Techstyler x BOTTLETOP: 3D Digital Design Is Critical For A Sustainable Fashion Future

When discussing the future with pioneers on the edge of current industry practice an impassioned debate is inevitable.  The latest Techstyler X BOTTLETOP panel discussion ‘Sustainability Driven by New Technologies: 3D Digital Design and Virtual Reality ’ hosted three such pioneers who are reshaping the fashion landscape and meeting ethical, logistical and philosophical challenges along the way.  Their insights gave us an eye to a future fashion industry that is inherently more sustainable, and our place within it.

 

Opening the discussion, Kerry Murphy, Co-founder of the digital fashion house The Fabricant, discussed how within months of experimenting with 3D digital fashion design and animation and uploading the result on Instagram, The Fabricant was receiving interest from brands and manufacturers wanting to know more about their capabilities.  

The starting point for The Fabricant has been digital storytelling, with their recent collaboration with Soorty Enterprises, a jean manufacturer in Pakistan looking to share their Cradle to Cradle denim production and raise brand awareness in an increasingly competitive market. The manufacturers in Asia and the Far East are plagued by negative opinion and press coverage, despite many of them making significant strides in sustainable dyeing processes in addition to investing in new, cleaner technologies.  The next step will be integrating The Fabricant’s 3D design into the garment cutting and construction process, negating the manual pattern making process and reducing the need for physical samples at all. From his, and his Co-founder Amber Jae Slooten’s experience so far, this will take years rather than months.

Cameron-James Wilson is a visual artist and fashion photographer whose mission is to provide an alternative beauty and hyper-real honesty via digital models.  His debut model, Shudu, has been hailed the ‘first digital supermodel’, has 149,000 followers on Instagram and is represented by Cameron’s digital model agency, The Diigitals.  Although the inspiration and conception of Cameron’s models is rooted in fantasy and fiction, constructed from free to download software Daz 3D, his aim is to create honest representations of beauty and a more positive attitude towards diversity.  His model Brenn is curvy, with stretch marks and an undeniable allure. This kind of appreciation of what is often deemed imperfect is possible with 3D digital design, said Cameron, because it is in the hands of the artists and is a product of their ideals, not of an industry fixated on people born as genetic flukes with perfect symmetry and 34-24-34 measurements of their bust, waist and hips.  Even as I write the previous sentence I can barely believe how ludicrous a concept it is. Cameron asks why we reward genetic flukery rather than celebrating diversity.

Cameron’s visionary thinking prompted an interesting debate on human versus digital models and whether emotion could truly be experienced when presenting a digital versus human experience.  There was also a question from the audience about whether digital models could be ‘trusted’ as they are not ‘real’. To that, Cameron presented the traditional scenario of a fashion shoot, with models having toilet rolls shoved down the back of their bra to make their breasts heave.  And all know how much editing is done to digital images to sculpt and smooth, nip and tuck real life models. “The fashion industry lies to us every day” said Cameron. “It’s all a lie”. Add to this the fact that digital models cannot be exploited, do not age and can remain exclusive brand ambassadors for ‘life’ and his perspectives and insight left us questioning whether it makes sense to go forward in the fashion industry without digital models.

Amber Jae Slooten brought the rare, rounded knowledge of a fashion designer who has worked with both traditional manual and 3D digital pattern cutting and fashion design tools.  Having graduated from a fashion degree in 2014 with a fully digital collection which she presented in hologram form, she set off on a path to reimagining and redirecting the fashion industry to a more sustainable, digital future.  Unwilling to enter an industry that creates masses of waste, she was driven to adopt methods that have since unleashed her creativity and allowed her design in a more detailed, iterative, experimental and efficient way. Amber’s approach to design incorporates both the technicality of pattern cutting and garment construction and the creativity of fashion design.  She creates digital pattern pieces in Clo3d which are stitched together onto an avatar to create a 3D foundation garment and then renders on different fabrics (scanned in at such a high resolution that they are indistinguishable from the real thing) colours, textures and proportions. She is able to develop her designs and iterate quickly, reaching high levels of refinement in hours, rather than days or weeks – all the while generating zero waste.

What are the challenges and drawbacks to these new approaches?  “The (traditional) mindet”, said Amber. Currently, the industry is largely unreceptive to adopting the technical advantages offered by software like Clo3D.  Although this and other software is being used by a number of pioneering designers, brands are currently most interested in the visual output as a content tool for social media or e-commerce.  In time, the panel believes a shift towards further integration is inevitable.

To hear to the full panel discussion, head over to the podcast here.

To watch the panel discussion, keep an eye on Techstyler.fashion, where the video will be available soon. 

The next talk in the Techstyler X BOTTLETOP speaker series will be in December on the subject ‘Fashion and Accessories Designers – Their Influence and Impact on Sustainability in Fashion’.  Follow Techstyler here and on Instagram to be notified when the tickets are released.

Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Sustainable Materials for Design

Much is said about ‘sustainable materials’ in apparel and product design, but what makes a material sustainable? How can brands adopt sustainable materials without compromising on aesthetics and function? Why is adopting sustainable materials crucial to both the future of the design industries and commercial success of brands?  These questions formed the basis of the first in a series of panel discussions led by Techstyler in partnership with Bottletop, hosted at their flagship store in London’s Regent street. 

An inherently sustainable brand, Bottletop not only repurposes the tabs on aluminium cans to create its products, but uses only reclaimed and recycled materials in its flagship store interior, making it a fitting home for this speaker series unpacking a range of themes on fashion innovation, beginning with sustainable materials for design.  

Speaking to an audience spanning multiple industries, including fashion, furniture and interior design, the panel addressed common misconceptions around sustainable materials and highlighted opportunities for designers and businesses in adopting sustainable materials and practices.

Key takeaways from the event included insights from Oya Barlas Bingul on Lenzing’s Circular fibre, ‘Refibra’, which is created from 50% cotton off-cuts (pre-consumer waste) and 50% Tencel, creating a 100% virgin fibre that can be recycled in a circular manner using Lenzing’s closed loop process, which does not use harmful solvents and creates no toxic byproducts. 

Qiulae Wong enlightened the audience on brand opportunities and adoption of sustainable practices and materials.  She explained that sustainability efforts are unique to each brand and depend on the products being created, so there is no blueprint for becoming a ‘sustainable’ brand.  In doing so, she highlighted that the desire to become ‘sustainable’ but the confusing nature of ‘sustainability’ (does it mean using organic materials, or is it related to carbon footprint generated by the supply chain, for example) means many brands feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. 

To this end, Common Objective, where Qiulae is the Production and Marketing Manager, helps brands to assess their business on all levels and identify realistic changes they can make to become more sustainable.  This may mean a brand switching the raw materials of their best selling product to the most sustainable materials available, thereby maximising the positive impact in a targeted and manageable way.

Ronan Hayes is the Co-founder of Reflow, which creates sustainable materials for 3D printing from local waste streams, namely PET plastic bottles.  Ronan shared insights on how 3D printing was initially enthusiastically adopted by engineers and is now in widespread use by artists and designers.  As a result, there is now an appetite not just for the original PLA and ABS plastic filaments, but malleable filaments that 3D print soft, moveable objects.  These new filaments are being used to 3D print clothing and Ronan sees opportunities opening up to feed a wider range of polymer waste materials into the filament making process.  Interestingly, he also explained that Reflow are being approached by global brands to create 3D printing filaments from the brands’ single-use plastic waste and then utilise this filament within the business in place of other materials, thereby contributing towards the overall sustainability of the brand.

In defining sustainability, the panel discussed how everything we do as designers and brands creating products utilises resources (electricity, water, raw materials like cotton etc.) and therefore has an impact.  Being sustainable means minimising that impact and extending the life of materials and products or, better still, recycling them.  But how do brands quantify and qualify their sustainability?  How can sustainability be measured?  How can consumers understand which brands are more sustainable than others?

During the Q&A a question was posed by an audience member who had seen Primark on a ‘top sustainable brands’ list as one of the most sustainable brands in the UK.  A Google search didn’t unearth said list, but it did demonstrate very clearly that there is no benchmark or framework for declaring a brand as ‘sustainable’.  Sustainability is broadly used as a marketing and storytelling tool by brands spanning small artisan labels who cite ethical processes as their key pillar of sustainability, to high street giants who create one-off products or small ranges of products with enhanced sustainability credentials (made from recycled cotton, for example).  The reality that brands must start somewhere means it’s hard to criticise any efforts being made, however the greater effort would ideally come from the brands having the most negative environmental and social impact.

In terms of measuring a brand’s sustainability, unfortunately, as yet, there is no industry standard.  This is not to say there are not tools available  that assess sustainability of fashion companies. The Higg Index is one such tool.  It is, however, completely voluntary, self-reported and unverified externally, making it inherently subjective and therefore difficult to apply to the industry as a whole.  

For more insights on sustainable materials for design, listen to the full panel discussion and Q&A on our podcast.

The next panel discussion in this series, ‘Biomaterials and Biodesign – The Next Generation of Sustainable Materials’ takes place on October 8th at the Bottletop Store.  Tickets available here.