Sustainable & irresistible 3D

Overproduction and outdated practices pose serious challenges to the clothing industry. The use of 3D technology makes the value chain more responsible and reduces risks related to this sector, says Anne-Christine Polet, Founder and Head of Stitch, a company that digitises the fashion industry and its processes. 

The clothing industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste per year and currently up to one third of the materials used in the fashion business end up in landfills or are incinerated. It is unsustainable for our planet. 

Even though recycling and vintage are on the rise especially among the younger generations, it would be wrong to allow the entire burden of increasing the responsibility of the fashion industry to fall on the consumer, Anne-Christine Polet says. 

Ultimately, we are all interested in good discount prices, says Polet. It is difficult to change the behaviour of the consumer unless the industry itself changes its practices, she states. – As long as the old methods offer opportunities to grow and make profit, there are no incentives strong enough to bring about change.

According to Polet, the problem in this sector is a business model based on an antiquated value chain. 

This results mostly in the overproduction that is affecting the business. In an industry that operates on physical samples, the path from an idea to a product takes too long, and you do not base your orders on the data from the previous season. A production cycle takes about 6 or 7 months. That is enough time for the world to turn upside down. It is something we truly have witnessed in the last couple of years. 

End of physical samples

3D technology can be used to dramatically reduce the amount of material that ends up as waste. In the industrial sector, it is the physical prototypes that are a big factor in straining the environment. 

Prototypes have been important for testing to get the right fit and the right kind of material before commencing a large-scale production. Nowadays this can be achieved with the use of virtual models. 

– Come to think of it, it’s crazy that designers, who essentially think in a three-dimensional way, are flattening their glorious ideas to two-dimensional sketches, which are then used in making the prototypes. That actually destroys the original idea created in their mind. 

Often the manufacturing of prototypes requires several time-consuming approval and revision rounds. This binds the manufacturer taking away from their factory capacity and it is expensive. The price of a physical sample varies according to the type of clothing, the materials, as well as the complexity of the design. The cost of a sample piece may even amount to a couple of hundred euros. 

Valuable time is saved by getting rid of approval rounds. There is no need to manufacture collections months before selling them. This allows taking greater account of consumer preferences. It contributes to closing the gap between supply and demand. 

In the future, 3D technology will enable also on-demand manufacturing, which will help eliminate storing of needless items. Clothing will be manufactured only according to orders and to the exact size of the customer. Thus there will be no overproduction. 

3D implementation has only just begun 

The implementation of new practices has only just begun. No brand has yet to digitise its entire value chain. Not even pioneers like Nike or Adidas. But developments in technology, along with software that is easier to use, make 3D design increasingly more commonplace. 

Usually operators have digitised some parts of their value chain, and the knowledge and competence in those activities are honed to perfection, Polet says. In addition to prototypes, she mentions marketing as an example. 3D models are easy to present to the buyers by using digital showrooms regardless of the location of the client. This also means there is less travelling. 

The use of 3D technology is becoming more frequent among the more expensive designer brands. There are also breakthroughs in sectors where manufacture takes place using moulds and where computerised design has already been in use. 

Implementing 3D means unlearning and eliminating outdated design practices. 

If you have been sketching throughout your entire working life, it might be difficult to change your methods. Changing practices requires strong and steadfast change management. If you simply replace 2D with 3D without changing your own practices, you will not be able to reap the full benefits of the technological development. 

The new generation of fashion creators already have 3D firmly as part of their education. 

The principles of sustainable development are in young people’s DNA nowadays and they have a natural curiosity about 3D. If there is no education available, they will look into it and learn about it in their free time. 

New technologies and digitality as industry lifeline 

Technology boosts responsibility by creating new opportunities and increasing flexibility. But you also need legislation to steer operations. 

Many of the procedures and approaches of this industry are completely topsy-turvy in today’s world

 Some brands still feel that things are fine as they are now, that digitality is not something that concerns us, Polet says. –In my opinion, we are soon facing a critical situation. Many of the procedures and approaches of this industry are completely topsy-turvy in today’s world. 

It would be important to get the companies to regard responsibility and circular economy as economically viable solutions. Regulation is a strong contributor to this.

Polet believes that within the next few years the technological development will also help in making the implementation of 3D technology easier. The process is in an interim phase currently due to uncertainty in global economy. There is a decline in investments and many promising development projects have been put on hold. 

 The industry will pick up no later than next year. The benefits of 3D are so clear-cut, says Polet. When data is transmitted digitally, the information does not disappear on its way from the designer’s desk to the factory. And there will be no waste, for example, due to differing interpretations. 

3D and artificial intelligence are also creating entirely new and exciting possibilities that attract start-up financing, Polet says. She refers to, for example, applications that make designing clothes easy even without a traditional education. 

– Even I myself have tried 3D designing, but I must admit that all my creations look ridiculous, Polet says and laughs. – Of course I don’t have the training of a designer, nor do I have experience in making patterns, but I believe that that’s a challenge that will be resolved by artificial intelligence in the future. With the use of technology the cost of design decreases and with the price of one button you will soon be able to create an entire piece of clothing! 


This article is part of Finnish Textile & Fashion’s project Digital Disruption in the Fashion Industry. Finnish Textile & Fashion project is funded by the European Union –  NextGenerationEU. 

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