In The Studio
3D Design

Design Goes Digital

Studio Eva x Carola – Led by Designers Eva de Laat (right) and Carola Leegwater (left).

It was only a handful of years ago that Fashion Week kicked off the new season, with giant fashion houses dictating trends. Designers used mood boards for inspiration and relied on trend consultants for a color palette. Now, with the rise of smaller brands, disruption of COVID and the immersion of social media, a lot has changed about the way we work. 

Upon introducing a March 2023 webinar entitled Digital Fabrics 101, Cotton Incorporated marketing director Megan Peterson stated that “digital fabric development could further revolutionize the product development process in the future.” Virtual fabrics, or a representation of fabric in 3D apparel design software, can recreate the physical appearance and drape of a fabric through texture, physics (thickness, stretching) and data (weight, content, finish). Fabric swatches are swapped out for images that can be shared virtually and commented on in real time. Digital prototypes of garments provide a good visualization of graphics on apparel and allow for the ability to change prints, scale or placement. 

Many mills are working with digital prototypes. “Mills are becoming much more than suppliers, they are like tech partners,” said Kate Absher, manager of fashion and digital design marketing for Cotton Incorporated. While some fashion brands digitize fabrics in-house, others rely on services from vendors, mills or factories. You can also outsource to a digital service. “Much of this didn’t even exist five to seven years ago,” added Absher. Singapore-based mill Ghim Li is able to turn out a virtual sample in 14 days versus the traditional 45 days for a physical sample. Speed to market is also a big consideration, as is less travel to mills and tradeshows, lessened storage costs for excess fabrics and reduced shipping costs.

The Holt Co., founder Stacy Holt integrated 3D digital assets into a launch for Clover Athletica during a time when Canada/U.S. travel was restricted. The team jump started their line review using 3D prototypes. “Implementing 3D made initial prototyping more productive and focused, since we gathered detailed comments and did revisions ahead of first sampling requests. Using cloud collaboration tools like Asana sped up product management, provided ongoing transparency and reassured clients that we were on track to meet their vision,” the exec explained. Holt works with Style3D which encompasses the   full 3D digital product lifecycle, including creating digital fabrics, transforming 2D panels into draped silhouettes and presenting real-time Web 3.0 simulations.

Truth be told, tactility is the challenge. We need “digital tools to augment our sensory experiences, rather than simply compete with them,” Holt noted. As digital fabrics become more detailed and dimensional, they will appear more real. For now, 3D doesn’t fully convey the outcome of physical garment construction just yet – say the interaction of stress, seams and the pure gravity of a garment. If you are fitting a garment on an avatar, it needs to be representative of your fit model. It takes some playing around to get comfortable with the process, but 3D designers from diverse disciplines – game development, video production and graphic design – are advancing. “Digital media artists are learning 2D pattern making and pattern makers are learning media arts. The hybridity is a huge shift happening under our feet right now,” concluded Holt. 

Brand Impact 

Luxury lifestyle brand Losano has eliminated all physical printouts when preparing for sketch selections. Even five years ago, the sketches were hand-drawn and more recently, digital sketches were printed out and placed on physical boards for presentations. Online work during COVID changed all of that. “We have gone digital completely,” said Losano Senior Designer, Sharon Zhang. The designer likes the ability to sketch faster digitally and present a standardized, professional brand image when communicating with vendors. 

The eco-conscious brand recently paired with Brooklyn-based Tailored Industry to produce an on-demand 3D knitted capsule collection. Six wardrobe pieces (including a dress, cardigan and bra top) were made to order using 3D knitting machines that reduce over-production and waste. As a style goes through the production process, a QR code allows each worker to follow it via an iPad. The collaboration was almost completely digital. While a physical pattern would typically be made, “with Tailored Industry’s 3D knitting technology, these renderings had to be converted into code their machines could read. Every stitch had to be accounted for electronically, allowing
the garments to come off the machine in one piece — so cool!” 

The Woolmark Company’s education platform, The Woolmark Learning Centre, offers a seamless knitting tutorial (Santoni Technology course) in collaboration with design team Studio Eva x Carola. The course assists students in selecting the appropriate technology and yarn to create seamless garments employing Merino wool. “Digital body mapping with Santoni’s seamless technology allows us the ability to produce garments as a complete package of functionality, form and comfort all while highlighting wool’s natural benefits and versatility,” noted Julie Davies, general manager for processing, innovation and education extension for Woolmark. The technology allows for going from yarn to garment, creating apparel almost free of seams and with minimal waste.

The process is valuable for next-to-skin intimate apparel, athleisure and highly technical performance and compression garments for sport or medical applications. Functional activewear firm Studio Eva x Carola developed a 12-piece collection (Woolmark x Santoni x Südwolle) including leggings, crop tops and a racer-back tank top. The collection employs a superfine 15.5 micron Merino wool yarn from the Südwolle Group for soft next-to-skin comfort and was constructed using seamless technology circular knitting machines from Santoni Shanghai, which are traditionally used to manufacture undergarments. “Unlike the traditional cut and sew approach, seamless technology provides designers with an ever-increasing array of opportunities to create beautifully designed products, fully integrating fashion and function to satisfy a variety of end-users,” said Davies.

Left: Yoga Looks from Studio Eva x Carola. Middle: Clover Athletica Rendering - Staged 3D assets using draped garment, customized avatar and scene presets.Right: Losano Made to Order Brentwood Rib Bralette and Covina Biker Short.