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Pioneering 3D technology: digital design at Hugo Boss - Weixin Zha | Monday, 03 December 2018

It’s safe to say that digitisation has well and truly arrived in the fashion industry. New and innovative ways of designing clothes using 3D software don’t only save money, it also gets products on store shelves faster. Hugo Boss is no stranger to this tech-savvy designing approach, with the German fashion company already developing 40 percent of its collections using 3D technology. 

At the conference of the German Fashion Institute (DMI) in November, experts from the fashion industry gathered to discuss the digitisation of the fashion supply chain, which, compared to the automotive industry for example, has a lot of catching up to do. Suppliers are still sending colour samples to fashion companies, and prototypes are still created manually rather than digitally. Hugo Boss is changing that.

From left to right: Birgit Wiech, Jule Widmann, Andreas Seidl 

“Simply switching to 3D does not live up to the times any more. What is clear is that product development has to change completely," says Birgit Wiech, Senior Head of Product Excellence Woman, Hugo Boss, during her presentation. "We are in a massive upheaval where we have to bank on speed. And our goal is to digitise this whole process right down to the store."

Speeding up the process, from original idea to finished product

Hugo Boss started to experiment with different ways of developing its products way back in 2013 by digitally simulating simple garments such as jerseys, shirts and knitwear on a computer screen. But what’s the advantage of creating 3D models on screens as opposed to physical samples? Well, only the patterns for the outer fabric have to be made for 3D prototypes, allowing designers to test out the looks of different prints, colours and fabrics without first having to make a complete physical sample. So with just a few simple clicks it’s possible to change the entire look of a design, in a fraction of the time.

Since 2015, outerwear and sportswear have been simulated with Hugo Boss’ 3D software, and more recently in 2017 the classic men's and women's outerwear lines followed suit. After more than 1,000 3D simulations, Hugo Boss has now shifted to 3D technology for 40 percent of its collections. In Germany and Turkey, for example, first product samples are sewn directly using the digital prototypes as references, and manufacturers in Eastern Europe and Portugal are starting to do the same.

Julian Jetten, head of materials at the Mammut Sports Group, talks about how digitisation of the colour application process

Eliminating the step of creating samples in the design process saves money and, more crucially, cuts down the time it takes to get products on the market. While developing a piece of clothing with a physical prototype takes two to four weeks, the same process takes only a few days to a week with a digital alternative, Wiech says. In view of the current over-supply of clothing - as consumers increasingly focus on shifting trends and fast fashion - quick production times are critical in keeping up with customer demand.

Emerging and evolving occupations in the design process

The wave of digital change that we see is accompanied closely by continually emerging occupations. Developing apparel with 3D simulation software requires close collaboration between creatives and cut-makers; designers and manufacturers, says Wiech.

“All in all, another new job profile will certainly emerge in the long term," she says. But in her department she is still keeping everything open. "We're just going with agile, cross-functional teams and we will then see which jobs will emerge.”

Tobias Rausch, global portfolio manager appearance capture at X-Rite, talks about digitising colour and materials

The software cannot simulate different washes properly, seen for example on denim jackets, according to pattern designer Widmann. But since the time of constant computer crashes and the six hours her team initially spent on creating a red pleated dress, Hugo Boss has come a long way. For women's outerwear, pieces for a US-American client were developed and sold completely digitally. The German fashion company has also come a long away compared to the rest of the sector. About 20 percent of its customers design products using 3D technology, estimates Andreas Seidl, managing director of the Human Solutions Group / Assyst, whose software is also used by Hugo Boss. Two years ago, it was just 5 percent.

But the possibilities for three-dimensional simulation reach even further. Birgit Wiech’s vision is to digitise everything from first sketch to the online store. Customers should already get an idea of how a pair of pants would look on them when shopping on their mobile phones, she says. "We want the entire digital process for the future.”

Pete Schonbeck