According to Pew Research conducted in pre-COVID time, around 47 per cent of futurists said that life would be mostly worse than before the pandemic; 39 per cent said it would be better; and 14 per cent believed it wouldn’t be much different than today. Brands, consumers and stakeholders are used to talking about sustainable planet and fashion but there has been a huge gap between values and actions. Fashion designers weren’t talking about digital fashion and virtuality in every aspect of business until 3-4 years ago.
However, as pandemic hit the world, the right chores were touched by the brands in terms of creating better and sustainable world. The fashion industry has changed at quite a notable speed in all these years, pushing physical and virtual worlds to converse more than ever and the main catalyst in this timely conversion are 3D technologies and tools that are making the future of fashion industry more sustainable. The question is still being asked – how can sustainability be in the core of the fashion business when fast fashion is still dominating the consumer market? The simple answer to this is – it’s driven by ‘awake’ consumers who have gradually but strongly felt the need for more transparent and sustainable fashion value-chain – despite all challenges and gaps.
Brands are going digital from 2021 onwards and creating a space in virtual world…
Leading fashion brand Ralph Lauren announced a new collaboration with ZEPETO – a global social networking and avatar simulation app – in 2021 where users can immerse themselves in a fully articulated virtual world with a personalised 3D avatar and socialise with other users.
Named as Ralph Lauren x ZEPETO, the partnership consists of a digital apparel collection and a thematic virtual world. Ralph Lauren apparel is reimagined for the digital world of ZEPETO, allowing users to wardrobe their 3D avatars with exclusive product.
Balenciaga – A luxury fashion house based out of France – has teamed up with online video game Fortnite to launch an IRL and virtual fashion collection for real-life gamers and Fortnite‘s renowned characters. The collection comprises of baseball caps, logo tees, hoodies, button-down shirts and denim jackets – featuring logos of both the partners. The pieces are available in black, white and red colourways.
Fortnite players can now visit Balenciaga in-game at the Strange Times Featured Hub, where the brand’s virtual store will display a living lookbook featuring the gaming community’s looks. The collaboration is not just restricted to launch of virtual and physical clothes. It also contains a marketing campaign that will appear on billboards in cities like New York and Tokyo, as well as in Fortnite itself.
Physical garment world needs to create better synergies with virtuality using 3D solutions…
During a session conducted by Alvanon and MOTIF in the 3D Tech Festival 2021, Petah Marian, Founder, Future Narrative – a 3D fashion consulting firm – commented while addressing to a query of what it takes for fashion to become sustainable, “I think culturally we haven’t yet made the shift where we truly want fewer items. People often buy clothing for emotional reasons rather than being driven by situational needs (like staying warm). Until we can start shifting culture to aspire to desiring fewer things, it’s about finding ways of achieving that sense of novelty and wonder, and meeting those emotional needs without necessarily a physical product behind it. If we are moving towards a point where a lot of things that tell the world the story of who we are take place online, then there are a lot of virtual ways of doing this using 3D design.”
What Petah has stated is true and needs to be seen as a broader picture in a physical garment world that should be well-supported by 3D and virtual technology. The fashion industry has been long accused of polluting the earth through Landfilling of used/worn garments and that is ridiculous. Five billion pounds of waste from returns went to landfill in 2020, according to Optoro. If online (e-commerce) continues to be the preferred selling platform, there has to be much more focus on managing selling assessment for waste from returns to minimise.
The main reason of return is poor fitting. About 35 per cent of consumers in the US have experienced a change in their waist size through pandemic, as per Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh. The size of a garment that was ordered till 2019 is not going to fit the majority of people in 2021. Creating right illustrations in e-commerce business will help people understand what products will fit them. So, selling before making does hold more relevance now than ever.
And, it is great to see brands are taking these challenges head-on and embracing technologies. Dickies® which is owned by VF Corporation has started using a personalised fitting experience on Alibaba Group’s Tmall Global platform in China.
The pilot program, the-first-of-its-kind for any of VF Corporation’s brands, will leverage 3DLOOK’s technology to provide highly accurate size and fit recommendations, removing any confusion about what size consumers should buy when shopping for Dickies apparel on Tmall.
Shoppers on the Dickies Tmall store will simply have to choose a style and click on a measurement widget to be voice-guided through a quick, easy and engaging process that uses just a front and a side photo. The solution then maps the shopper’s body and shape data with product data to determine what size would fit them best.
Not just VF Corporation, even Levi’s took weeks out of its go-to market meetings through 3D photorealistic renderings of garments and samples. Levi’s appetite for innovation doesn’t end there. The retailer is using the last mile, their bricks-and-mortar stores to transform the customer experience with even more digital advances.
First, Levi’s is investing in customer-facing innovations that take hyper-locality and customisation to new heights. The brand’s new 16,902 square-foot Times Square flagship offers every Levi’s collection Levi’s plus, a selection of New York-centric merchandise and a large Authorized Vintage section. The store also features a 500-square expert tailor shop with sewing machines, direct-to-garment printing capabilities, and iPads for customers to browse designs from branded designs from tailors across the globe. This is all to reduce fitting woes, deliver customised garments, and contribute towards a more sustainable fashion industry through drastically reduced return rate.
Coach – an American luxury design house – has reduced the number of handbag SKUs by 50 per cent from 1000 to 500 recently.
The pivoting point of all these developments is the innovation in design and development. Between US $ 6-8 billion is spent on physical sampling in the apparel industry each year, as per Optitex. If a brand develops 300 styles per week, it means it is producing 1200 samples per week, if an average of 4 samples are made per style. If a brand chooses to go for one sample per garment, by embracing 3D technology, typically it would be the reduction of 900 samples per week, and 46,800 samples per year – resulting in no wastage of raw material, no sample wastage, and no landfill. Thus digital design really helps a lot when it comes to creating a sustainable fashion environment.
How would a world with both physical and virtual garment look like?
On one hand, where brands like Balenciaga and Ralph Lauren are offering both virtual clothing as well as physical garments, there are ‘digital-only’ fashion houses, on the other hand, that are selling just virtual clothes. With the rise of such digital fashion houses, virtual clothes have found a place amidst industry’s search of newness in post-COVID world, pushing the limits for innovations, designs and experience. The Fabricant, Replicant, Carlings, and DressX among others are the ones that are early entrants in this virtual fashion space and are challenging the business model of fast fashion brands. This virtual clothing is worn by gaming enthusiasts, social media buffs, and the ones whose daily routines have gone virtual after COVID-19.
“In the future, it is going to happen that a customer will use a physical garment and a virtual garment both. It is possible to adopt 3D and Digital Product Creation (DPC) in the early stage. We are in the industry, a pipeline already exists and the whole idea is to disrupt and make thing simpler,” mentioned Ty Duperron, COO, Daz3D – a digital product technology company.