Is Virtual 3D Design and Development Part of Fashion’s Future Waste Resolution?

I’ve worked in the fashion industry for over twelve years and have seen lots of different development processes, different ways of working, emerging technologies and innovations. It is always exciting to see how the industry is evolving and how these new developments can positively impact the industry, especially in light of the urgent need for fashion to become more sustainable and circular.

Recently I've been part of a beta trial with Vestis Labs’  for virtual 3D design and pattern development. Vestis Labs, founded by Fonny Bunjamin, is on a mission to accelerate and democratise digital product creation for a more sustainable and efficient fashion industry. They provide tools and services that enable any fashion designer/brand to embark on digital product creation immediately.

So how does it work?

Essentially you upload your design, fabric information such as weight, weave and composition, trim information and any further garment detailing for your design that might be relevant, such as starting measurements like garment length, sleeve length etc.

Unisex Bowling Shirt Sketch by Saywood

For the beta project we worked on a Saywood Bowling Shirt block shape as the sketch I provided above

Vestis Labs create a 3D avatar based on your brand fit model or customer type. For this you would provide as much measurement and detail as possible for them to create this figure. This can then be tweaked and worked through to eventually create your digital fit model.

Then Vestis Lab will work digitally to create the garment pattern to fit your 3D avatar. Rather than physically sew the garment toile (the mock up samples), this is digitally stitched together in the digital representation of the desired fabric. The digital garment is worn by the digital avatar.

You can see how the garment fits, how the fabric drapes, and the overall design of the garment. From here you can adjust the fit, iron out any issues and feel assured the fabric is right for the garment. Depending on the fit and adjustments needed, you may have to do more or fewer alterations, each time getting to see the updated pattern on the avatar. You leave comments on each image which the pattern cutter can work with to create any necessary adjustments, until you reach your final desired garment form. Then you will receive your digitised pattern to take forward to have the garment made up for production.

Male avatar wearing Saywood's bowling shirt development, front viewMale avatar wearing Saywood's bowling shirt development, back viewMale avatar wearing Saywood's bowling shirt development, side view leftMale avatar wearing Saywood's bowling shirt development, side view right

View of the Saywood bowling shirt shape pattern on the digital avatar

Our case study

With Vestis Labs we worked together to create a bowling shirt style - something coming for menswear in the future with a plan to be unisex. It took 3 virtual fits to arrive at the final virtual pattern... which you might have to wait a little longer to see. A very easy and smooth process. I gave Vestis Labs the design tech pack (containing measurements and details to create the garment from); with all the information they created the first pattern for the style.

What was interesting was then to toile the style (mock it up) in fabric so see how close we’d come to the desired look having seen it virtually. And we were pretty close! The shape overall was exactly what I was after. The only amendment from here was lowering the armhole. Whilst virtually the fit looked good, this particular area of fit was easier to see in person on a body. Whilst the avatar can be shown with arms raised, it is a little clearer to see when you can feel this area and understand the closeness to the body.

Following the new pattern amendment Vestis Labs are working on for this, it would likely mean one final garment toile stitched up in fabric, meaning a total of two physical toiles.

How can this virtual way of working transform the fashion industry and help reduce waste?

In fashion, there can be anything between 1 - 5 samples made (as a most general likelihood) to arrive at the final garment. Imagine this for every single fashion brand, from high street to luxury, for their entire range. That is a lot of samples and toiles being made that won’t be sold to a wearer. [Yes, there are sample sales, but this doesn’t result in every sample being sold, just the same as all products produced for production, and some samples or toiles simply can’t be put into use for wearing; they may be ripped, cut or just not wearable.]

Working through the toiling and fit process virtually will help to save on the number of toiles made. Whilst digital pattern cutting is already widely used in the fashion industry, especially at high street and mid market level, being able to see the fit on a virtual avatar will help the move the development process on without producing as many physical samples.

Male avatar wearing Saywood's bowling shirt development, fit is incorrect and pulling can be seen on the body

For example, in the image above, you can see the shirt on the avatar is pulling on the body when the arms are outstretched. This helped to spot an amendment required for the pattern, so we were able to rectify the issue before moving to the next edition of the pattern, saving on wastage of creating a new sample that would have been incorrect.

Can there be challenges to working digitally? Yes, of course, but it certainly holds a lot of potential. If you were to develop a garment from scratch, this might present more challenges, but if you are working from a block pattern - a base shape created for the brand - then you are already 70% of the way there in terms of fit. There may just be some adjustments you want to add on to this. And as with any development process, the more the teams get used to the brand and the ideal outcomes, the smoother the process becomes.

Digital sleeve pattern piece of bowling shirt

Digital pattern piece of the bowling shirt sleeve after amendments. The new sleeve head/ arch is a wider softer curve.

Another great advantage to the virtual 3D realisation is testing of different fabrics and colourways, in a more live setting. Most frequently used for digital design development is flat drawings or CADs - computer aided design - visuals of the garments. These can be recoloured, and are how most of the industry are used to working, but in this format you do not get to see the garment on a body, and have a much more realistic visual of the product - some degree of imagination is required. But being able to see this digitally on the body, understand how the fabric drapes and falls, and quickly trial different colourways in a realistic format could really help to transform the development process, and help industry buyers build their collections more realistically. Ultimately, this also has the potential to reduce the number of samples made in the final fabrics, and to trial prints without these being printed onto cloth. 

Virtual 3D imagery also raises the potential for ‘made to order’ to be more accessible to shoppers. A brand can make a physical sample, but they might have lots of fabric options or colourways, where they wouldn’t make a sample of every single one. But they could represent this virtually, so the shopper could click the fabric or colourway and see the virtual mock up to better understand what this will look like.

As with everything, pricing will play a big role in how fast the roll out of virtual development is most likely. When working with a factory to develop patterns, as is very common, the final cost is often factored into the production price. At high volumes this of course becomes minimal, versus small volumes, and so is more financially viable. Smaller designers may find it easier to work more closely with a pattern cutter seeing the garment first hand, and this will have a more couture approach in a sense. A blend of various development styles will always be the way forward; from one factory to the next each will work differently, just as each brand will work differently.

Whilst the amount of samples and toiles being produced can be very dependent, virtual development certainly helps to go some way towards limiting the number of samples made.

The solutions required to resolve fashion’s waste problems and to make the industry far more sustainable and circular will be multiple. But virtual 3D design and development will certainly play a significant role in this.

If you'd like to find out more about Vestis Labs, click here.

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