There is no question that technology has become a part of our everyday lives, improving and complexifying it in ways that we have never imagined. In the midst of an impending monetary crisis, technological revolution and pandemic -- nothing is certain. What is certain is that life must go on and in order to save the economy, sectors need to reevaluate their business models for the future.
There is a massive opportunity in the market to continue to recognize preeminent fashion brands on a new platform. If the fashion industry doesn’t establish its value in this platform, showing that they can continue to design more advanced apparel than gaming CGI designers--they will not only lose revenue from selling physical products, but also from selling virtual garments.
I believe that the fashion industry needs to act immediately in order to shape the marketplace of fashion in a virtual world.
In 2016, the fashion industry saw a huge growth in outlets and off-price clothing. Part of this was a result of overproduction on a massive scale along with underconsumption and economic uncertainty. Business of Fashion reported, “So far in 2016, off-price shoppers account for 75 percent of apparel purchases across all channels, and some traditional retailers now have more outlet stores and discount stores than full-price shops” (BOF). Overall, this shows a devaluation of the industry as a whole. The industry also has long sourced production in foreign countries. With newly imposed trade regulations and taxes, outsourcing production is becoming detrimental to the businesses’ revenue stream.
Industry trend analysis leader for NPD Marshal Cohen relays, “‘Amidst all the change there is one constant in apparel sales performance – the apparel industry isn’t delivering a product experience that will compel consumers to increase their spend,’ says Cohen. ‘Consumers may be driving the recent trends in apparel, but retail needs to respond and take ownership of the business back in order capture the greater growth opportunities that exist.’” (NPD). Virtual fashion design presents opportunities for more interactivity, new design tools and envisioning garments or animating them beyond what could physically exist. Software has even become complex enough to package patternmaking and sample data in a way that can be used for production, or marketing. This is a space to create compelling fashion that has never been seen before, this is not just 3D but it is a whole new dimension for creativity.
VIRTUAL LIVING & ECONOMY
Technology is rapidly digitizing our lives and creating opportunities for us to have a ‘virtual self’ in a simulated world. A California startup called Pinscreen is revolutionizing artificial intelligence and deep mind learning to simulate realistic avatars for users. You can render your avatar in different environments, dress them, make them dance and send them to friends. How people will represent themselves in a virtual world is something to consider, as clothing and accessories could be a huge space for growth.
For a long time, virtual reality has been associated mainly with gaming and leisure. But, recently it has shown that it can be used to enhance our lifestyle and work communication through facilitating collaborative workspaces online. TechCrunch reports on a holographic collaborative workspace called Spatial, “a supercharged, virtual reality version of Zoom or a Google Hangout [...] what might best be described as videoconferencing on steroids: placing people into virtual rooms where they can speak to each other, or look at and manipulate holographic models together, and more.” (Lunden). These kinds of innovative and interactive workspaces aren’t limited to any particular industry and they can connect two people on opposite ends of the world in one virtual room.
Traditionally, in a fashion house, a garment will go through the initial process of moulage, its sampling stage. This is where the initial pattern making is done for the garment, going through several revisions before being put into production. Fashion companies often buy fabric in bulk to reduce their costs--while also accumulating an unnecessary amount of unused fabrics that is typically reserved and only used for a specific season.
Not only does this pollute our environment with an excess of materials and clothing, but fashion companies are literally throwing their money down the drain.
NEW AND IMPROVED DESIGN TOOLS
The fashion industry has a high value for craft and tactility, many designers believe that taking fashion design into a virtual space detracts from the art of moulage. Fabric simulation has been developed and proven to be very accurate in our day and age.
Design tools for 3D apparel have been in demand since Coronavirus has limited our working opportunities drastically. CLO 3D, Browzwear and Optitex, owned by Centric Software PLM are a few modeling and rendering softwares that have nearly mastered 3D patternmaking and fabric simulation. Designers can test their sketch and sample pattern ideas on a virtual avatar, with the ability to build a digital library of fabrics and 3D textures. Body scanning technology is making it possible to import your own avatar with real measurements, compatible with the design software.
Interface for pattern-making and initial sampling in CLO3D
These files can be further rendered as a hyperrealistic image or animation of the garment, while all being packaged in one file. The Interline, a fashion technology magazine wrote an article with CLO, noting that once a 3D sample garment and file is made, it can be used “for a line sheet during range building, be viewed and manipulated by technical designers in real-time to improve fit, then later draped on a more photorealistic avatar and rendered at higher quality offline for visual merchandising purposes” (The Interline x CLO). These tools serve several functions and can be implemented directly into product line management and merchandising on a much larger scale. This is where there is a need for individuals who are capable of merchandising these 3D garments effectively, in order to correctly represent the brand in a real or virtual world. There is opportunity to bring additional value to these garments with a new dimension.
High quality rendering engine built into its software
Gravity Sketch and Tilt Brush are 3D sketch and design softwares owned by Google’s Oculus, where you can sketch in real-time in a 3D space with your hands--while receiving haptic feedback. It has been adopted by product design and automobile design companies as an ideation tool. Haptic feedback is a development that can help to stimulate the same physical and emotional experience that comes with the design process. With these advancements, hopefully designers will grow more comfortable with using and experimenting with new techniques and these tools.
A user wearing a VR headset and drawing on a dress-form
A cross between CLO3D and Gravity Sketch would offer an immersive 3D apparel design experience that doesn't completely compromise the tactility of the craft.
DATA SECURITY AND ETHICS
Data security is a necessity in developing an ethical system for storing this kind of data. It will not be cheap, nor will it be simple. Data relating to real body measurements and facial scanning can be highly sensitive and serve as a double-edged sword for those who can’t properly manage it. This gives a huge responsibility to the companies that choose to involve 3D scanning or body measurement data in their process.
The fashion industry is notorious for negligence towards inclusivity in sizing and could greatly benefit from utilizing this data to their advantage. There is a correct way to use and leverage proprietary data and market to the consumers in an efficient and personable way, but brands need to prioritize security.
MERGING FASHION AND TECHNOLOGY
In the next five years, Tommy Hilfiger has committed to a 100% 3D apparel design team. This shows that there are corporate companies that are willing to take the leap, but there is still a lot that is unknown. There are so many fashion technology opportunities to invent new software applications or platforms for optimizing the design and production processes through these advancements.
People will stop buying as many physical clothes without a strong incentive, so there will be a market shift regardless. The fashion industry has an opportunity to capitalize on this digital opportunity and create a lot of value that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
THE 3D FASHION MARKET, AS IT EXISTS
In Amsterdam, Netherlands, animator Kerry Murphy has partnered with 3D fashion designer Amber Jae Slooten to create the world’s first ‘digital-only fashion house’, The Fabricant. Their projects involve high quality renders of apparel in virtual scenes, as unique marketing opportunities for brands. They have many impressive connections with big brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nike to collaborate with on the future of fashion. They were also the first to demonstrate a real monetary value of digital clothing by selling one of their digital designs for 9,500$ blockchain.
Digital garment sold for $9,500 blockchain
There are 3D fashion companies that have created and sold digital garments for varying prices, but they lack a true platform for sharing and exchanging and using these garments. These may be the future competitors of fashion brands who fail to enter this space effectively.
Although I do believe that CGI artists are incredibly skilled in many facets and can absolutely design beautiful apparel that tells stories. I nevertheless also believe that fashion design is still a separate form of art and that its brand identity is what consumers relate to. There is an opportunity for both industries to come together and become much more powerful. If we do have our own virtual avatars in the next few years, they likely will be wearing clothes. If the fashion industry doesn’t want to collaborate with the tech companies or social media platforms pushing these advancements--CGI designers and tech companies who don’t value clothing to the same extent will price them how they see fit. Once the fashion industry decides to enter this space, it will be too late to affect the value of how consumers perceive clothing on this platform.
As we remain stuck in our homes, we are coming to terms with the new ways we will have to adapt to a life and economy post-pandemic.
The fashion industry is known to take risks, but is this one they will take?