yazan explained that Swatchbook was initially targeted by enterprises, as there were lots to learn from them, but that now was the best time to start using state of the art systems for any SME as there was just no reason to stick to old PLM systems from the 80s, citing the complex naming system as an example of outdated processes.
Greg also clarified that SMEs can be much faster and more nimble with quicker decision making and that ultimately it is education that will accelerate investment. There is still a generational divide but in no scenario, will Excel still be used 10 years from now. Avihay explained that they had also chosen to work with enterprises, as at the beginning of the journey, they needed companies who had the ability to pay for ideas like this. But looking forward, he mentioned that the same value that enterprises had seen is now preparing and benefitting SMEs and increasing the creativity pool.
This is the best time to start. You have no luggage. Instead of legacy systems, you can find state of the art systems that can work as flawlessly as you can get, with no reason to stick to old technology
Now is the time to start
What is the impact of implementing 3D, on more manual production jobs? Does the industry have a responsibility to help these people and skills to adapt? Yazan explained that education in the sector drastically needs to pick up and that 3D fashion and digital tools have to become the industry standard, something that designers are not taught in schools and that suppliers are far away from. Greg also stressed that the practice of design and business of design were two separate things and that the workforce had to be put into a more efficient workflow while being upskilled to keep employment levels in place.
Flora then asked the panellists about the possible differences in digital samples and actual physical products when made. Greg stressed that 3D fashion is still far more advantageous in reducing time and waste, that we didn’t have to go from 100% to 0% all at once and instead look at making small changes first. Avihay agreed, explaining that in the big picture, the enormous amount of time saved could be used for much more important things. Flora corroborated this explaining that digital tools help fashion businesses spend time on the more enjoyable, creative aspects of their business rather than fussing over misinformation and logistical details.
To conclude the webinar, Flora asked the panellists for advice to businesses who don’t where to start on their 3D journey. Greg reassured the audience that they were not alone and that there are plenty of educational series, webinars, tools and online groups, for anyone wishing to learn and equip themselves with the skills. Avihay also mentioned the Browzwear university and stressed upon mapping the challenges and use cases for enterprises.
As he said, it’s not about the ifs or whys but about the hows and with all the tools available to the wider audience in the industry, there is no greater time to take the plunge and use technology to get ahead in the game.