Industry need vs. actual virtual fashion adoption rate level. Implementation options facing brands.

The Need

There is a “buzz” in the fashion industry about the adoption of 3D clothes design use for everything from product development, sampling, and even use of 3D images for websites. Most other industry verticals, Automotive, Industrial Design, and Architecture have been using 3D for many years, one cannot create a new building every time a change is requested.

The Fashion Industry has always been slow in adopting new technology of any kind. The advances in technology for fashion companies have mainly involved the adoption of new, faster, and smarter machinery at the factory level. Very little has changed in the context of design, product development, and the sampling process. Companies still design using tools like Illustrator, tech packs are created, emailed to vendors globally, and then the sampling process begins. This process will usually involve multiple sample correction to achieve the “approved sample” costing time and money. One can certainly see where 3D fashion design software can help here, but why get serious now?

There are 2 main reasons that apparel manufacturers, brand, and retailers are investigating in 3D virtuality fashion for their workflows. The first is that the 3D images produced today are real enough, allowing design teams to comment and correct ahead of physical samples. The second is what I call the ZARA model or what most call fast fashion. By using 3D clothing design software, a company can make design decisions faster, allowing for faster approvals, faster production times, and quicker time to market. All of this makes perfect sense, but if you speak to companies that have implemented 3D clothes design, all has not been as easy as expected. In some cases, their workflows were not improved in the way they envisioned.

I would suggest that 3D implementation is hard. The credible 3D solutions in the market require a pattern to get to a final 3D image. In the US, for example, the vast majority of companies no longer have pattern makers in house. Their current process will involve a technical designer creating a tech pack, sending it off to factory A, B, or C, and they create the pattern and proto sample from the information in the tech pack.  In the next article, we’ll discuss more about WHO should be creating 3D Visuals

Adoption Trends

Based on Kalypso’s Evolution of Digital In Retail & Footwear report*, 80% of respondents rated 3D DPC (Digital Product Creation) as important or very important.

In terms of Business Value, the respondents, retail companies’ executives, ranked design (e.g. hyper-realistic 3D modeling) and Prototyping & Sampling (e.g. 3D visualization) to be of the highest value even in comparison to manufacturing.

The research also shows that at least 45% thought 3DPC is important as a design tool and visualization platform, but 45%-63% considered it unsuccessful.

That said, about half are doing 3D and virtual fashion now or within next 12 months.

Interestingly, current industry barriers to success are not necessarily related to technology but more to reasons such has talent and experience (53%) and change management capabilities to drive 47%.

Kalypso report concludes that high levels of interest have not yet generally translated into success to date, some companies have postponed or even put on hold 3D initiatives, in parallel most see the opportunity and are committed to pursuing it.

3D Implementation Options

For those companies who wish to make the first step implementing 3DPC there a couple options available:

  • 2D CAD based Visualization Software (e.g. Gerber Technologies, Optitex EFI or Assyst)
  • Smartsourcing (3DaaS**)

The earlier options rely on 2D patterns virtually draped on mannequins. As mentioned earlier, this means that a pattern master would ultimately generate the 3D virtualization. While 2D pattern makers are great with converting sketches and technical packages into 2D CAD files, there is no guarantee they will excel in 3D visualization, which is essentially an artistic process.  In addition, current simulation algorithms don’t handle very well the entire range of styles, fabrics, multiple layers and can’t simulate accessories and some trim items (especially hard surfaces).   These systems are a great 2D pattern proofing tools and can be used for some product presentation purposes Once these 3D files are enhanced by creative software solutions such as Adobe Photoshop, the final result could be used also for marketing purposes.

Smartsourcing is really about outsourcing the RIGHT 3D visualization jobs such as styles in early concept stages, without detailed technical packages where the client has only pictures, sketches or fabric scans. Another reason for outsourcing would be the requirement to have authentic rendering results with the intention to use the final results for online sales or high-end presentations including complex trim and accessories/ . Another obvious reason for Smartsourcing is agility: outsourcing with the intention of meeting production seasonal demand levels.  Obviously, 3DaaS should meet certain criteria, which will be discussed in the next article.


As Chris Hillyer, Director of Innovation at DECKERS Brands recommends in his WhichPLM article: “I encourage you to start with one small step. There are external resources like WhiteClouds, or Virtuality.Fashion who are able to create 3D models as a service by simply submitting drawings.

Begin by creating your most popular style and experiment with variations of color and materials to determine your next collection. “


*Source: Kalypso, The Indiana University Kelley School of Business Center for Education & Research in Retail, Product Innovation Apparel; 2017 Adoption of Leading Product Development Practices in a Digital World.

** 3D as a Service