How 3D Digital Design and Augmented Reality Can Slash Textile Waste In Fashion

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

Much is said about the millions of tonnes of garments thrown away each year, urging us to be more sustainable by wearing our clothes more often, washing them less and keeping them out of landfill, but what about the waste generated in the fashion design process itself? What about the carbon emissions generated in the pre-consumer phase of the fashion industry? How much textile waste is generated before a garment even hits the retail shelves? 

The textile waste generated in the fashion supply chain is difficult to calculate as most companies don’t record the quantities of waste they generate for fear of being reprimanded for it. However, ​EFI/Optitex​ recently reported that £5-7 billion is spent on physical sampling in the apparel industry each year. This sampling is a means to an end in that it generates ‘mock-up’ products, which are fitted and photographed and are generally of no value beyond that. These samples often end up being burned or thrown in landfill. 

As the founder of an innovation agency proposing solutions to material waste problems, I have been met with many difficult facts during my work as a consultant for manufacturers and brands, both large and small. A garment manufacturer in Bangladesh recently told me that he receives requests from brands and retailers for hundreds of new samples each day, based on fast-moving, transient Instagram trends. These requests come from buyers who are anxious to have physical samples at their disposal to develop into products to sell if they choose to. The key here is ‘if they choose to’. These samples are not based on an intention to develop and sell a product – the buyers simply want to see what the garment looks like while monitoring the progress of a trend. These samples are the consequence of brands and retailers hedging their bets on trends and having the manufacturers working on demand for them because of the buying power they hold over those manufacturers. The manufacturers don’t feel they can say no, regardless of how much waste is generated, or the strain it places on their business. 

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

When you hear discussions about supply chain transparency and living wages, this is at the very crux of those issues. Brands and retailers have all the power over the manufacturers when it comes to placing production orders and pricing. With fashion cycles getting faster and the competition for lower prices increasing, brands and manufacturers require ways to work faster, cleaner and more economically. 3D digital fashion design offers a fast, clean solution, and has already gained traction with large global brands and retailers, including Adidas and Target. 

The benefits of digital instead of physical sampling have already been quantified by one solution provider, EFI/Optitex, who have saved companies millions of pounds in sampling costs by creating digital samples in place of physical ones. “But don’t designers and buyers want to feel the fabric” is a common question asked about this digital solution. Yes, they do, and they can. The 3D digital design offers photo-realistic renders of the garment that help to decide silhouette, proportion, design details and colours at the very least. When it comes to the movement, drape and stretch of the garment, this requires more sophisticated animation, which my innovation agency BRIA has achieved as demonstrated in the video below: 

 

Currently, most brands using digital design are doing a portion of prototyping and sampling digitally then moving to physical samples – partly because designers want to feel the fabric and see it move in ‘real-life’, and partly because of the incomplete solution offered when it comes to the 2D pattern output and fitting of digital versus physical garments. This is a fracture in the 3D design process that ​BRIA​ is working to fix. 

Snapshot – Digital Fashion prototyping and sampling in numbers:

  • Target has reduced physical sampling by approximately 65% by implementing 3D digital design 
  • A luxury brand working reduced the average time to market per style from 3 months to 2 weeks 
  • By going digital, Adidas was able to eliminate close to 1.5 million physical samples between 2010 and 2013 

The figures above appear to suggest that 3D digital design is a no-brainer, but holding back its widespread adoption are the fractures in the 3D to 2D workflow (as mentioned above), as well as skills gaps between creative design and technical pattern cutting, which both need to be present and connected to achieve success in the final product. The fashion industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies, but with a growing number of use cases and the increased visibility of digital design in fashion retail and consumption, this is expected to change. 

Several brands are exploring how digital design can deliver ​customised clothing​ and are even digital clothes that consumers can ‘wear’​. Perhaps the general shift towards digital solutions in every facet of our lives will propel the use of digital fashion from the design and production phase, right through to purchasing and wearing in digital realms, including on social media and in games, like ​The Sims​ (which recently collaborated with ​Moschino​) and Fortnite, which recently collaborated with Nike on ​digital Air Jordans to purchase in-game​. 

Trend Forecasting agency ​Stylus​ recently released a report demonstrating that the consumer appetite for artifice and illusion is rising rapidly, spanning CGI social media superstars (check out ​Lil Miquela​ and ​Shudu​) and immersive mixed-reality brand experiences, to AI-fuelled avatars allowing us to put ourselves in the brand picture. Of course, digital design paves the way for digital experience, with virtual and augmented reality a natural progression from static digital clothing on fixed screens into the space around us – ASOS, John Lewis and Dior are all in on the ​AR and VR act​. Keep an eye out for digital fashion entering the mainstream and slashing the waste generated by physical fashion both behind-the-scenes in the fashion industry, and in our future digital wardrobes. 

Kniterate Brings Industrial Digital Knitting To A Desktop Near You

Over the past year I have been keeping up to date with the progress of East London based start-up Kniterate, led by the trio of Gerard Rubio, Triambak Saxena and Tom Catling, aiming to revolutionise knitting for garment makers in the same way that desktop 3D printing has for rapid prototyping.  I’m pleased to say their first machine is launching via a Kickstarter campaign and event at the Machine Rooms today, having come a long way since their HAX prototype at the Maker Faire Bay Area in 2016.

The Kniterate team have developed a desktop digital knitting machine in partnership with an industrial knitting machine manufacturer in China that bridges domestic knitting with industrial knitting, shrinking mainframe tech into an affordable machine for making one-off designs and for materials research, development and swatching.

Kniterate’s machine launches via a Kickstarter campaign at 4pm today and has a number of pre-launch fans spanning Maker Space owners, engineering, design and architecture schools and small scale knitted scarf and glove manufacturers.  The machines purchased during the Kickstarter campaign, if successful, will be delivered a year from now and will be supported with a simple software package allowing users to upload and refine their designs before knitting them fully shaped and ready to link together (in the case of a jumper) or ready to wear for simpler items like scarves and beanies.  The software is being developed along the lines of Photoshop and Illustrator with easy tools for designing and shaping garments.

For fellow knitters, this seven gauge machine can cope with a vast array of tuck and transfer stitch arrangements and has six feeders, allowing for multi-colour jacquard designs.  At at around $4500 it is at least five times cheaper than industrial alternatives and doesn’t require specialist technical knowledge to operate.  Kniterate will be providing servicing for their machines, though, and will be training an international team of technicians over the coming twelve months, pre-shipping of machines.

The most exciting aspect of this new product is its potential to bring industrial technology into the workshop, studios and potentially homes of designers, makers and engineers and allow new ways of experimenting with the type of machine once reserved for a the industry-connected few.  I could go on, but these pictures of shoe designer Dr. Matthew Head‘s take on the now ubiquitous (thanks to Nike Flyknit) high-tech, super slick knitted trainer made on the Kniterate machine show how access to this tech breaks down design and manufacturing barriers and allows local manufacturing in a creative and more responsible and sustainable manner.

The Kniterate team aim to create a catalogue of yarns with the best knitting parameters for these, along with a yarn sales platform akin to the Amazon marketplace.  With surplus seasonal yarn stocks an untapped potential resource there may also be an opportunity to partner with large international suppliers to inject luxurious and high tech fashion industry yarns into this maker-led movement, providing the opportunity to create products that truly rival those available in the luxury sector of the fashion industry.

Keep an eye on the blog for future experiments between BR Innovation Agency and Kniterate, but in the meantime, head over to their Kickstarter campaign and pledge to be part of the movement.

Also part of the Kniterate team are LCF Knitwear graduate Yi Ling, LCF knitwear student Jinhee Park and creator of the interactive display, Laurence Symonds.

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