I have spoken for years about the need for fashion brands and retailers to dramatically shorten the time it takes to go from product ideation and design onto the customer’s back. As Mike Todaro, executive director of the Americas Apparel Producers Network, pointed out at a recent AAPN meeting, “anyone between the designer and the customer today is in the way.”
With the combined pressures of a digitally empowered consumer and the likes of ASOS, Boohoo and Zara dominating in a marketplace increasingly driven by speed and price, traditional retail has no choice but to transform or die. Retailers must understand that speed matters as much as quality, value and brand if they are to compete successfully for our attention and our dollars.
While there are some pioneers and risk-takers who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the virtual world, it is amazing how many companies are in denial that 3D could actually work in their product development process, or worse, they are not even aware that the technology exists. To radically increase speed to market, product development must incorporate 3D technology. Unfortunately, too many well-known brands either don’t understand the potential impact of 3D virtual product development, or they assume it’s a very expensive proposition involving major IT coordination; it’s not. The right 3D solutions, implemented correctly, will significantly increase the speed and efficiency in how companies’ design, develop, merchandise and manufacture their product.
In truth, 3D alone cannot perform miracles. In order to reduce seasonal development cycles from a typical 16-20 months to 8 to 10 weeks, companies have no choice but to invest in innovative solutions that are likely to be multi-faceted, including some elements of near-shoring, some process redesign and some virtual technologies.
Migrating to 3D requires thinking differently about the product creation process; it requires cross-functional collaboration, empowered decision making and perhaps most importantly, it requires trust. The fashion winners over the next decade will exhibit similarities to those in the past: great design, innovative fabrics, a quality-value proposition that resonates with consumers. But they will also be designing and line-planning and prototyping virtually; and, they will be going from design to the customer’s back in weeks, not months.