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New tools to digitalise wasteful fashion industry

An EU-funded project is looking to integrate a body-scanning smartphone app that could help reduce waste and environmental damage.

Digital Economy

Technology can disrupt the use-and-throw-away fashion industry by digitalising key stages of apparel design and production, moving towards a future vision of producing garments only as they are required. The EU-funded AVATAR project initially aimed to develop 3D digital avatars of buyers to personalise fitting and customise fashion choices. But the team changed its focus, as the market feasibility study undertaken as part of the project identified major gaps in the fashion industry. “We moved from the first idea of developing avatars – avatar technologies already exist, even if they have limited functionality – to a new model of the fashion industry,” says project coordinator Kateřina Čihařová, CEO of Innovation Leadership Agency (ILA) in Prague. “There is a cacophony of many technologies that are partial solutions for partial problems in the industry,” says Ivan Dvořák, ILA founder and managing director. “We mapped both the innovation and technology landscape and market supply and demand in the digital fashion area. This threw up gaps in the market. We regard it as a business opportunity to integrate the whole process of designing and producing digital or virtual garments.”

Inefficient and wasteful process

“Textile and apparel production is very inefficient and devastating for the environment,” Dvořák explains. “Some 75–85 % of the dresses produced are never worn,” he adds. “Big fashion outlets introduce a collection, have it for a couple of weeks then throw it out. The waste is enormous, the process consumes vast amounts of water and the dyeing process causes extensive environmental pollution. Microfibres from the garments pollute the oceans. And the industry grows and grows.” The AVATAR project is aiming for a future in which garments will only be produced when everything is confirmed by the client. But, the team believes, before this can happen, every aspect of design and production must be digitalised and integrated.

Digitalised fitting and patterns

The project’s vision of a totally different type of industry starts with the avatar on mobile phones that measures the body in real time, creating a digital representation. The customer would then go to a tailor, specialised agency or e-shop and choose digital clothes to dress their avatar. “You adapt it digitally and see how it looks. We are working on making these avatars move so that they can also be used as models for a fashion show or catwalk, as part of the vision of producing dresses with no waste,” Čihařová says. A library of avatars of existing models is being developed in cooperation with fashion fairs and collections agencies, reducing the need for models to travel for try-outs. The project has also created a library of 3D garments that includes tailoring patterns which can be digitally adapted, saving paper. The library currently has 260 garments in 3D, with the goal of digitalising around 800. “We can offer fashion designers and apparel producers a set of tools, including the library, plus consultancy support to help them master the new integrated technology,” Dvořák says. “Big players do everything in-house but medium players will outsource this part of their work.” The company is currently testing interest, offering avatars and digital patterns to fashion designers to download for free, with a feedback questionnaire. The response so far has been mixed. “Older, well-known designers are resistant and see it as a betrayal of their art. On the other hand, many younger people are very enthusiastic,” Dvořák adds.

Keywords

AVATAR, fashion, dyeing, apparel, garments, avatars, fashion designers, microfibres, environment

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Digital Economy

5 November 2018