Fashion retail’s challenge has always been to manage change and the resultant impact on cost and time. The primary reason for this is the time it takes to conceptualize, design, develop and ship a style, for it to be offered to the customer, is invariably more than what the customer is willing to wait for. As a result, fashion continues to be “fluid” and the need for speed at cost paramount for retailers to succeed. In addition, the growth of e-Commerce and digital tools have changed the way styles are offered to customers and impact their buying experience and habits. Overall, customer demands have increased, fashion retailers have limited time to react to these demands and the cost of change is very high. So much so, that as per McKinsey (1); we’ve now entered a seismic shift where products are ‘pulled’ into the market based on actual demand rather than ‘pushed’ based on best guesses and forecasts.”
To address the above, fashion retailers have made the shift from physical to digital in their product lifecycle value chain. This shift has brought into focus the “Digital Twin”, which is effective in addressing some of the pressing issues faced by them. McKinsey State of Fashion 2022 report (2) indicates, that by 2030, fashion retailers will invest 2x% more revenue in technology as compared to 2022. This focus on Digital Fashion is likely to accelerate the growth of digital to US $50B by 2030. 3D is a technology that is at the fore front of enabling the “Digital Twin” in fashion retail.
While the concept of a “Digital Twin” has been in vogue for quite some time, its use in fashion retail has increased in the last few years as renderings became more - “real”. This adoption is driven by 3Ds ability to address a key requirement - the need for photorealistic, real-life renditions. e.g.: Today a designer can not only “view” the design on a 3D avatar, but also observe the “heat map” across different postures and positions of the avatar. In addition, designers can also observe (scenarios) around how the heat map changes across different materials or body shapes. Very similar to what designer would have done using a live garment – albeit at a much higher cost and time. This same correlation (with its corresponding advantage) applies across the entire value chain of fashion retail:
- Virtual Planning
- 3D Design
- 3D Patterns and Blocks
- 3D Fitting
- Virtual Planograms
- Virtual Fashion Shows
Based on the current usage of 3D (and other technologies) in the fashion retail space, below are some of the key advantages/gains that the industry has been able to achieve:
- Savings in time and cost:
- 80% reduction in physical samples (5)
- 25-30% reduction in design time
- 40-50% reduction in fitting time (4)
- Sustainability initiatives through reduction in # of physical samples
- Margin gains through 25-30% reduction in returns on e-commerce by enabling virtual trials that enable customers to make an informed buy decision. (3)
While these gains are significant, fashion retailers still need to consolidate and build further to completely leverage the advantages that 3D has to offer.
So, what are the key elements they should adopt?
- Use 3D Comprehensively: Ensure 3D is adopted across the entire PLM cycle rather than being used only as a standalone tool to address some part of the process.
- Enforce the Digital Thread: 3D artifacts need to flow through the process end to end to enforce the Digital Thread. e.g.: The initial design file matures to the Techpack and is finally available on the e-commerce site for customers for style visualization.
- Baseline for 3D printing, AR and VR: Use the 3D processes and artifacts to baseline the development of your 3D printing, AR and VR capabilities.
As the fashion retailers work towards expanding 3D across their operations, there are few guardrails that need to be recognized and respected. These fall into the following buckets- technology, standardization and manpower.
Every 3D software in the market has something to offer, but the fashion retailers need to decide the right fit based on their business needs and level of digital maturity. The other important aspect will be to establish standards for 3D artifacts and ownership thereof coupled with the business processes flow across the entire PLM value chain.
Finally, where are fashion retailers going with 3D from here? It is a general belief that it still has a long way to go before it matures within the fashion retail space. Some of the key areas where we will see action in the coming years will be end to end usage across the value chain, Increased usage across customer facing Applications to facilitate an enhanced buying experience. In addition, we will see more and more fashion retailers moving into 3D printing to support customized product offerings for their end customers. The 3D printing market was worth US$ 3.6B in 2022 and is expected to reach US$ 7.2B by 2029 (6).
Another area where fashion retailers will move with 3D is the Metaverse. Some of the leading RFA OEM’s have already created virtual stores, others will follow soon. The key to this transformation will be their relative 3D maturity.
To conclude, 3D has moved from being a “should have” to a “must have” for all fashion retailers. Most of them have made progress in adopting 3D as a key tool to meet the core business challenges of change, time and cost. This journey is a continuing one with a lot of unexplored possibilities across product development, supply chain and end-customer experience. However, as they move along, fashion retailers need to keep in mind the additional avenues like 3D printing and Metaverse that are coming up.