At the Re’aD Summit of the German fashion institute DMI, the theme
“Digital x less” was all about how digital solutions can prevent
overproduction and waste in the fashion industry. From the creation of
digital fabric samples, to 3D programmes for simulating visual
merchandising, to virtual fittings designed to reduce return rates –
the innovations presented earlier this month demonstrate technology’s
inherent potential for a better fashion industry.
Digital fabrics for a cleaner supply chain
A key theme at the Re’aD Summit was supply chain flexibility and
adaptability. Digitising fabric samples and prototypes is essential
for this – and can reduce delivery times, collection development costs
and the environmental impact.
Digitising fabrics requires different softwares and hardwares.
Cologne-based company DMIx has developed a software for colour
standards that can be used to digitally convert colours of physical
fabrics in a uniform way. This helps avoid errors and
misunderstandings between fabric manufacturers, apparel producers and
the creative heads, some of whom already work with digitised
Italian fabric manufacturer Marzotto Group uses DMIx’s software to
create digital fabric samples. In combination with other services, the
Marzotto Group has been able to digitise more than 20 percent of its
Marzotto uses fabric scanners that convert the characteristics of a
fabric into a “digital twin,” for example. A special software
processes the data so that it can be applied in pattern programmes
such as Clo. This bridge creates the opportunity to work digitally at
the product development level – a step in the textile production chain
that usually has a huge environmental impact.
Luca Bicego, IT specialist at the Marzotto Group, illustrated the
advantages of digitised fabrics with an example: if product developers
want to offer an article in additional colours and sizes, they can
first simulate the versions in their 3D software and even use movement
simulation of the digital prototypes to test freedom of movement and
wearing comfort. These digital test runs reduce the number of rejects,
which would result in unnecessary transport costs and material
consumption. In addition, there is the time factor: 3D sampling saves
working hours and possibly personnel.
Gary Plunkett, chief commercial officer at PixelPool, a company
that offers similar tools, has also noticed this. He reports that
instead of several weeks, a customer only needs a few hours to create
and release new product offers.
“Every millimetre of fabric saved makes a difference”
Technology company Lectra cited a McKinsey study from 2022:
Slightly more than a third of the fashion companies surveyed named
digitisation as one of the industry’s biggest opportunities, while the
same amount rated supply chains, logistics and inventory management
the biggest challenges. Yet, the latter could be simplified through
Lectra develops software for a range of processes: from planning
and sourcing to design, development, production and sales. Lectra’s
computer programmes allow companies to digitise their processes and
thus become more agile. “By digitising their processes, fashion
companies can respond more easily to market demand, select fabrics
based on sustainable criteria, optimise material costs and quality,
and adapt their designs to the latest trends,” said Phillip
Muehlenkord, marketing director for Northern and Eastern Europe at
The company’s ‘Modaris’ programme digitises pattern creation and
speeds up the production process, while another called ‘Quick and Flex
Offer’ avoids waste during the cutting stage. According to
Muehlenkord, “Every millimetre saved makes a difference if you want to
minimise your carbon footprint.”
Companies that have largely used manual processes can save up to 10
percent of their expenses through Lectra’s programmes, reported Karin
Schiller, presales consultant at Lectra. For companies where
digitisation is already well advanced, Schiller still sees potential
for cost savings of between 1 and 5 percent. That may not sound like
much, but given the amounts in millions that are common in production,
it is a considerable amount, she added.
Netherlands-based technology company PixelPool presented 3D-based
solutions for retailers. Chief commercial officer Gary Plunkett used
one of their customers as an example to explain how 3D technologies
can benefit retailers: an international outdoor label is currently
using PixelPool’s Dtail software programme to test visual
merchandising standards and store layout. The tool allows buyers to
preview new collections in-store. This allows them to better assess
how the collections will perform visually on the sales floor.
Digitisation requires perseverance
What are some of the hurdles that companies should be prepared for
when converting to digital processes?
Plunkett touched on a topic that often falls by the wayside in the
discussion about digitisation: It only pays off once companies reach a
certain level. That means they have a long way to go before
restructuring bears fruit. When switching from physical to digitised
ways of working, the main complications arise in the workflow, because
introducing the first digital items requires expertise as well as
“Getting to an entirely three-dimensional workflow is not easy,”
said Plunkett. For him, the key lies in a realistic starting point, a
game plan that is broken down into smaller steps, and decisions based
on sound information and knowledge.
According to Plunkett, those fashion companies can implement a
3D-centric working model quickly whose share of cross-seasonal styles
ranges from 30 to 60 percent. They can create a 3D library that
provides new colours, sizes and details for recurring styles without
requiring a great deal of effort or technical expertise. The
collection development step is thus redefined and moved from
production halls, sampling rounds and transport routes to screens. For
fashion companies with frequently changing, complicated styles on the
other hand, the changeover takes longer – because they have to enter
styles into the 3D programs anew each time.
“The beauty of the whole thing is that you become significantly
more efficient, you become significantly faster, and you can get
significantly more done at the end of the day,” stated Plunkett,
summing up the benefits of digitisation.
Can the metaverse satisfy the urge to consume?
Even though awareness of sustainability among consumers has risen
sharply in recent years, this is not yet reflected in consumer
behaviour. There is an attitude-behaviour gap that needs to be
addressed. Carl Tillessen, chief analyst at German fashion institute
DMI, has high hopes for digital fashion. Virtual clothing could serve
the enormous interest of younger generations to present themselves
fashionably in a certain way online. If the need to consume is
satisfied in a digital way, consumers could resort to slow fashion in
the real world. Consumption will not stop – but digitisation can
create a new form of fashion that has less impact on the
Simone Morlock, head of digital fitting lab Hohenstein, and Beawear
CEO Verena Ziegler presented what this brave new world of fitting
could look like. Virtual fitting helps optimise fits, which can reduce
rejects and return rates.
Morlock reported that currently, 70 percent of end consumers cannot
find their size in the market. This has an impact on consumer
behaviour: They order several sizes, but may end up not keeping any of
the items at all, resulting in high carbon emissions from sending and
returning parcels. Virtual fittings can reduce these effects. With
Beawear, Ziegler has created a tool that allows consumers to take a 3D
scan of their body via smartphone. Thus, users experience an improved
shopping experience through sizing advice, and at the same time, this
creates well-founded data sets on body shapes that help the industry
with more precisely tailoring.
Conclusion: People are the key to digitisation
Re’aD Summit participants seemed to agree on one thing: no matter
how good the technologies are, they are only of any use if people get
In this context, Morlock asked the question, “Are the new tools
serious solutions or gimmicks?” For her, the crux lies in the
industry’s willingness to engage with the tools – because “technology
needs technical processes” and people initiate these processes.
Rouette was of a similar opinion: “Companies are so busy hiring
CROs (corporate responsibility officers), owners and managers say they
want digitisation and sustainability,” but actions need to follow
words. Christian and Andreas Büdel, managing directors at PB
Accessoires, also see this change in perspective as essential: “We
have everything in our hands, we have the technology – why shouldn’t
we use it?”
Gerd Müller-Thomkins, managing director at DMI, summed up the
summit findings: “Less must be more in the future!”. That means:
“Less” waste from the fashion industry must be achieved through “more”
efforts and concrete action by the people working in it.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de.
Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.