You have been investigating 3D prototype software for your clothing business. The advantages to using 3D virtual samples look pretty appealing and you have identified some of the benefits. You may have even seen a couple presentations from software companies. Now you are wondering, what else do I need to ask? There are other issues to consider and include in a budget to implement the software.
Adding 3D software is a great advantage, but must be planned for as a process change. You are not simply adding a new software tool. Gaining full advantage of all the potential revenue generating and cost savings opportunities will require you to make changes to your product development process and have a plan in place to assist your staff in making the adjustment to 3D.
Before diving into planning your 3D implementation, here is a reminder of the potential benefits. You can use this list to analyze and quantify the potential benefits to your particular organization.
Revenue Generating or Savings Opportunities
Less Tangible Benefits
The benefits can be great! Now you need to consider the related processes that need to change and form a plan for implementation.
Who will use the software and how?
The individuals who actually operate the software need a particular set of skills. Most organizations use technical designers or pattern-makers because they already have much of the required knowledge. You also need to consider if you can afford to take those individuals away from their current responsibilities or will you need additional staff. Will the benefits such as a reduction in fit samples to review, eventually balance the workload?
Skills needed to operate a 3D pattern-making software:
Do you want someone fully dedicated to using the software or will the current staff be expected to use the software as part of their daily tasks? Floating licenses are usually an option. Do you want to purchase ten licenses and share those among forty technical designers who will each use the software an hour a day? Or do you buy five licenses and have five fully dedicated virtual technical designers. Both approaches work, but you need to figure out which works best for your organization. Do not forget to calculate the time and cost for training. Regardless if someone uses the software all the time or a couple times per week, they will need full training.
Will the design team directly use the software? Many of the 3D options now offer additional software or plug-ins to Adobe Illustrator, which allows design to utilize the software without learning all the functions.
Do you need staff trained to use traditional 3D modeling or rendering software? Will you be using the 3D models for customer or client presentations? If so, the rendering capabilities of the apparel 3D software may need a boost by using a separate rendering software. Or if you use many custom trims you may need someone familiar with traditional 3D modeling to model trims.
Am I removing steps in the development process?
You are adding at least two steps; creating a 3D virtual sample and reviewing a 3D virtual sample. You will be able to review artwork scale, color variations, and style variations much faster in 3D. Your goal might be to replace some physical samples. Or you may review many more variations of a style because it is now faster in 3D. Make sure everyone is aware of your goal(s) and why you are implementing 3D.
Plan the new steps into the development process. When you first start the 3D model will likely be a pilot alongside the normal process. As you prove the success of 3D you can phase into a more streamlined process, replacing physical samples with virtual samples.
Do I have support from all the necessary departments and functions?
Treat the implementation of 3D virtual samples as a broader process change. Make sure you have support from leadership of all the departments involved. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits to each of the departments before rolling out the change. In addition to those using the software directly, many others will be involved in reviewing the virtual samples or providing supporting information. Design and merchandising must be comfortable reviewing 3D virtual samples in place of physical samples.
Who will be involved:
Consider the software limitations
Make sure everyone understands the software limitations. For instance, because a 3D pattern-making system utilizes the 2D pattern to make a model; sweaters cannot be modeled in 3D. Some of the software options are better than others at insulated garments, representing hard trims, and draped or tied pieces. Footwear and rigid accessories will need to be modeled in a different type of software. Make sure you educate all the stakeholders on the limitations of the software. You do not want to wait for a major meeting for someone to learn what cannot be modeled in 3D.
What hardware or additional software do we need?
Verify if your current workstations will support the 3D software. You may need to make upgrades or completely replace some workstations or laptops. If you will be presenting the 3D virtual samples in place of physical samples, make sure the presentation equipment is sufficient to showcase the virtual sample.
How are you going to test materials to be sure they are accurately represented in the software system? Some software companies provide testing as a service. Others sell hardware packages to allow you to test your materials.
Will you need to create specific rigid parts, such as zipper pulls or buckles? If so, does your company have an existing license for a 3D modeling software that can create those parts. If not, include one in your budget and do not forget to figure out who will be trained to use the software. If you are already using 3D modeling to develop footwear, can someone from that team handle creating apparel trims?
If you plan to use the 3D virtual samples for marketing, you may want to investigate animating the clothing or the avatars. The 3D pattern-making software may have some animation capability, but you may want to invest in a program capable of more complex animation.
Many of the 3D softwares used for apparel and sewn accessories now include photoreal rendering. If you plan to use the images to replace product images on your website, are you satisfied with the rendering ability or do you need further control? An additional rendering software may give you more control over camera and light positions. Some of the traditional 3D modeling software options have complex rendering engines built in.
Examples of traditional 3D modeling / render tools:
Photorealistic images are dependent upon accurate textures and shaders. Verify if the library within the software is sufficient or will you need to create and load your own textures? Existing libraries catering to 3D creators have focused on hard goods. Chances are you will need to capture some of your own fabric textures and create seamless images or shaders that can be uploaded to your 3D system. Depending on your planned end use for 3D, you may need a photo box, a scanner, or software.
Don’t panic. Any of the above needs can also be outsourced. There are many freelancers available using traditional 3D modeling that can create hard trims. Vizoo, offers to scan and create seamless textures as a service in addition to selling hardware and software. But do not plan on finding a technical designer or pattern-maker who also has skills in traditional 3D modeling. Up until now, no one person has needed both of those skills!
We want you to be successful
Adding 3D sampling to your development process can have huge advantages if implemented successfully. There are companies experiencing these advantages. There are also those who bought software licenses which are now sitting idle due to lack of planning. An exciting opportunity should not become a struggle.
Fireflyline offers 3D sampling as a service. We can help you test the process and generate excitement before fully adopting a new process. We can also help you plan for implementing 3D. I have a background in both technical design and project management. I can help you develop a pilot plan followed by a full implementation plan. Fireflyline uses Optitex but we have no obligation to a particular software company.
3D pattern-making and sampling will someday be an industry norm; a part of nearly every apparel product development organization. Before that day comes we want to make the process more accessible and ease the transition. We would love to hear from you if you have been contemplating adding 3D virtual samples to your development process.
As a student at Columbia College Chicago, I’d measure the passage of time in essays written, garments constructed, and cups of coffee consumed. As the new 3D technical design assistant at Fireflyline, I still drink lots of coffee, but now I measure the passage of time in skills learned and memories made. In fact, I’ve learned so much and made so many memories that it’s hard to believe that I’ve only been a part of the Fireflyline team for one month. In four short weeks, I’ve toured factories, attended a textile trade show, comp shopped a few retailers, and I’ve even managed to do some 3D technical design (can you believe it)!
At Fireflyline, just like at Columbia, I’ve had the good fortune of having Lacey as my guide. I’m new to 3D design, so it’s been very helpful to have my former instructor as my boss, helping me figure out why the software keeps eating my cuffs. I’m really starting to get the hang of it. Just a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the Optitex shader tool. Now, it saddens me to know that some people will go there entire lives never knowing the sublime bliss of using it. The shader tool allows me to add finishing touches to my 3D virtual samples, like colors, textures, fabrics, and metallic finishes. I could literally play with it for hours and never get bored.
Eventually, school will start again and I’ll return to passing the days with essays, sewing, and Starbucks. This won’t be tragic, because I love my school and I’ll still get to see Lacey on campus. But, I’m not sure if any classroom can ever truly replicate the experience of really learning, hands-on in the field. At Fireflyline, I’m not just working, I’m exploring.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the PI Apparel NYC conference. PI stands for product innovation. The conference was actually more focused on process innovation than product innovation. Majority of the attendees are brands and retailers looking to find new ways to compete in a rough retail environment. How are you the one to survive when you know the US is over saturated with stores? Retailers are struggling to compete with lower and lower retail prices. According to OTEXA the average cost per unit of an imported garment has fallen 3.9% in 2017 compared to 2016. Companies haven’t magically figured out how to make garments cheaper. Companies are sacrificing quality to compete on price and customers are starting to realize they only need a certain amount of clothing. The fast fashion model works for some, not for all.
After day one of the conference, I didn’t believe the industry was doing enough. The apparel industry is terribly behind in innovating and utilizing technology. The discussions and speakers I listened to on day one were focused on how they were implementing technology, but no one was discussing changing their traditional business model. Many challenges were discussed, but few offered solutions that would win new customers.
Speakers presented how they were developing product with more digital methods. Fast Retailing Co., Ltd talked about how they built apps so designers and technical designers could work within the PLM system on tablets. Pepkor discussed how they were using 3D prototypes to speed up the traditional development process. Digitizing the development process is great, but other industries have been using 3D modeling and PLM tools for decades. We need to figure out how to use those tools in more innovative ways.
Day two was like starting with a fresh slate! Marleen Vogelaar, founder / CEO, of Ziel Wear bluntly discussed how antiquated the typical apparel supply chain is. Marleen pointed out that there is no valid reason apparel can’t be produced immediately to fill a consumer need or desire instead of the typical 12-18 month lead time.
Craig Crawford, IT strategist, was next up to make the point that if you are not already reaching your customers digitally, then you are already behind. Regardless if the store is a single location boutique or a major US retailer, the product in the stores should also be available on-line. The consumer needs to feel engaged with the brand’s story and message in both the digital and physical store environments.
The conference closed with Moritz Waldemeyer discussing some of his works, which include some fabulous wearable art. I would have loved to hear more about his creative process, but the artistry was wonderfully inspiring.
By the end of day two, I was optimistic. Large brands and retailers are starting to realize they must take risks to move forward. There is also huge opportunities for start-ups to innovate new ways of working and reaching consumers. So what must happen for brands to thrive with all the challenges they are currently facing?
Not only shorter, but FLEXIBLE supply chains
Yes, product can be designed and produced in a week. Yes, product can be shipped to the consumer in two days. We need to think about apparel production in radically new ways. The technology already exists to support a new way of working. If you haven’t seen Olivier Scalabre’s Ted Talk “The Next Manufacturing Revolution is Here”; please do so. Flexible, smaller manufacturers have the potential to pave a new path of growth.
Think like a start-up and drop the legacy culture of the apparel industry
Stop worrying about what someone else is doing and figure out what your customers need or want from you. If it’s not working, pivot. Only Amazon is Amazon. You undoubtedly share customers, but it doesn’t mean the customers want the same exact product or service from you. As the authors of Rework, and founders of 37signals say “Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”
Don’t get hung up on what technology is needed. Figure out the business model or process, then find or build the technology. There are oodles of software tools out there that can be adapted to your needs. At Fireflyline, it’s the start-up brands or those outside of the industry that find new and creative ways to use our services. The established brands are using 3D prototypes for the processes we already know lead to success. But some of our favorite projects are from those who want to test the boundaries of what we can accomplish together!
Develop relationships with other companies
You don’t need to buy another company to learn from them and develop synergies. You need a short-term contract and a non-disclosure agreement to start sharing; not a merger. Want to learn how to deliver product in the shortest time possible, why not talk to food delivery start-ups like DoorDash or Postmates? Want to build cool interactive store displays, talk to museums.
Face the fact that innovation is difficult, predictability is easy
Gary Klein dedicates a whole chapter titled “How Organizations Obstruct Insight” in his book “Seeing What Others Don’t”. The premise is that it’s easier to manage the predictable but insight is disruptive. People only claim they want new ideas, but they are naturally more open to those that fall within existing business practices. New ideas can’t be neatly placed on a predictable timeline and budget. Create flexible budgets and timelines for implementing new concepts. Manage the timeline and budget, but build in flexibility.
I left PI Apparel NYC inspired to break down the barriers to innovation. As a small company we have much more flexibility than large corporations. Fireflyline was started to help companies of all sizes incorporate technology and innovation with minimal risk. Hopefully others left the conference inspired to incorporate a culture of innovation within their companies.