The importance of digital textiles in today's garment industry cannot be overstated. That is why it is important that the supply chain also digitalize. This was the focus of the second day of the 2021 World Digital Textile Forum, hosted by the Advancement Association for Digital Textile (AADT) on Nov. 18.
Day two featured fashion technology experts including Amon Shalev, CEO of virtuality.fashion; Sharon Lim, co-founder and co-CEO of Browzwear; Renate Eder, chief commercial officer of Vizoo; and Wayne Fan, chief strategy officer of Frontier.cool.
Ben Hanson, editor-in-chief of The Interline, a leading fashion technology news outlet, served as the moderator for the second day of the forum.
eFashion impact on the supply chain
Kicking off the round of day-two discussions, Shalev focused on eFashion adoption in the fashion industry and its impact on the supply chain.
Shalev pointed to the effects of COVID-19 on the fashion industry as a catalyst for the rapid growth of eFashion and adoption of digital assets.
"What we've seen in the last 1.5 years is really tremendous. It's a direct result of the substantial increase in online shopping and shop closures, which in turn accelerated digital product development, increased online shopping, and forced brands to start presenting new collections and products in virtual showrooms," Shalev said.
He went on to explain the importance of connecting product development and consumer-facing digital retail. "If you look at the new supply chain where everything is being connected using 3D assets, it all starts from digital product development. Already at this stage, there is a demand to have digital materials in top quality. As the next step, the products are being presented online in cloud-based virtual showroom solutions," he added.
New digital fabrics should also be integrated with PLM (product lifecycle management) systems. As a result of this new supply chain, the industry is seeing mass customization where products can be produced on a more demand basis, all of which is supporting online sales increase.
Shalev also highlighted how 3D can be offered as a service online in three steps. The first step is uploading minimal materials such as sketches, technical packages and digital fabrics to the 3D visualization service. From there a basic 3D prototype is created to show the client how the 2D materials have been translated into 3D. The last step is a high-resolution, full-color rendering that is presented in a virtual showroom.
This type of platform allows everyone from the production side, designers, suppliers, buyers, marketing, product management, etc., not only to collaborate but to blend production and sales.
"Anyone who is a player in this industry should consider digitizing and facilitate seamless integration with existing processes and workflows. This is very critical," Shalev emphasized. "We should synchronize digital materials at the very beginning of the supply chain and make sure that it will integrate with the rest of the production processes, sales and marketing."
Creating an agile supply chain
When it comes to digitalizing, Lim posed the question: is it about speed or agility?
"When we look at digital connectivity and the transparency it brings, the impact it should have is agility. It should make supply chain partners, brands and retailers agile. Agility is not speed. Agility is really about our ability to slow down, stop and turn quickly," Lim said.
Although the pandemic has pushed the industry to change in the last two years, she acknowledged that change as the result of a crisis is always difficult.
Lim's company Browzwear is in the business of not just inventing the 3D true-to-life engine, but also engaging with the industry in 3D workflow. Being able to create a true-to-life digital twin is necessary if the industry is going to change.
While in the past the garment industry was not digitally ready for applications like virtual try-on to engage the consumer, today, various parts of the industry utilize true-to-life 3D garments for design and development.
Lim also explained how changing business models to use 3D can create more profitability. She used the example of a company whose sales went from US$8 million down to US$2 million in revenue; however, they were now highly profitable because they were no longer marred by inventory.
"They managed to pivot themselves into a sell-then-make model. And when you can do that, that's where profitability happens," she said.
From a long-term perspective, digitalizing a business should not be about doing digital for the sake of digital. Instead, companies should evaluate how what they want to do impacts their revenue, cost and risk.
"As new applications come into the market, what you're sharing, the agility to move into sell-and-make, it's not a one-day journey," Lim reminded. Companies must measure what has high impact on their revenue, cost and risk, and continue building, integrating and optimizing to bring about digital transformation.
"When you build connectivity, when you build transparency, that's what digital brings to you. It brings you agility. And agility is not just about survival. It's about bringing you new growth," Lim said.
The importance of digital materials to digital product creation
As a 3D material visualization company, Vizoo understands how important high-quality digital materials are to digital product creation (DPC).
Eder explained that digital samples are not created from scratch, but created from many components. "There is this foundation of components, fabrics and trims to do 3D design, which is based on libraries. If you don't have those libraries on hand, your process is very slow and you risk that it fails," she said.
According to Eder, digital components should be sitting with the supplier in order to make it work. This should ideally result in a smooth workflow between the supplier and the brand.
There is a lot of ROI for factories and suppliers once digital materials have been created. Eder says her company hears from brands that when looking for new suppliers they prefer suppliers with digital capabilities. "More and more brands are benchmarking their suppliers saying what is the digital capability you can offer us, is there 3D sampling, can you digitize materials. So I think a lot of suppliers feel this push that there is this demand now," she said.
But it is important to recognize that it is not only the brands pushing the suppliers saying they want 3D design and digitized components.
In fact, having digital files enable companies to quickly generate product previews using materials and allows for print and color variation. "We work with a supplier who has up to 50 iterations of their key accounts in terms of color variation. Doing this virtually, cuts this down to a minimum, so in the end, this results in not only cost-savings but also time-savings," Eder said.
Many suppliers understand digitalizing is a competitive advantage. The awareness is definitely there, according to Eder. In fact, from a sales perspective, Vizzo sold 80% to brands two to three years ago. Now they have a 50:50 ratio between brands and suppliers.
Vizoo also has clients switching to digital swatch books, which makes it easy to share online with different audiences. "Digitizing materials at the very beginning and sharing this data in your company with your clients generates the biggest ROI," Eder said.
Progression of DPC strategies
Today, the concerns brands have when it comes to DPC are changing. In the past, Fan said brands were concerned about touch-and-feel and color. Now, he says brands are asking, "How do we scale? How do we connect the disconnects between the digital solutions? How do we use a single source of truth that is real, from source, and take it all the way through its product lifecycle and used - it could be plugged into PLM, it could be in 3D, or it could be in e-commerce. How do we take that and have a seamless connection the whole way through?"
Fan also pointed to the importance of collaboration, noting that when stakeholders continue to work in a silo form it is difficult to maximize the return on collaboration. "When we really open up our doors and share the data and assets, and then really have those assets be exchanged among upstream and downstream between stakeholders, I think that's how eventually the collaboration can be maximized."
Challenges to the adoption of digital materials
While there are several challenges standing in the way of widespread adoption of digital materials, some of the main challenges are simply communication and education.
Eder pointed out that many suppliers still see digitalization as an additional workload or an additional service. If brands really want to push digitalization, they must communicate their commitment to it to suppliers.
Fan believes that more stakeholders must be encouraged to join in on the conversation, as more standards are being developed. He also pointed to the need for more services to run alongside digital solutions.
"I think if there were more services out there, it could really make things lighter on the brand side and the supply chain side...At a macro level, it's compatibility across different solutions. And at a micro level, it goes back to the solution ecosystem and interoperability. If we have an asset or a material that can be used across different systems, whether that's a brand or a factory when they try to put together a combination of solutions, I think it would make their lives much easier," Fan said.
The industry should also be investing in proficiency. "Everyone should be investing in its people to learn and then take ownership of the process changes. If people themselves are not skilled enough to think or to develop new processes, where is the process going to come from?" Lim asked.
Right now, processes are being dictated by brands and retailers because oftentimes supply chain partners do not have people skilled enough to be able to lead this. "But this is the year 2021, it's really time to overcome this challenge by investing in your people's digital skills and knowledge," Lim concluded.
Speakers on the second day of the 2021 World Digital Textile Forum