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The Fabricant – "Deep" digital collection
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Texcycle #5

Virtual Design and Sampling

As CAD software and 3D imaging get ever more sophisticated, the design development and sampling process – even the “finished” garment – no longer need to leave the screen.

Before a design goes into production it will usually undergo a rigorous sampling process that involves the creation and iteration of numerous samples, which go back and forth between the design team and manufacturer(s), as well as buyers, until it has been approved. Each new sample requires additional time, money and resources, making for a rather slow and inefficient process – but now thanks to advances in cloud computing, CAD and 3D software, shipping physical samples around the planet may soon be a thing of the past.

Apparel prototyping software such as Vidya (Assyst), Runway 3D (Optitex), VStitcher (Browzwear) and CLO offer lifelike garment simulation, which can be checked for fit, fabric behaviour and drape on human avatars of all shapes and sizes, and modified at the click of a button. Since the product data is stored in the cloud, all parties involved in the sampling process can see the latest updates and collaborate in real time, no matter where they are. For the full immersive 3D experience, the designs can virtually be brought to life with mixed reality headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens or the X-Rite Virtual Light Booth for even more precise editing.  

Fabric, with all its fold, drape and texture, has long made it hard to simulate in virtual environments, but with the advent of 3D material scanners like the X-Rite Pantone TAC7 Scanner, physical fabric swatches can now be converted into photorealistic digital files that capture the exact colour, texture, gloss and transparency of the material. Textile companies could therefore upload their catalogues online instead of sending out countless swatches, significantly saving on postage and resources.

In the age of social media where image is all important, it doesn’t really matter if you own the clothes you’re wearing – or if you have indeed ever “worn” them at all. In 2018 Scandinavian retailer Carlings launched a digital capsule collection, photoshopping customers into their virtual purchases, while earlier this year digital fashion house The Fabricant sold a "blockchain dress" for $9500 that only exists online. Such examples challenge the need for fashion in the real world and the consequences of its built-in obsolescence, namely waste.

The birth of the AI fashion designer is on the horizon too, with machine-learning algorithms such as Amazon’s StyleSnap already helping customers find clothes in photos they upload from social media and internet searches. Rather than fear for their jobs, IRL designers could use trend data generated by AI to better understand what customers are looking for and design accordingly. All these technologies can therefore substantially streamline and reduce waste in the design development process, however just because it increases speed and efficiency, this doesn’t mean that brands should take this opportunity to manufacture even more product.

In the next instalment we explore new modes of production doing away with minimum quantities, long lead times and excess inventory by only creating what is desired, when it is required.

Written by Mairi Hare as part of a collaboration between Sourcebook GmbH and Texpertise Network.

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