If 2020 was the year of the brick-and-mortar retail shake-out and the supply-chain crunch, 2021 will be the year when digital gets real. Companies both in and out of the fashion industry have been content in keeping new digital processes and the traditional analog mode of business separate, but the past year has shown us that strategy may no longer be viable.
Digital commerce, creativity, working practices and efficiencies have been thrust to the foreground. In 2021, expect innovation to focus on hybridity — ensuring the seamless connection of digital processes and physical realities.
I asked friends and associates at several global fashion-tech companies how they see things playing out this year. Here's what they had to say.
“The industry is reaching a point where an enormous amount of marketing and e-commerce content can be generated directly from 3-D models. We've already seen that brands who had 3-D versions of their products had a much easier time with COVID-19 than those who did not, but it extends beyond that. Every major tech company and advertising platform has invested hundreds of millions in mixed-reality and 3-D. Brands that have the ability to leverage those tools will be able to connect with their customers in a way that others can't." —Benjamin Conway, co-founder, Vntana
“Many 3-D software solutions out there offer amazing capabilities, but it should not necessarily change the way an apparel brand does things overnight. Short-term, there needs to be a way for digital and physical systems to overlap and have continuity in things like sizing, body measurement and body shape standards. Many apparel companies have spent years developing the current, physical processes and brand identity. Systems have been built around the R&D that has gone into defining their product fit for their customer. The only way for them to realize the benefit of 3-D is to translate those processes easily into the digital space. That means being able to make use of consistent resources in the digital space — without having to reinvent everything they do.” —Rory Millam, global sales and operations manager, Figureforms
Size-Inclusive 3-D Models
"Soft-body physics will be incorporated into cloth simulation programs like VStitcher and CLO. Without soft bodies, 3-D fashion can never claim to be inclusive — it is impossible to design for plus-size if you cannot correctly simulate the effect garments will have on their bodies. The beautiful thing about softer bodies is that tight garments will shape and change the form, redistributing volume and creating visually pleasing lines. This cannot currently be accounted for in any program I know of, making the 3-D fashion industry more exclusionary and less inclusive than traditional methods of design. As someone who is plus-size, I’m extremely passionate about seeing tech become more inclusive. It’s difficult to support an industry that can’t even design for your body." —Cameron-James Wilson, CEO, The Diigitals
"Digitizing the fabrics is our first step in keeping cotton in a digital landscape. We have committed to creating a digital online library of our fabrics, free for download and use by brands, mills and accounts. We plan to move forward in promoting and expanding our digital assets." —Emily Croneberger, manager, marketing and industry programs, Cotton Inc.
"For an apparel brand, the key will be high-fidelity cloth simulation. Once a user has an accurate avatar that moves and deforms realistically, it is critical to have a cloth sim, just like VStitcher, that will realistically represent the cloth as well as the nuanced motion, fit and forces of the cloth with the moving body. This will be important for both designers and customers so that they can evaluate apparel without physical try-ons and multiple rounds of tailoring and redesign, which is becoming increasingly harder." —Naureen Mahmood, co-founder, Meshcapade
“The need for companies to invest in more coherent horizontal supply chains will drive targeted investment in digital processes that enable a seamless connection in product development. Time-to-market has never played a more important role as it does now. Super-fast-configuration, mass-image production systems will give them the opportunity to make their decisions faster, while sparing on the production costs, bringing their products out on the market faster with a focus on individualization.” —Sergej Zlahtic, owner, Tronog
From ‘Digital Twin’ to Only Child
“In the whole arena of 3-D transformation, what used to be known as the ‘digital twin’ — an accurate representation of the online consumer — is now the single, only-child, meaning that physical is not always the master copy. More and more workflows and use cases are being done on digital only. That’s the real revolution." —Eran Galil, CTO, ByondXR
“3-D garment tools have been less popular than we expected. The fashion industry has taken a hard hit due to the COVID-19 crisis — companies cannot afford to invest lots of budget and sources to 3-D garment tools on a small budget. If more diverse services such as free trials are created, we believe that it would be a big help to step up for 3-D tools.” —Suk Min Lee, senior research engineer, LG Electronics
"We have to work out how to do sales remotely instead of in-person events or flying to visit customers. However, trying to solve this challenge is a good thing because, if we are able to crack it, it is a more sustainable and scalable way to build a business, rather than needing to fly across the world.” —Vikesh Shah, commercial director, Metail
“Only so much can be achieved over the telephone, via webcam, Zoom, Google Meet and so on. With the need to change many business structures and people to work from home or in reduced office spaces, more focus will be put on an efficient way for team members to communicate within an organization, as well as for external communications with business partners, suppliers and customers all over the world.” —Rory Millam, Figureforms
While, for many, 2020 has been disruptive, behind the chaos it was also a year when many key changes started to emerge.
Technology is revolutionizing the creation and distribution of apparel around the world, and 2021 will be the year that digital tools enable fashion to gear up for the future, whatever it throws our way.
Avihay Feld is co-founder and chief executive officer at Browzwear.
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