How 3D Digital Innovation is Streamlining Supply Chain Processes Within the Fashion Industry

Retail is becoming a progressively less profitable business. With tightening margins, the need to focus and streamline operating models has never been greater. Many of the old pinch points cost time and money. They are a threat to trading economics, but they are also a huge opportunity to become more agile, efficient, and profitable.

How many of us have compromised on an assortment because a style wasn’t fit approved in time? Or you didn’t have a correct sample to sell to your wholesale partners? Or your company paid air freight to get a style to stores because of color or fit approval delays?

These are just a handful of issues retailers have accepted as the status quo for years. And in a world where technology has made the lives of the customer easier, it’s about time technology improved the lives of retailers as well. The pandemic has made this abundantly clear – the old ways of working are a disservice to retail strategy and customer choice.

Fortunately, 3D digital technology was already in the works before the pandemic. And for years, TPC has been helping retailers recognize the many ways 3D can transform the supply chain process. Reports have shown that for brands that were early adopters, some have seen physical sampling reduced by 65%, and others able to eliminate over 1.5 million physical samples during a 3-year period. These kinds of sampling reductions are critical in fashion’s goal to become more sustainable. Aside from reducing the number of samples that inevitably end up in landfills, these styles also don’t have to be flown back and forth multiple times to be approved. By utilizing 3D technology, styles can be digitally designed and fit on avatars with changes made in real-time. And while that may sound scary (I was skeptical at first – anyone in retail will question the ability of technology to replicate touch/feel), the technology today does not look fake. It is incredibly realistic and continuing to improve at a quick pace. Further, as the pandemic highlighted, sometimes challenges will arise preventing teams from seeing samples at all – so smart solutions, like 3D design, are critical.

Outside of physical sampling reductions, another brand reportedly reduced their average go-to-market time per style from 3 months to 2 weeks! This time saving opens countless opportunities for teams to really focus on their assortment, the customer, and inventory. Instead of spending days or weeks organizing and hanging samples, merchants can get early feedback from buyers, wholesale partners, and stores (among others). Designers can cut down on the number of style approval meetings and actually get to spend more time designing instead of rushing to hit deadlines. Planners can be sharper in their inventory management because they aren’t having to buy 3+ months in advance. These are just some of the many benefits of using 3D tech.

The pandemic has highlighted many of these pinch points and the need to address the issues they cause. A growing number of our clients are asking us for support to leverage tools that can transform lead times and build more responsive operating models.

In a 2019 McKinsey survey, 83% of respondents expected physical samples to be used less often than virtual samples by 2025. This was pre-pandemic. I’m willing to bet that timeline has been fast-tracked…and that is a great thing. 3D technology can rewrite the retail calendar and any time given back to the teams bringing product to stores will be a benefit to the customer and to the brand's bottom line.