Sustainable Product Development In Fashion
Updated: Feb 13
Imagine a product lifecycle management tool that can not only help in seamless product development across multiple stakeholders in a fashion company but can also help make a pattern, review the overall outlook of the product digitally, and share fit comments, even before you can make your first sample. This might sound futuristic, but a lot of it is already happening in the apparel industry.
In early 2000, 3D models were used for visualizing only. But today we have applications that can help make patterns, grade patterns for production along with next to real 3D visualizations.
Avatars, fit models and smart textiles are replacing the traditional norms of product development. Fashion brands are moving to a completely digital product development process. Tommy Hilfiger announced last week that it will only use 3D design to create, develop and sell samples from its Spring 2022 apparel collections onward. The brand is training its designers, patternmakers, fit technicians, product developers and merchandisers in 3D digital design. This technology will pave the way for digital clothing that can be worn by customer avatars.
Why is sustainability the need of the hour in the fashion industry?
According to UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the clothing and textile industry today contributes $2.4 trillion to global manufacturing. It is responsible for 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions & 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide. Given its size and global reach, unsustainable practices within the fashion sector have important impacts on social and environmental development indicators. Without major changes to production processes and consumption patterns in fashion, the social and environmental costs of the sector will continue to mount.
Brands are training product teams to handle product development more sustainably. This involves a slow adaptation of digital technology to fasten the development process as well as have less environmental impact. 3D sampling is effectively reducing sample room capacity besides making product development faster, selections quicker and sample room overheads to a minimum. Large-scale productions can reduce sampling time by almost a third by adopting 3D sampling. Although this comes with its challenges, we will talk about that some other time. Today, we see how product development has changed over the last decade as product teams constantly look for ways to reduce material and energy in the manufacturing process.
Technology has streamlined the design process. Concept to marketplace timeline is shortening. 3D collections & range plan simulations are replacing traditional samples. Simulations of CAD, print, and embroidery all of it are possible digitally and in a much shorter time.
Brands want to aim for the “first sample” approvals. Efficient sampling is replacing traditional ways. Commonly, garment samples would travel halfway across the world for approvals. This, including samples in each color-way, made a lot of samples. In the end, these would remain unutilized, unworn and end up as landfills. Instead of sample approval at every stage of product development until final production, consolidation of sample approvals are effectively reducing the number of physical samples.
Although most parts of Asia & few parts of Africa remain the production region of the majority of consumed fashion in the world, design teams across the continents are keeping the communications close-looped with the help of technology. Customizations in product assortment, to suit the local market demographics, brands are using locally produced materials for local consumption, keeping environmental impact to as low as possible.
Many fashion professionals adopt 3D fashion technology, hoping to reduce sample iterations. However, those who only approve design virtually must still make multiple fit samples before going to production, which costs too much time and resources.
Tech Companies like Tukatech in the last 15 years, has 3D body scanned hundreds of fit models, representing different ethnicities, ages, sizes, and shapes. In September this year, Tukatech opened its library of over 750 virtual fit models for global brands and retailers to all 3D users in the fashion industry. Regardless of which 3D fashion technology system they use, anyone can access this library.
As a fashion designer and product developer, I have witnessed the last decade transform into a more digital technology-driven. Although the fashion industry has been a slow adopter, with the growing environmental impact, sustainable is the only way forward. The challenge, however, is to align & drive new systems to replace the old and archaic.