The Need for Speed in Design Development and Creative Collaboration

A global supply chain coupled with increased collaboration between manufacturers and retailers as well as the need to improve speed-to-market is driving apparel makers to look for ways to improve efficiency without sacrificing quality and innovative design.

For many, the answer is 3-D computer-aided design and patternmaking. For the second in California Apparel News’ ongoing Industry Focus: Technology series, we take a look at 3-D design technology. Executive Editor Alison A. Nieder recently caught up with several apparel technology executives to discuss what’s driving interest in 3-D design technologies and how apparel makers are using 3-D for everything from design development to customer engagement.

Mark Faber

Vice President of Global Customer Success


We see a combination of operational and strategic motives driving businesses of all different sizes to adopt 3-D. With 3-D, you can create once but leverage everywhere across multiple business processes, from product development and merchandising all the way through to sales and marketing.

One of the biggest benefits on the operational side is time saved. It’s about saving time and costs associated with product development, particularly related to proto and fit samples, by reducing the amount of physical samples needed. Technology also closes the gap between distances, making it much easier for decision makers to see virtual designs and make decisions fast and more effectively. You can speed up collection reviews between a brand’s merchandising, design and product-development teams and between the brands and their vendors. In other cases, it can even extend to the sales and marketing process by reducing costs and time associated with salesman samples, changing the experience of buyers in the showroom, improving store merchandise planning and even photo shoots.

On a strategic level, companies are driven to adopt 3-D with the goal to deliver the best possible product to their customers. Virtual sampling gives merchandisers and designers more color and design options to select from without impacting time and cost of delivery. You can present 3-D samples in any meeting, even without a physical sample, in all colorways. The decision making is happening much faster, and the quality of the product is better as you visualize a true-to-life garment, all months earlier than brands could have done before. In other cases, the motivation stems from a desire to be innovative and leaders in the industry, with forward-thinking technology and a vision of a future that includes consumers interacting with 3-D samples, whether online or in-store.

Regardless of the initial driver for adopting 3-D, the bottom line for all the brands and retailers we work with is that where it starts is never where it ends. Within a relatively short period of getting started, they see additional uses and benefits of 3-D for their whole workflow and implement them from concept all the way to the in-store experience.

Luis Velázquez

Director of Business Development

Lectra North America

Leading companies have already squeezed all of the big chunks of fluff time from their product-development calendars. Many of them have also managed to push forward into fabric platforming and tight vendor partnerships, economizing time even further. However, the pressure to reduce time has not waned, and COOs are being asked to push for more. What is the next opportunity? The ability to generate virtual digital prototypes seems to be what executives are looking at now. The genesis of this interest centers on replacing one to two sample iterations with 3-D, thereby reducing total development time and cost accordingly. The added benefit, of course, is that design teams can then generate and review an increased number of product options without added cost. Seeing the same dress with long and short sleeves, for example, requires only a nominal investment in time with 3-D compared to full prototyping.

Sample reductions may have been where it started, but innovative companies are pushing the technology even further, looking to positively impact areas such as on-product marketing and in-store presentation for an ever more inviting shopping experience. For example, some are looking to 3-D virtual prototypes to allow for printing of labels with product renderings. In the past, product rendering on labels was cost prohibitive and nearly impossible to execute because of the time needed to execute samples and photography in every colorway. 3-D has the potential to allow fit protos to be executed in one colorway physically while all other colorways are approved off swatch and 3-D renderings. This means that label ordering can proceed on an expedited timeline, no longer dependent on a physical sample or photo shoot timelines. In addition, merchandising is beginning to use 3-D not only at the product selection/adoption phase but also in designing the product presentations in-store, for stronger visualization of the shoppers’ experience prior to roll out. We have even seen one company use 3-D prototypes as part of a video created to pitch to one of its customers.

Many of the best new ideas for the use of virtual prototypes are coming directly from our clients. We can’t wait to see where this goes next.

Mary McFadden

Executive Director, CAD Product Management

Gerber Technology

Now that companies understand the current applications for 3-D in the value chain, they are starting to think more creatively about additional uses, from textile development to engaging with consumers. What we think of as “traditional” uses of 3-D as well as the promise of less talked about applications are all driving adoption.

There is now a general understanding that product development can save a minimum of two weeks in the development calendar, depending on the average number of prototypes created during the development process. Prior to the sample being created, pattern development is made even more efficient due to the patternmaker’s ability to validate their patterns without having to rely on others to execute a physical sample. Patternmakers quickly become dependent on 3-D as a tool to make the pattern development process more efficient.

For many, the use of 3-D integrates so readily into the collaboration process, they easily expand the audience beyond their original target. We have some customers that planned on using 3-D between design and product development but added the use of 3-D as a sales tool. These customers are also finding that their opportunity is increasing because they are able to present more designs in the line to buyers, virtually. They no longer need to take the time to create physical samples but can present design concepts digitally, increasing their opportunity to have more designs selected.

When designers collaborate with customers, 3-D design provides a more effective tool than flat sketches. Companies that specialize in digital design can more effectively present concepts in 3-D as compared to flat sketches. In a flat sketch the impact of the design is lost and the customer cannot fully understand how the design will look when executed. Leveraging 3-D for this customer interaction reduces the overall cost and time of development but also results in a more satisfied customer.

Another area where we have seen a lot of excitement is in the area of textile development. Textile designers can use virtual samples to test design concepts without creating physical samples or yardage. Scale and proportion can be visualized and modified on a virtual sample quickly to help refine a design concept prior to the expense of physical samples.

There are many other areas of interest from the effects of laundry and reverse engineering of textile properties to dynamic fit and deeper consumer interaction, all of which excite customers’ imagination. All of these areas are driving adoption of 3-D technology. 3-D is clearly here to stay, and the possibilities are really endless. We can all look forward to a more enriched experience as both industry professionals as well as consumers.

Dr. Andreas Seidl

Chief Executive Officer

Human Solutions Group/Assyst

Discussions with our customers have repeatedly shown that making solidly based decisions fast is becoming increasingly important for them when they’re creating their new collections. Many see the benefits of 3-D, especially in the design process. Our simulation software, Vidya, makes it possible to work with an almost photorealistic image of a product right from the outset. Changes in materials, applications, buttons, stitch types, etc., can be simulated lightning fast. This reduces the risk of wrong decisions and elaborately produced sample pieces. Our customers tell us that they can now do without as much as 60 percent of their sample pieces. This simplifies and speeds up the production process—and naturally generates significant cost reductions. Work goes much faster, especially in the creation of variants and later collections.

Vidya also offers the great advantage of possible integration with our iSize portal, plus the option to work directly with a body scan of the house model, ensuring that sizing and fitting remains highly visible throughout the entire design process. This is a big advantage for sales, for example, when it comes to keeping the number of returns in the online shop as low as possible, and we also offer the Bodyprofiler for this, an ideal complementary software solution. Many of our customers are using 3-D more and more to communicate with their own customers, especially in the online environment—and this means that all those expensive photoshoots are now a thing of the past. Color and material variants can be quickly and easily imaged in the online shop and the house scanatar can be used for virtual try-ons.

Savannah Crawford

Chief Collaborator


Manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce the number of samples and shorten the product-development process. Brands are looking for ways to expand their product offering without risk.

There is a lot of opportunity for improving efficiency in the product-development cycle. When everything was vertical, sample approvals took place with the fit model, designer, patternmaker, and sample maker all in one room. Changes were communicated clearly between the relevant people, and the final sample was approved within a day or two. Now, because of globalization, sample approvals must take place across continents. Sending a sample via courier adds additional cost in both money and time. Language barriers add another layer to the complexities of design interpretation. We’ve tried communicating with tech packs and fit forms, but these methods just add new problems in analyzing fit and design. Lots of companies are now looking for solutions that close the communication gaps in a fast-paced, globalized industry.

With 3-D technology, there is more consistency because the 3-D fit model will have a consistent shape, anywhere and anytime. The live fit models’ bodies are replicated with the correct measurements, shape and posture so that right from the beginning every curve in the pattern is matched to the same figure. In TUKA3D, animation can be added to the models (walking, cycling, dancing, running, playing golf) to replicate live fit sessions. The 3-D operator can verify how the garment is fitting while the model is in motion using different tools within the software. Companies find this advantageous because they are able to achieve a consistent fit between styles. Furthermore, they see an improvement in their sample approval rate because the garment is being analyzed on the same body at all stages of development.

After the fit of a garment is approved, changing the design in 3-D becomes much faster. New details, prints, or colorways are easily visualized on a 3-D garment rather than producing physical samples for every variation. There is more flexibility because images or videos can be viewed anywhere on any device. Instant feedback and collaboration is more easily facilitated between international parties, which gives companies the efficiency they are looking for in their product development and even allows for more ingenuity when marketing to the end consumer.

Because of the limitless variations that can be offered by a brand as a result of 3-D technology, e-commerce companies are able to operate on a made-to-order business model. Hundreds of graphics and prints can be shown on any number of silhouettes, all as rendered 3-D garments. Nothing is made until it’s already been paid for, which means that there is no inventory. The brands do not have to stock thousands of samples in hopes that they will sell, and they can still showcase unique product offerings.

Over 500 brands, retailers and vendors are already using 3-D technology for their product-development processes. Many of them have even eliminated physical sample making, as they have found that there is zero tolerance between what they see on the computer and what they get in real life.