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So long to physical fashion, now it is digital.


Vanessa Thompson, Founder and Director of Unravelled, has been working in the New Zealand fashion industry for more than a decade, and during that time has seen her passion for sustainability grow.

Vanessa has seen first-hand how some of the decisions made in the fashion industry can have a detrimental effect on people and the environment. She is now focused on helping fashion retailers conduct their business more sustainably and ethically in the future. In this article which she wrote in lockdown 1, Vanessa explores how fashion is responding to the pandemic and the out of the box thinking that has resulted.


At this unique time in history, the fashion industry has slowed down due to the global impacts of Covid-19. Physical stores have been closed, and manufacturers have been in lockdown. It has been a challenging time for business but has provided companies with an opportunity to reset and develop big picture thinking.

One area of the industry that has accelerated has been digital. This is more than just online retailing – everything has boomed, from the increase of Zoom calls and other virtual conference mediums, to the introduction of online virtual events and showrooms, to the increase of 3D product creation.

3D product creation has the potential to be a huge win for the fashion industry, saving time and cost, and providing profound sustainability benefits. There has been an upsurge in interest in the last few months, particularly through the introduction of 3D design and 3D virtual stores and events.

The fashion industry’s archaic production cycle has been around for decades. It involves sending prototype samples to and from different countries - sometimes up to five or six samples until the garment is just right in the eyes of the brand or designer. This process is time-consuming, involves high use of fabrics, trims, labour and carbon guzzling physical sewing equipment. It also creates tonnes of packaging every year as the samples are sent around the world. 3D design reduces this waste and increases speed to market, enabling a designer to create and amend garments in a week, rather than the usual 1-2 months.

There are a number of other ways that 3D design can be used in the fashion industry to benefit the environment. Brands can use the tool for on-demand manufacturing, allowing customers to choose designs and colours that suit them, reducing waste and overproduction. 3D garments can be used across social media channels for up-to-the minute trend showcasing or customer feedback. They can also be exported for use in digital showrooms or catwalks, allowing buyers to see the most accurate version of a garment in virtual reality, instead of having to fly halfway across the world for a once-a-season show. The best thing about the virtual world is it doesn’t have to actually exist, so a catwalk show can take place in the middle of the ocean, or in a rainforest – the options are endless.

There are a variety of digital solution providers out there, whether you are wanting to implement 3D design software into your sampling process and holistically throughout your business, or whether you want help producing virtual events or showcases. There are a number of other programs brands can use to customise digital experiences, including 3D body scanner technology that can scan a customer's body to exact measurements and shape, or specialised fabric scanners that can adapt the most ‘true-to-life’ look and texture of your fabric.

New business models have also evolved out of the digital fashion world, such as the creation of 3D virtual garments that are sold for virtual use only. Recently digital fashion house The Fabricant auctioned off a virtual only dress for $9500, embedding blockchain technology into the 3D garment meaning it truly was a one off piece. The physical dress did not even exist! Designers are also teaming up with online gaming platforms, offering designer clothing pieces for players’ avatar creatures, and concerts are being performed within the gaming realm, like Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite, which attracted 12.3 million viewers! There is a huge opportunity for brands to get involved and benefit from these new business models by starting to think digitally.

At a time where businesses are going to need to ‘think outside of the box’ to not only keep current customers engaged, but also attract new customers, digital innovation will put your company ahead of the competition.

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