Product Design

How Can Apparel Companies Use 3D Software to Streamline Sample Development?

10 Nov, 2010 By: Ram Sareen

Digital models can help clothing companies create and market their products more effectively than physical samples.

Technology advancements have allowed companies in virtually every industry to streamline their product development processes, and the apparel industry is no exception. Time-consuming and costly processes such as pattern making, pattern grading, and marker making can all now be done with the help of design software. But what about sample development — one of the most time-consuming and costly components of product development? Well, now 3D technology offers the apparel industry several opportunities to streamline their sample-development processes. By producing digital 3D samples, apparel companies can save time and money, better meet buyer demands, and more quickly respond to consumer trends.

It's no secret that the majority of apparel manufacturing happens outside of the United States. And while apparel companies save production costs by sourcing to overseas manufacturers, they lose quite a bit of time in the product development process. But, of course, apparel companies cannot simply stop producing samples. So, how can they increase efficiency and lower production costs while still producing quality samples? One answer lies in 3D software.

The entire engineering world has been using 3D software for about a decade to design 3D prototypes of everything from cars to computer chips, and this technology has finally come to the apparel industry. Instead of building physical samples from real fabric and shipping them to the design house, manufacturers and designers can work digitally to make a 3D virtual sample of the garment. Draped pieces of 3D fabric are sewn together inside of the 3D software, and a fabric simulation is applied to realistically reproduce the proper drape and fit.

Garment models can be assembled by "sewing" pieces together within a software application, as shown here with Tukatech's TUKA3D software.

Then, the user of the software can save the 3D sample as an image or movie from any perspective, and with or without animation of a virtual model "wearing" the virtual sample. The sample can then be e-mailed, enabling designers, fit technicians, and executives to evaluate a sample long before it would have been cut and sewn from cloth.

Eliminating physical samples not only saves apparel companies time, but also money. Many times, the sample garment will need additional corrections or adjustments, and the buyer will request that the vendor make those adjustments, then cut, sew, and ship a new revised sample. Moreover, many of these samples never make it to production — not for reasons relating to fit or construction, but as a result of the natural selection process designers go through in creating a collection for a line. However, by utilizing 3D samples, the software user can make any necessary changes to the garment before it is ever sewn, saving on sample fabric costs, shipping costs, fit model costs, and related expenses.

Using software such as Tukatech's TUKA3D, designers can compare various fabric and pattern options for a particular garment.

"By creating 3D samples, we could test a garment early in the development phase to verify the fit and construction of the pattern," explained Moshe Tsabag, founder of the apparel line Velvet Heart.

Companies like Velvet Heart are also using digital 3D samples as sales tools. Because 3D samples can be created in an infinite number of colors and prints, buyers can be presented with a number of options without manufacturers having to invest in a physical sample that might never even make it into production. Advanced 3D software also offers virtual animation, allowing users and collaborators to evaluate the sample in any pose and with any kind of movement. For example, buyers can watch a soccer jersey sample's fabric and fit perform as a virtual model kicks a ball. This is much more engaging and stimulating for buyers than showing a sample simply hanging on a rack.

Unlike a static display of a physical sample garment (left), a digital representation can show buyers how the item looks on a moving person. The image at right depicts a digital model in Tukatech's TUKA3D software.

Velvet Heart and others are using virtual samples to display samples on flat screens on the showroom floor or at trade shows, such as the recent Magic Trade Show in Las Vegas. "The 3D samples on display were a huge success for us. Our footfall on our booth was extraordinary. So many of my customers and potential buyers were mesmerized and curious to learn more," said Tsabag.

As you can see, 3D sample-making software can be used in various ways in the supply chain to reduce lead times, lower costs, and enhance the sales process. Vendors for brands such as Maggy London, Tesco, Phillip Van Heusen, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Jones New York Intimates use 3D sample-making software, and we predict even more brands will continue to adopt the technology in the near future.

About the Author: Ram Sareen

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