Digital Fashion in The Physical World

Valentin Karabanov is a creative director and founder of digital fashion brand VALENTINS which operates in the intersection of fashion design, custom made digital projects, digital transformation and 3D fashion education. Valentin has also worked with Browzwear. As well as in his record 3 decades of experience in fashion product development for apparel brands and runway designers.

“Nothing happens until the pain of Remaining The Same outweighs the pain of Change”- Artur Burt

The greatest transformations and turning points in the human history usually happened as a result of a great demand or a state of urgency, or a “there is no other option available” situation. For example, the UN organization may never have been established if it weren’t for the disaster of World War Two. So, our ability to grow and to overcome challenges in the majority of cases was dictated not only by our free will, but also by some external factors that push us to accept the challenge.

It’s not a big secret that, although 3D technologies oriented to fashion and apparel has been around for the last 20 years, it’s only recently that the industry has opened its eyes to it! So, what actually happened? What caused this dramatic shift and led the whole industry to accept the consensus? The answer to this question is simple and clear: COVID-19. Ironically, the tiny virus pushed the status of 3D technologies to the heights that years of efforts to convince the necessity of 3D was not able to achieve. The actual vaccine for the COVID-19 is far for being approved but we can say that 3D technologies have been discovered and approved as anti-COVID vaccine by all players in our industry! Suddenly or maybe because “there is no other option available” 3D digital technologies have been detected as a solution for design and merchandising, for graphic design and pattern making, for digital sampling and even for digital fashion shows!

Earlier this month (4-6 September), Mercedes-Benz fashion Week Russia hosted an international online fashion event. It’s important to mention that this fashion week was absolutely traditional before the pandemic and became a pioneer to make a transition to online format when the pandemic hit. After a great success in June, now was a second edition of Global Talents Digital where 103 participants from 34 countries came together to explore the sustainable approach in fashion and apparel. The event was live streamed on 100+ online platforms and social media channels, including Vogue Russia. Amongst those 103 online shows was also my own digital fashion collection. Under the slogan “Conscious people wear pixels”, this collection was developed utilizing leading 3D simulation software VStitcher from Browzwear and presented on hybrid digi-physical models from Metail (Eco-Shot program). Synchronized with the fashion show, a new digital fashion portal was launched, where all new looks from the featured collection are digitally available for purchase. What can I say: this was such an achievement, which I owe in some part to the pandemic.

“Can’t stop looking at the photo! It’s so cool! A new world of possibilities!” Fernanda Bernardi, MA student from London College Of Fashion wearing a digital garment from VALENTINS

Shift in the value chain

Digital 3D tools for apparel originally started up to support traditional methods, to increase speed to market and to reduce costs. The purpose was to gather all physical components, and to create a digital identical object, a “digital twin” out of it. Now, while digital fashion design tools evolve and became mature, we are starting to observe an opposite tendency when ideation and a design process occurs primarily in the 3D environment, thus digital comes first and acts as the starting point. This shift brings a great deal of value to the process: connected to a PLM system, a digital asset and its digital components can be easily shared through the entire supply chain thus ensuring consistency and transparency.

Since the digital design comes first it provides enormous creation freedom for the fashion designers but, also combining with new tools integrated into 3D systems like Adobe Substance, allows users to create totally new materials constructed only from digital elements, like combinations of unique geometries, different texture maps and lighting HDR environments. This situation raises another challenge (or should I call it an opportunity) for the fashion industry: how to reproduce digital materials into the physical realm. In other words: how to create a physical identical twin based on digital data.

Accelerated by the pandemic, looking from the perspective we now have, we can definitely expect this shift in the upcoming years or even months. Here are some questions to ask: should all and any digital material be reproduced into the physical realm? Or, alternatively, should some materials remain and be assigned only in the digital realm without being produced into the physical world and also be valued?

“Transformation literally means going beyond your form” – Wayne Dyer

Digital fashion: from now and beyond 

In these challenging times, we are also experiencing the growing shift in a consumer’s behavior particularly, and also a shift in the economic mindset in general. The economy is shifting from a constant demand-driven focus into the value-driven economy. Consumers have become more conscious about the products they are buying, in terms of sustainability, material sourcing transparency, industry workers working conditions and many more. Fashion is not anymore just about “nice cloth”, but the whole story behind it, from the moment of ideation to the moment of delivery to the consumer.

With regards to sustainability, from all sustainable approaches in fashion, digital fashion, without any doubt, is the most sustainable way to design, produce and also consume fashion today. We are consuming pixels in enormous quantities on a daily basis. So why not consume fashion that is made out of pixels, too? 3D, AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) technologies will continue to accelerate in upcoming years. As a result of this we can expect more and more areas in our industry where physical garments are replaced by the digital ones. We can expect big fashion brands to change their business models to custom, made-to-order models where consumers will be able to configure their own new garments using customizable product configurators. As well as digital assets replacing physical ones across the entire e-commerce network. We can expect growing interest in digital fashion items as well as fashion brands developing and selling digital garments alongside physical ones, while the number of physical garments will constantly go down and digital will go up. We can expect, that at the end of the transformational process, physical fashion will reduce to the small niche of fully recyclable basics, while digital fashion will explode in all it’s power and creativity as an additional, fully sustainable layer of experience!


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