3D in Fashion: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I want to start this piece in a slightly unusual way – with a personal story. The year is 1982, in Baku, Soviet Union, and I’m 7 years old. My father is a professional photographer, shooting during the evenings, developing films and printing photos at nights, and sleeping all day. I start my days in the bathroom (which also served as my dad’s laboratory and a dark room at night) brushing my teeth and gazing at hanging, wet, just developed photos.

I recall one morning, when a particular photograph captured my attention. The photo captured my mother’s cousin with a happy, shiny smile. The picture was taken just a few days after his father had passed away, and so I found this expression of happiness extremely inappropriate. I questioned my father. “He smiles because life goes on,” he answered. This laconic answer didn’t make sense to me then.

But, life does go on.

Today we are in 2019: the Soviet Union collapsed almost 30 years ago, and photography has long moved to digital (with a mere few using analog methods today), as well as architecture and industrial product design having moved to digital 3D technologies. And now it’s Fahion’s turn to make a big move. Compared to other industries, Fashion’s transition to digital has been happening slowly.

This could be because the change itself is quite a radical one. And as with any big change, regardless of how positive, it requires a big effort and the adoption of a new mindset.

If I compare the transition of photography from analog to digital, it wasn’t such a big deal for my dad; he has continued to use quite similar techniques and tools when taking pictures, meaning access to the benefits of digital were quite immediate.

Despite the fact that everybody understands the potential benefits of 3D technology, and the need to innovate, technology providers are frequently faced with resistance on different levels. Let’s try to understand where this kind of resistance comes from and why innovation does not come easy?

The nature of innovation.

“You can’t sit on two chairs at once” (Andrei Sahkarov).

Since the dawn of time, change has always been a challenge for us, as humans. Nevertheless, we have invented this concept, evolutionary shortcut called ‘change’. We are maybe the only living organisms on this planet that are capable of planning, executing and analyzing the outcome of change. But something happened in the last few decades. Technology is now developing and accelerates in such a rhythm, that sometimes it feels almost impossible to catch up. One notable 3D vendor is now releasing an upgrade every few months, with each version named after the month in which it was released. Last spring the April 2019 version was released; only half a year later and I’m already using the August 2019 version. So we moved from the era when change happened “from time to time” into the era of the constant change!

People say, that in order to innovate we need to think “out of the box”. Yes, it happens to be a good strategy in order to plan and maybe to initiate change, but it’s not good enough to execute and maintain it. In order to execute change we need “to move into the new box”, then in order to maintain change we should never “move back to the old one”.

Imagine I vacation to Italy for a couple of weeks, and come back to my country really excited about Italian culture: cuisine, architecture, music! But, does this make me an Italian? No. In order to become an Italian, it’s not enough even to move to Italy, it’s more crucial to learn the Italian culture and the Italian language.

In a similar way, if a change is radical, for example fashion design in 3D environment, it’s almost impossible to apply the existed approach. So, a new skillset is needed on an individual level and new culture and workflows should be developed on a collective organizational level. As is colorfully described by Mark Adams, the VP and Head of Innovation at Vice. In his brilliant Ted Talk he compares the transformational change event to the story of Hernando Cortez, a Spanish Conquistador from the 16th century, who decided to demolish his ships and trap himself in Mexico, leaving no way back so failure was not an option.

People tend to name software as a “solution”, something that resolves problems. But actually, software is just a tool. It may be a very powerful one, but is still a tool. A solution can only come from peoples’ minds who decide to implement new tools. Adopting new technology is a psychological challenge on a personal and a collective level rather than any other.

Yes, no, maybe…

Imagine for a moment a corporate meeting between CEO, COO and CFO. The CEO comes up with an innovative idea that requires massive investment. You can imagine what the CFO’s immediate answer will be (“no”), since he considers the massive investment as a direct threat to the stability of business. The COO hesitates and wants to hear all pros and cons from both sides. It’s impossible to execute a big change after one meeting. There will be numerous meetings and, eventually, all sides will need to compromise.

Now, let’s take a look at the structure of the human brain and its ability to process the change. Needless to say, the brain is a very efficient operating system, but there are some old elements that have not been updated for millions of years!

According to the evolutionary model of American neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, our brain consists of three parts: reptilian brain, limbic system and neocortex. The reptilian (and oldest) brain is responsible for hunger, territoriality, habits and procedural memory. This part is programmed to identify anything that could be considered as a threat to our survival, and is strongly associated with the fear of loss. (The CFO.)

The limbic system is responsible for emotions and motivation. (The COO.) The neocortex – the recent upgrade in evolution – is responsible for language, abstraction, logic, planning, logical thinking and perception. (The CEO.) In summary, change is a process that takes time, usually accompanied with tension and emotional discomfort.

On a positive note.

3D digital fashion is moving forward and makes landmarks. Take myself: I recently presented my first 3D collection from PURA, a brand of delicate style with flexible and inclusive nature. A few days ago, Daniel Grieder, CEO of PVH, made an ambitious announcement on the stage of Web Summit in Lisbon that the Tommy Hilfiger brand will go 100 percent digital by 2021. Daniel presented two images of the same shirt and asked the few-thousand-strong audience to distinguish between the virtual and the physical one. Without going deep into science, it was clear that the audience struggled to make a choice. Does this mean that we are one step before we will start to buy digital clothes online? Maybe we already can…

Other developments include a tremendous, yet not so recent, achievement by Carlings, who developed and put on sale a collection of digital clothes. Consumers sent their pictures to Carlings then received them back, dressed up in a garment they purchased. Another innovation that springs to mind is the digital dress that sold for $9,500 by Fabricant, proving the concept that 3D clothes have value.

What experts would suggest.

I want to close this piece with some suggestions for embracing 3D in Fashion:

  • Learn a 3D program and apply it to your brand.
  • If you already know and use one, update it and try new features.
  • If you’ve already done this, you can move from PC to Mac or vice versa. Your reptilian brain should get familiar with the constant change.
  • And if you’ve already done this …learn Italian and, please, don’t forget to smile happily because life goes on!

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