A complete collection

Computers nowadays are fast enough, and the applications sufficiently compatible, to be able to realise the dream of completely digitising the design and cutting-pattern development processes in practice. The complete range of software available to the apparel industry will be on show at the up-coming Texprocess show from 10 to 13 June in Frankfurt am Main.

It is not only the virtual-reality freaks that are excited by these solutions; anyone who knows about the rapid pace and enormous pressure on costs in the clothing sector is too. Whether the creatives, the fashion designers and the pattern developers are entirely happy with it, is a different matter.

Two opposing philosophies

There are two different approaches. One concept permits the designer to dress a three-dimensional figure – the avatar – in the clothes. A database provides the qualities of the material, such as fall, stretch properties, patterning and colour. When the design is perfect, the seams can be separated on screen and the two-dimensionality of the fabric restored. Corrections are possible both to the cutting pattern and to the garment on the avatar. Changes are automatically transferred to the alternative representation.

The other approach begins with the development of the cutting pattern. The initially two-dimensional surfaces are linked to qualities of the material in the database and subsequently sewn together in virtual space and put on the avatar. If the lines of the garment or the fit are changed, then this is done on the avatar. The software transfers the alterations to the patterns in real time.

The subsequent steps in the preparation of the patterns, such as sizing, seam allowances/cutting lines, notches, printed indications and optimal cutting layout can be regarded as standard solutions, as these have been successfully put into practice since as far back as the 1990s.

Time is money, or ‘Time to market’

On the one hand, more and more varied designs are required, yet, on the other, the capacity for developing the patterns for them is limited. All the potential savings in production processes, apart from per-minute labour costs and logistics, have to a large extent been exhausted. This is a screw that is constantly being turned and relates to the development process. Every rejected physical prototype rapidly racks up costs of € 1000. Experts estimate the time saving with the use of this technology at 25% and the reduction in costs at 30%.

In the beginning, a few solitary specialists pioneered this development; the result was insular solutions that were complex to use and were not really capable of being integrated into the existing systems in the sector. Today the situation looks entirely different: strategic alliances and take-overs demand seamless integration across the system, the software is (more) intuitive to use and is available in different language versions for the most important countries in the garment sector. The power of even the most ordinary, commercially available computers today is adequate and, above all, affordable for small businesses; internet connections are faster and have greater capacity. On occasion, this technology is even said to merit a “green” label, because it obviates the need to send environmentally burdensome samples as, indeed, it obviates the need for people to travel to see examples of fashion designs.

The complex software suites – mostly modular in structure – that can cover the entire process from the initial sketch to the control of end sales (buzzword: Product Lifecycle Management – PLM) represent real investment of capital. Of course, these suites can be bought, but leasing and pay-per-use concepts (buzzword: ‘on demand’) do not tie up capital. The real cost factor is staff training. Although graduates of the relevant training centres have generally worked with one or other of these systems, specific training is necessary if these complex programmes are to be used efficiently.

Alternatives and prospects

Communications technology is also catching on to an alternative concept. The basic ingredient here is a physical dummy, with a soft filling that provides a good imitation of the consistency of the human body. Staff in the design studio dress these dummies in the prototype garments and then launch a video-conference with the client, where they can discuss the design and the fit. As well as the standard figures – and this is where the current international serial measurements come into their own – dummies that are specific to a given company or brand can also be manufactured. The advantage here is the genuine three-dimensionality (as against traditional fitting with an in-house model) and the constant availability of a defined figure wherever product development takes place.

These solutions, which are both quick and keep down processing costs, are particularly helpful to suppliers who seek to present the broadest possible palette of different models at short intervals. That includes individually produced items in industrial situations and made-to-measure items. It will appeal to a clientele who value individuality, but is not inclined to pay exclusive prices.

Solutions for virtual fashion design

Those who would like to find out more about new IT approaches in the apparel industry, should visit Texprocess, international trade fair for the processing of textiles and other flexible materials from 10 to 13 June 2013 in Frankfurt am Main. IT manufacturers will be presenting themselves and their solutions for virtual fashion design in Hall 4.0. At Texprocess 2011, there were 326 exhibitors from 40 countries. Some 10,500 trade and professional visitors from 87 countries came to international trade fair and a further 6,500 visitors attended Techtextil, which was held concurrently.