The fashion industry is moving toward a more digitalized future, one that promotes improved efficiency and sustainability. This was the focus of the first day of the 2021 World Digital Textile Forum, hosted by the Advancement Association for Digital Textile (AADT) on Nov. 17.
Day one featured fashion technology experts including Mark Harrop, CEO and founder of WhichPLM Group; Justin Huang, president of the Taiwan Textile Federation; Alexa Dehmel, owner of Active Sports Design Consulting; Amal Jomaa, head of fashion at So Real Digital Twins; and Victor Chao, CEO of Frontier.cool, who shared valuable insights on how digitization is transforming the textile industry as we know it.
The four-day forum will be moderated by Nicole Chan, chairperson of the AADT. Chan is also an attorney-at-law and industrial consultant, board director of Dot Asia, ICANN ASO/AC, and vice chairman of the Digital Transformation Association.
Fashion trends and disruptions
During his presentation, Harrop shared his thoughts on areas of high potential growth and what he considers disruptive trends in the industry today. He also addressed the metaverse, a word that has been thrust into the spotlight ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's name change to Meta.
"We talk about the metaverse as if it's something brand new and it may be in the sense that it's going to pull the digital assets in, but in actual fact, digital technology has been around for a while. 3D footwear for 30 years, 3D apparel for already 20 years," Harrop said. He added that the industry is starting to see improvements in these solutions, which is allowing the entire ecosystem to be connected.
Among the areas, Harrop sees as having high growth potential include: product planning, inspiration and concept, product lifecycle management (PLM), fact-based costing, digital color management, and sourcing and supplier management.
Harrop talked about how the work from home (WFH) culture as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is helping to drive digitization in fashion. WFH forced retailers, brands and manufacturers to urgently embrace a new set of collaborative solutions to enable design teams to collaborate virtually. One solution he pointed to is a digital storyboard that can interoperate with technology ecosystems.
Harrop also highlighted a number of disruptive trends, including sizing and scanning; digital and component materials scanning; asset lifecycle management; 3D creative design (DPC); virtual showrooms; synthetic and fact-based costing; digital print and dyeing; IoT and value chain visibility; material, product and labor sustainability; artificial and business intelligence (AI and BI); and workflow and critical path.
In terms of 3D, Harrop noted that it has crossed the chasm in terms of maturity. "As 3D solutions develop to deliver real, quantifiable benefits for the downstream, 3D is also starting to move upstream, not only supporting co-design but also co-development and manufacturing," he said.
"As we develop these 3D assets, we're then using them as products or components and we're placing them into virtual showrooms. This is the metaverse," said Harrop. "As we expand our footprint into these digital assets and they become widely accepted as a supplement for physical, we can now enable consumers to put on their headsets and go to a store and do virtual try-ons. And we, as a retailer or brand can see what our stores look like." Moving forward, he expects virtual showrooms to expand rapidly.
Harrop also addressed how digital methods are enabling the industry to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. For example, direct-to-roll digital printing is not only more eco-friendly and sustainable, it uses less water, less energy, and produces less waste.
Digitalization of Taiwan's textile industry
Huang's presentation centered on four main topics to do with Taiwan's textile industry: introducing Taiwan's textile industry, the impacts of COVID-19, sustainable innovation and technology, and smart manufacturing.
According to Huang, there are more than 4,500 textile and garment manufacturers in Taiwan as of 2020, employing more than 141,000 people. The total production value in 2020 amounted to NT$289.3 billion (US$9.78 billion) with export value reaching US$7.53 billion. Taiwan's textile industry mainly focuses on the upper- and mid-stream sectors, which account for 95% of the total value.
Covid has had a major impact on Taiwan's textile industry. Exports value saw a significant decrease in 2020 compared to 2019, but is recovering in 2021. Despite this, Huang pointed to the rise in oil prices, materials shortages, the pandemic impact in Vietnam, and increased shipping/logistics costs as ongoing challenges as a result of the pandemic. However, he pointed to the pandemic as a turning point for Taiwan's textile industry.
Taiwan has undergone two major transformations as a result of the pandemic. The first is to become more sustainable by taking into consideration the sustainability of raw materials, the manufacturing process, and the end product. The second is to increase smart manufacturing.
By digitizing, automating and making factories smarter, manufacturers are able to visualize production information, easily access data, and manage systems. Not only does smart manufacturing have the added benefit of making facilities look cleaner and neater, but it also requires less labor while providing more actionable information, Huang highlighted.
Huang added, "Investment in sustainability and digitalization will benefit not only the supply side but also the demand side."
Opportunities presented by digital twins
What is a digital twin and how it is changing the fashion industry were the focus of Jomaa's presentation. So Real Digital Twins is a Switzerland-based company that specializes in helping companies create "cinematic quality, ready-to-use digital twins."
"3D solutions for the fashion industry have existed for over 20 years, but it is important to make a clear distinction between a 3D file that is created as a mockup for rapid prototyping and a full digital twin," Jomaa said.
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a product in 3D. It is an exact replica of a real-life product with the same physical properties and measurements, according to Jomaa. This means it can support the end-to-end process and not just a single segment.
So Real's technology works by first scanning the product with an x-ray machine that creates volumetric data. In the next step, the company's artificial intelligence and machine learning software takes the volumetric data and converts it layer by layer to build the digital model in 3D. In the final step, the digital twin is created. Jomaa emphasized that the embedded metadata allows for the 3D model to support the entire product lifecycle.
"Digital twins can help transform the value chain from a linear process that moves from designing, planning, sourcing, supplying and finally the customer experience to a more interconnected process where the different steps overlap. It is a move toward a fully circular process rather than a vertically integrated operation that functions in separate silos," Jomaa explained.
In the design process, digital twins empower designers to work in a more intuitive way with 3D models. It also helps to accelerate the design process, saving time and money, while also reducing waste and the carbon footprint. Instead of waiting for and producing physical samples, digital twins allow designers to make changes on the spot, create multiple variations of a design, and provide a realistic visual sample, all in real-time.
Digital twin technology is also enabling the shift toward product customization. Consumers can customize products online with extreme accuracy, allowing for on-demand manufacturing and eliminating inventory. The data gathered from these customizations can also be used by the companies to better understand consumer preferences and help inform design decisions.
Additionally, Jomaa noted, "digital twins are the future asset building blocks that make up the metaverse." Industry trendsetters like Nike are already expanding into the metaverse.
Frontier.cool enables better digital fabric sourcing
Frontier.cool, a co-organizer of the forum, is a Taiwan-based digital fabric platform that utilizes AI to create realistic textile and fabric images. As fashion becomes increasingly digital, digital fabric sourcing has become more and more important.
"With Frontier's groundbreaking AI, we are now able to scale like never before," Chao said. Frontier's Lasagna AI engine uses multiple texture maps and layers them together to create an accurate and life-like fabric image in 30 seconds or less, using an ordinary flatbed scanner. This allows textile mills to give potential clients a much clearer picture of what the material looks like and even apply it directly to their digital design work to see how it will look.
Frontier has digitized fabric swatch cards and uploaded them to the cloud. Dehmel talked about how platforms like Frontier are revolutionizing digital fabric sourcing in today's fashion industry by making over 20,000 digital materials available in the cloud. The platform makes searching, managing and collaborating easier, and also facilitates a faster and better workflow.
"To be able to create a digital revolution within a brand, it needs to recreate the whole digital process of collection creation and the understanding that it all starts with the digitized fabric," Dehmel said.
2021 World Digital Textile Forum, hosted by the Advancement Association for Digital Textile (AADT)
The fashion industry is moving toward a more digitalized future