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How Digital Design can transform the Apparel Industry

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Digital design technologies have the potential to revolutionise the apparel industry by streamlining processes, reducing costs, promoting sustainability, and fostering greater creativity and collaboration

New Delhi: Fashion companies face a range of challenges in the design process, stemming from the dynamic nature of the industry, evolving consumer preferences, and the complexities of the global market. Addressing these challenges often requires a combination of creative thinking, strategic planning, technology adoption, and a deep understanding of the market and consumer behaviour.

The 3D Effect

The conventional design cycle typically comprises fabric development, sketch, style development, sample/prototype making, comments, re-prototype, and salesman sample followed by bulk production. Companies can use digital design as a significant enabler here. The 3D design cycle is an agile process comprising fewer steps. It includes digital fabric design, 3D render overview, comments, final design, and salesman sample followed by bulk production.

The time duration in the 3D design cycle is almost 15% – 20% of the convention cycle. Based on our experience, typically, 90-120 days are saved using 3D design. Once the template is ready, generating additional options such as adding/changing colours is much easier. It brings agility to the whole design and development process.

The winning model

The main reason why the use of digital tools is gaining adoption this year is that it is increasingly impossible to differentiate between AI models and humans. The rationale for digital models is simple. Unlike conventional photography of models, where model agencies, make-up artists, hairstylists etc. are required and where reshoots are commonplace, virtual models need none of these.

Furthermore, it is challenging and unfeasible to showcase 20 separate models donning one garment for every single collection since it could end up inflating product prices. Conversely, virtual models can be hired for as low as $29 per month.

Given these advantages, in India too, fashion brands are trying out AI-generated models and designs to curb costs, improve agility and promote sustainability. Most brands stress that AI models are not meant to replace human ones but to supplement them. Consequently, AI-generated models are being used alongside human ones.

Business benefits

Since these are virtual garments, only virtual models or avatars will wear them. As a result, apparel companies enjoy multiple advantages with the use of digital designs.

The key benefits include agility, cost optimisation and promoting sustainability. Digital designs enable agility, quick reaction and speed to market—From mind to model in a matter of a few days. Digital design enhances agility in product development by providing tools, processes, and methodologies that enable quick adaptation, iteration, collaboration and user-centric design.

Several expenses and reshoots can increase the overall costs of producing and marketing clothes. But with digital designs, since no physical material is used, the costs are contained. Iterative design in a virtual environment can help identify and address issues early in the process, reducing the likelihood of costly errors during production.

Environmental benefits

Worldwide, the textile industry is responsible for millions of tons of annual waste. However, due to its virtual nature, digital fashion is nearly 100% sustainable. 3D design tools can simulate fabric drape and fit, reducing the need for physical samples and minimizing fabric waste.

Virtual models and 3D fashion have enhanced design workflows, promoted a faster, more practical approach and created new standards for fashion design creation. The growth of 3D designs and virtual software platforms is lowering the ecological footprint of fashion companies by minimising production and lead times, among other advantages.

With 3D printing, one can combine diverse materials into a single piece of cloth. For example, a waterproof cloth with a flexible one and more. The options are unlimited and only constrained by the creator’s mind. Besides, 3D printing permits designers to create garments according to an individual’s body type, girth and height.

By mastering digital skills, the new generation of fashion designers is recreating traditional ready-to-wear models, making them eco-friendly, faster, wholly accurate and visually appealing, transforming the fashion supply chain. With the latest digital tools and by working remotely and in collaboration, designers can now create, alter and edit garments to deliver virtual samples in much less time than that required by traditional means.

The AI Angle

Fashion, one of the world’s biggest industries globally, is expected to reach $3.3 trillion by 2030. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and allied digital tools are anticipated to accelerate the industry’s growth with various benefits. For instance, tracking inventory in real-time is critical for companies as they strive to save time and ensure efficient warehouse operations and management to retain a competitive edge in the market.

Increasingly, AI is being used to generate designs such as T-shirt graphics and prints globally. AI can enable the creation of personalized T-shirt designs based on individual preferences. By analysing data related to a person’s interests, style, or even social media activity, AI can generate custom graphics that are tailored to the consumers.

Digital Fashion design creates collections by analysing data. When inventory tracking is backed by robust data prediction capabilities of AI for forecasting trends, brands can gain a substantial competitive advantage. Moreover, AI-generated data is available in vast volumes every day and delivered well in time to fashion designers.

The use of AI in the apparel industry has been making waves recently. But what many don’t realise is that some brands such as H&M have used AI to analyse and predict fashion trends for years. Today, generative AI—machine learning-driven technology that creates new images, videos, text and sound as per data it receives—is being leveraged to fashion digital models.

Indeed, STITCH FIX, a British fashion label has introduced an automatic wardrobe planning tool. Using analytics, the tool records the purchases of female customers and later presents them with a suitable virtual wardrobe. Additionally, the platform allows these ladies to create specific looks from their wardrobes while even choosing from more than 10,000 shops.                                                         

Extracting attributes of top-selling items and feeding them into design teams in real-time can be accomplished through a combination of technology and data-driven processes. This can help to ensure that your design teams have access to real-time insights into the attributes that drive sales and customer satisfaction. This enables your company to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market by quickly adapting to evolving customer preferences.

In conclusion

These are just some of the myriad AI-enabled tools that could transform the future of the fashion firmament by influencing elements such as trend forecasting right up to how shoppers view and buy garments. Best of all, everything is done in a more environmentally friendly way.

It can be challenging to transition from the traditional approach to 3D because the technology is not highly established, and the industry demands trained professionals to handle the projects.   

AI-driven designs, balancing artistry and functionality, pose unique intellectual property challenges. Legal systems need to adapt to provide clearer guidelines and protections, ensuring the world of AI-based digital design remains a creative and intellectually respectful domain.

The adoption of digital design technologies has the potential to revolutionize the apparel industry by streamlining processes, reducing costs, promoting sustainability, and fostering greater creativity and collaboration. As technology continues to advance, these transformations are likely to become even more pronounced.

Pramod Hebbar is Vice President, Design & Product Management, Ace Turtle

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