When it comes to samples, imagery and production, physical textiles have been the standard in fashion. This approach has led to large amounts of materials being wasted, with 25% of resources getting incinerated, down-cycled or dumped in supply chains globally, according to a white paper by Reverse Resources. One of the solutions to combat this waste in digital technology, with digital sampling and 3D models that can not only help within the supply chain but also solve customers’ fit issues by creating realistic body models for clothing and footwear.
Commercial clothing size measurements have largely stayed the same since the ’70s. Although what has changed significantly is how many clothes are returned now because of inaccurate measurements that vary across a never-ending option of brands. 73% of returns occur due to a retailer-controllable actions such as reducing stock and digitising inventory, according to Incisiv’s 2021 Retail Returns report. Companies like Alvanon, a global fashion innovations and product development company, and Volumental, a leading footwear technology company, are hoping to change the industry and create a better fit experience while also equipping consumers with data on their own measurements using AI, digital imaging and machine learning.
Making 3D models streamlined across digital and physical forms
20-year-old Alvanon creates realistic models in various body shapes through its 3D virtual bodies program and the Alvanon Body Platform. Assembled from global data sets, the models are based on existing body shapes and sizes, unlike the outdated models currently used by most fashion brands. It has previously provided the fit models for “Next in Fashion,” the design TV series from Netflix. Their models help aid in the design process too — the consistency it provides across the product life cycle can cut physical sample production by 80%. Alvanon is able to make digital samples and provide uniquely tailored models from their agency.
Speaking with COO Jason Wang on the development of the company, he said, “Today, we’re using digital to help us to get a more efficient supply chain. We do all the analysis on their target group of customers, their body shape and sizing, and provide a recommendation. Then we develop the 3D avatars for our customers, which then they can utilize within the 3D space with any other software like CLO3D [a 3D fashion design software] to create garments. Then they will get the physical mannequin, which is exactly the same as their digital avatar, so that it can be consistent. Right now, we’re still in a world where even if you can create in 3D, you still need to make the physical sample to make sure it works before you can sell the item and produce it.” This is the point of difference between Alvanon and many other 3D companies — it is looking to take care of the whole sampling process, from 3D models and samples to physical models that are streamlined with digital ones, making the design process simple.
As more designers get into the digital space, they also need to be able to translate their vision back to the design process. Wang believes it is easy to get caught up in the ideation process when in actuality, the designs may not work on a real person. “One of the main issues is when designers have an idea of what they want their model to look like when they create their digital garment. In the past, they would have built an avatar by themselves and used that as a sampling tool to then create their designs on it,” he said. “The problem with that is if they created a design and fitted it on this ‘cool’ avatar and sent that, the technical, production and product development teams would say, ‘This doesn’t work.’” Now, the company is giving brands the tools to create digital models that have the same sizing as their physical models.
As this technology becomes more widely available, the digital ideation of the design process can also help make production more sustainable. Petah Marian, the founder of Future Narrative, a strategic foresight and forecasting company believes that the 3D processes can help in a number of areas.
“There are multiple fronts, reducing the number of samples created in the product development process has significant impacts on waste. In some cases, 3D design is able to get the number of samples produced in the development stage down from 4 to one,” she said. “It also gets people on the same page faster, which means that product development lead times are shortened and those key buying decisions can be made closer to market, leading to less wastage and fewer markdowns. Companies are also starting to use photorealistic CADs as a means of communicating product online, saving on the resources.”
Another aspect that Marian highlights is that companies are starting to use those designs in combination with AR to better communicate fit to consumers. Doing this means they can get the right product to the right person with fewer returns, especially as online spending continues to grow. “If we start to look towards a future where products are increasingly virtual and more dematerialized either through NFTs or digital fashion, 3D design will become an increasingly important contributor,” she said.
Personalized 3D models at the touch of a finger
The variety of applications for digital technologies and AI also extends to footwear and clothingids. Volumental, a footwear tech company, that works with brands like New Balance have created FitTech to let users measure their feet on their phone and keep a record of their foot measurements, letting them choose the best shoe for them. Next year, they hope to expand their 3D scanners to clothing as well, creating a customized sizing guide for users. CEO, Alper Aydemir has a background in computer vision and robotic perception, coming from NASA JPL where he helped develop the imaging technology being used in the current Mars mission.
“The FitTech platform contains the retail 3D scanner, which is in around 3,000 stores and has scanned 12 million people so far,” he said. “We just launched our mobile scanning solution this June, so that people can do that at home. It’s based on machine learning and the scans that we made from retail. We trained machine learning algorithms so that we can offer a simple and accurate user experience on mobile phones.”
Although the brand works with large retailers like Under Armour and Ecco, they are also offering the 3D scanners to family-owned stores. “We also have this small part of our business for ‘mom and pop’ shops mainly in the U.S. who use the technology to offer their loyal customers a better experience,” he said.
These personalized recommendations provide a number of benefits to retailers, including more sales, higher numbers of orders, improved inventory management and an enhanced customer experience.
“We are giving users the power to use the data for themselves,” he said. “The end game for Volumental and for 3D scanning is that as a user, you will own your own body data and you will be able to use that wherever you go to find clothes and footwear that fits you or is custom made to you.”
Once again, sustainability is the main driving force behind the digitization of body measurements. The issue of free returns is one that plagues the industry as clothing and footwear that don’t fit ends up being sent back to retailers.
“Entire billion-dollar companies have formed around getting around this problem by offering free returns and a how to handle free returns. For instance, Zalando has re-inventory centers in Lithuania just to re-process these returns and sell them as fast as possible,” said Aydemir. “Obviously, if you could ship people things that would fit them, that they will love and cherish, then you wouldn’t need to do all of those things? At a time when we’re discussing humanity’s Mars settlement, I think we should be able to fix this problem of ‘What is my shoe size?’”