People come in all shapes and sizes, so should clothes

Blog post
Satu-Marja Mäkelä

How about digital clothes? Who would benefit from those and how? Digitalization has changed the apparel industry for many years. 3-dimensional (3D) design is a technology that has raised also an interest in Finnish apparel industry, which was also indicated in an earlier study we conducted.

The key feature of 3D design is that it offers designers a possibility to model virtual objects that resemble physical objects of the real world. It aims to replace physical work steps with digital workflows in the apparel value chain. Currently, there are lots of tools available. For example, new players such as BrowzwearHuman Solutions, and CLO3D are providing 3D design tools for the apparel industry. So are some more traditional larger companies such as Lectra and Gerber Technology that also have the needed machinery for production.

Digital tools will change the design and prototype phase by making it much faster. It will be easy to iterate between design variants by replacing physical steps with digital. As the visualization of clothing improves, it will also provide the digital material for marketing. This is very important regarding the e-commerce and social media channels, even more so in the future.

3D design in apparel industry benefits from body scanning technologies. They have recently gained a lot of visibility in the industry. They range from simple smartphone apps to very expensive and accurate full body sized scanners equipped with lasers and multi-view cameras. Based on the 3D full body scanning it is possible to get very accurate measures of the human body, which can be utilized in an apparel value chain in diverse ways. Customers can use the sizing information for finding the right garment size and best fit in online shopping. Eventually we will have just the right size avatars to try the clothes on.

3D body scanning also enables faster and more accurate sizing surveys for more reliable size charts, body shapes and proportions of target customer segment. In this way already in the design phase, the garments can be tailored well for the target group. Improved understanding of the sizing of a customer segment can provide a valuable tool to avoid dead stock. In USA it has been estimated that in apparel business the dead inventory is worth as much as $50 billion a year.

We conducted another study together with NOMO Technologies Ltd (NOMO 3D) this time focusing on apparel industry professionals’ views of 3D design related technologies. You can find the summary of the survey results from here. We found that many do not yet have experience of 3D design technologies: only about one fifth (20.9 %) had used 3D systems for pattern making or garment designing, and a clear minority (6.5 %) had fit garment samples on a 3D model in a production process.

Despite this, most professionals perceived 3D body models (61.2 %), digital body measurements (62.7 %), and precise measurements of a certain body surface area (59.7 %) useful for their work in the future. Furthermore, 86.6% of the professionals were interested in using 3D software tools, which would enable designing clothes directly into the 3D scanned body model. All this indicates that adopting 3D technologies in the apparel industry is around the corner. Further development and collaboration is still needed in many areas. Required technologies are used in other domains, e.g. 3D design software CLO3D is working together with game and film industries.

To fasten the adoption of 3D design tools, they should be seamlessly integrated into different phases of the apparel production process. Extra attention should be paid to usability. Furthermore, the technology prices need to come down, since many apparel companies in Finland are SMEs or even micro-sized. For successful adoption and utilization of 3D design tools requires new competences and continuous learning in the apparel industry.

Transition towards digital workflows in the apparel industry has already been going on for a long time. One indication of this in Finnish industry is that many companies have increasingly started to recruit and nominate employees responsible for digitalization activities. Advancements in 3D design related technologies are going to accelerate this transition in the future and open new business opportunities to both technology and apparel companies.

SatuMarja Mäkelä
Satu-Marja Mäkelä
Our vision beyond 2030

Collaboration throughout the manufacturing value chain will create new production methods, using e.g. robotics, 3D printing, and augmented reality to support human labour.