A very Interesting video about Internet jargon:
Retail shopping is being transformed by technology in multiple ways. A recent article in USA Today titled ” Why shopping will never be the same,” by Jon Swartz touches on just a few of them.
This blog post has a follow-up guest post to a recent posting titled: Demand Manufacturing: AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You). I asked Bill Grier (founder and current chief technology officer (CEO) of Critical Mass Manufacturing (CMM), Bud Robinson (Chief Marketing Officer of Critical Mass Manufacturing Inc.) and Dr Peter Kilduff (chair of Cal Poly’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department (AMM)) to comment by developing the guest post below on the perfect storm currently taking place in the US apparel industry.
Current Online Apparel Sales Trends
How PAM and Mini-Factories can help us Avoid the US Apparel Industry’s Perfect Storm
We may never see a “parting of the waves” opportunity like this again, where crisis level problems meet potential solutions head on. The confluence of technological advances and market need has never been more in sync than it is today. Yet with all this opportunity the apparel sector has been slow to recognize and embrace change, blinkered and straight-jacketed via sunk investments that link distant low-cost offshore manufacturing locations to increasingly dynamic and fragmented consumer needs. The reality is that the existing US apparel marketing philosophy of mass foreign production, seasonal market overloading, up to 50% markdowns, and eventual unsold product dumping, is becoming increasingly untenable economically, environmentally, and (ultimately,) politically.
Yet, we have solutions close at hand if we just extend our reach. Here is a list of the available technologies that have developed separately over the last ten years.
- We have a massive sophisticated consumer base with an expanding multichannel retail infrastructure (ERP, CRM) ready to serve.
- Bar code SKU based prediction profiles for trends and purchasing patterns.
- Both the government (DAMA) and the private sector have created efficient and accurate tracking (RFID) and communication/control (PLM, MMS) programs for supply chain management.
- Incredible design and visualization capabilities, with digital 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) applications enhancing product development capabilities.
- Body scanning to obtain up-to-date sizing data, improved fit selections and with the promise to enable virtual reality fit to avatar permitting custom fit and custom design.
- Cutting and sewing technologies enhanced by computer integrated manufacturing systems are evolving at digital speeds.
- “Change-on-the-fly” digital printing technology that utilizes fewer water and energy resources and is perfect for the shorter runs needed by today’s fickle fashion industry.
- New advances in chemical-physics have unlocked the ability to permanently dye and print the polyester, spandex and nylon micro fabrics that dominate today’s worldwide fashion choices.
Individually, these technologies have provided the industry with opportunities for significant but incremental advances. When amalgamated, as demonstrated by the Apparel Made for You (AM4U) project, they open the way for a radical new approach to apparel retailing and manufacturing – one that begins with the consumer purchase and integrates this with fabric and garment design, retail selling and garment assembly. This Purchase Activated Manufacturing (PAM) model will produce custom-designed, custom fitted, and custom labeled apparel, eliminating finished goods inventories and dramatically improving profitability. At the same time, it will considerably reduce pollution, energy and water use, and return a significant number of apparel jobs back to the USA. PAM has the potential to be the most disruptive technical event to affect the sewn goods industry since the innovations pioneered by Elias Howe and Isaac Singer. PAM promises an answer to the building storm of eroding profit margins, and the generation of huge waste and pollution in a world progressively expending its natural resources. Not so much a perfect storm more a parting of the waves.
The Top Challenges in Apparel Retail
Reducing Out-of-Stocks. This is more critical than ever to apparel retailers, since many have adopted defensive inventory practices designed to keep only as much inventory in the store as is absolutely needed. This has put significant pressure on retailers to enhance supply chain efficiency by having real-time visibility to merchandise levels in their stores and at distribution centers. PAM/Mini-Factory: Garments are stored in digital form and sized to fit and produced when purchased. There is no out-of-stock for any product ever stored in the inventory i.e., a standard DVD will hold over 1200 digital garments including all colors and sizes.
Lowering the Cost of Inventory. Retailers had to adapt during the recession, making difficult cuts to their inventories in order to avoid overstocks and markdowns. But the short selling seasons of apparel, as well as frequent reconfiguration of products on the sales floor, makes this challenge particularly poignant in the apparel industry. PAM/Mini-Factory: By targeting PAM production on high inventory cost and high risk designs, colors and prints, retailers can use a single display or touch screen image in place of product on the floor.
Improving Speed to Market. Fashions change at blinding speed, and new trends and consumer preferences emerge at the blink of an eye – today, even more than in the past. Apparel brand-owners must get their products from the design center to the store faster than ever, and retailers must stock and sell those products immediately while consumer interest is at its highest – and before the next selling season begins. PAM/Mini-Factory: With real time design, on the fly patternmaking and one-off production, retailers can test the market continuously without delay or cost. Consumers can make, color and print changes and see them on their bodies before they purchase.
Reducing or Reallocating Labor. Gross margins on apparel have dropped significantly in the past two years as a result of the recession, as retailers have slashed prices to move merchandise. This has put renewed pressure on retailers to be more efficient with their labor allocation in order to recoup a few percentage points of margin lost by price-cutting. Additionally, more retailers have begun adopting source tagging, moving the process of attaching tags to the front end of the supply chain, where it can be done more cost effectively. PAM/Mini-Factory: Consolidation of tasks removes the dye-house, the wet printer, the label maker, the hang-tag printer, the cutter and all the transportation and duties in between these sites. The key to gross profits is not paying less per person but to pay less people. A mini-factory will pay less people higher wages and still more than double gross profit.
Generating Data to Manage and Maximize Programs. As both sales and gross margins have slipped among apparel retailers and brand owners in recent years, more money has been spent on direct-marketing programs to drive store traffic and encourage purchasing activity. But retailers need additional, real-time information in order to determine what promotions are working and which ones are not, while manufacturers need this information to determine which retailer marketing campaigns they will continue funding. PAM/Mini-Factory: PAM is both real time and real money data, plus it generates size and demographic details never before available. Remember there are no markdown or sale promotions because there is no inventory to markdown.
Preserving Brand Integrity. Apparel counterfeiting remains a huge, vexing problem. It robs retailers of legitimate sales opportunities, erodes margins, confuses supply-chain partners and erodes a brand in the eyes of consumers who receive shoddy substitutes for the real thing. Retailers and brand-owners are taking extra steps to ensure that their brands are properly and consistently presented to consumers. PAM/Mini-Factory: Total manufacturing control of high end products allows security and anti-counterfeit techniques and applications never before possible.
Enhancing Customer Satisfaction. Research from Harvard Business School has consistently noted that when a product is out of stock when a customer comes in, that customer is highly likely to shop for the product in another store and perhaps unlikely to return again in the future to the original store for that product. It also means that the customer doesn’t buy additional apparel products and accessories, robbing the retailer of important add-on sales and profits. PAM/Mini-Factory: The consumer participates in the fitting and coloring in real time online or in the store and since the inventory is digital nothing is ever out of stock.
Reducing Shrink. Apparel is the number-two category for shrink worldwide, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer. Reducing shrink is a huge step toward improving the bottom line of apparel retailers, especially considering that higher-margin products such as accessories, designer-label clothing and intimate apparel are stolen at even higher rates. PAM/Mini-Factory: Every garment has an owner before it even starts through the factory. Elimination of shrink is a major contributor to increased gross profit.
Maximizing Sales. At a fundamental level, retailers are in business to sell products that their customers want to buy, and they need to do everything possible to maximize sales. Having the right mix of products, maintaining adequate shelf availability, and keeping prices competitive are all key to their long-term success. PAM/Mini-Factory: The PAM selling strategy increases consumer participation, provides for multichannel convenience (in store, online/in store pickup, online/ship) and creates personal tailor level customer loyalty.
An example of the PAM Mini-Factory strategy for recovering the US apparel manufacturing base can be seen daily in thousands of Lowes, Home Depot, Orchard Supply, and other home centers and paint stores through the country. Paint was a staple product for years but it suffered from high inventory costs and large floor space consumption. The problem was that every color had to be in stock and if you did try to mix a new color it was almost impossible to match the customer’s chip. Sound familiar…? Then a smart young lady decided to apply the new low cost spectrophotometer technology to the problem. This permitted colors to be mixed and matched in-store right at the counter with white paint! Voila! Purchase Activated Manufacturing mini-factories were born in home centers across the United States (and the rest of the world)! Suddenly, integrated diverse technologies joined to reduce waste and inventory and more than double gross profit.
Standby, because in the next guest blog post, Bill, Bud and Peter will demonstrate how to maximize profits through matrix product selection and multichannel sales distribution.
“Demand Manufacturing” what is it? Just as it states, it directly connects consumers’ demand to manufacturing. The AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You) concept represents the set-up of turnkey purchase activated manufacture (PAM) mini-factories in the USA for making and selling active performance apparel online. With this method the need for all finished goods inventory will be eliminated. Mini plants can be placed inside a distribution site or near a shopping hub and can be easily moved on two trucks.
Bud Robinson is Chief Marketing Officer of Critical Mass Manufacturing Inc, (CMM) which is the leading member of a group of apparel industry advisors to Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Apparel Merchandising and Management (AMM). Dr. Peter Kilduff, Chair of AMM has assembled a team to demonstrate a revolutionary new way to manufacture and market Active Apparel. “Bud’s Apparel background includes: President of Levi Strauss International, and President of Hang Ten and Catalina Swimwear, he was also EVP of the Gap Stores and was instrumental in their startup. Bud is coordinating the AMM advisory group that has incorporated itself as AM4U.
Bill Grier is a pioneer in the digital printing industry and he is also the inventor of numerous international and US patents. Bill is the founder and current chief technology officer (CEO) of Critical Mass Manufacturing (CMM). For the AMM demonstration project that Bud recently coordinated, Bill teamed up with Styku virtual body-scanning, Tukatech Apparel Technology, AIMS apparel management system and Eton Systems to launch an initial demand manufacturing AM4U prototype project aimed at illustrating how consumers can be directly connected to manufacturing to create the demand manufacturing process.
After listening to Bill speak so eloquently about the AM4U demand manufacturing mini manufacturing modules he would like to see set-up across the US, I decided that you should have an opportunity to listen to him talk more in detail about the historical background of how numerous developments in technology have come together to create a “perfect storm of opportunity and transformation for the American apparel industry.”
Audio interview here – please listen to Bill’s historical background story.
| Bill details the historical background:
The companies initially came together with Cal Poly Pomona’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department to work on the project, hoping to find a solution to waste and overproduction in the apparel industry.
The video clip below represents the initial demonstration of the AM4U solution. AM4U’s mentor Dr Peter Kilduff, chair of Cal Poly’s Apparel Merchandising and Management department (AMM) explains one of the major problems plaguing American manufacturing. He introduces how AM4U technology has the capacity to change the apparel industry from supply and demand to demand and supply.
Critical Mass Manufacturing: Cost Effective Demand to Supply Green Technology
When I spoke to Bill Grier about this green cost-effective demand and supply technology he spoke passionately of his dream to bring the industrial base in textiles back to the U.S. by doing demand manufacturing.” Bill went on to say that “The Internet is not about price it’s about choice. Our purpose is to make the technology or products available to people who need them on a wider scale. The AM4U concept represents a huge shift for the apparel industry. It’s switching supply and demand to demand and supply.”
CMM has developed the Active Tunnel Coloration (ATC) process (patent pending) that replaces huge water-based dye houses. No water or hazardous chemicals are used.This represents a green technology with no use of chemicals.
- that the colors produced by his method are so permanent that you could pour bleach on it and the colors will never change. Cleaning agents or bleach cannot affect the coloration of the fabric, resulting in the most durable colored fabrics available. Since water is eliminated in the AM4U color application process, production is simplified.
This technology allows color changes on the fly, any colors and different colors for each garment, that includes all over prints and graphics. This process will eliminate finished goods inventory and the related carrying costs will increase retained gross profits by up to 100%.
CMM’s technology is devised around a single principle: The fiber itself contains enough energy to conduct colorization from the energy stored in the fiber, rather than requiring external chemicals to create color.
What we found is that there was energy stored in the fiber when it was formed that we could trigger to move dye into the fiber.
Most fabric coloring requires mass production through multiple processes and factories, which often results in excess fabric from over-estimating production. This technology enables dying, printing and labeling only the amount of fabric needed, all on one machine in a single pass and on a much quicker schedule, instead of a designer having to place an order overseas to separate dye houses and printing manufacturers.
Grier’s technology is devised around a single principle: The fiber itself contains enough energy to conduct colorization from the energy stored in the fiber, rather than requiring external chemicals to create color, Grier explained.
“What we found is that there was energy stored in the fiber when it was man-made that we could release at certain frequencies,” Grier said.
Currently, his research has been limited to man-made polymers, such as nylon and polyester.
Beyond the environmental benefits of conserving water, the new technology also helps conserve resources by enabling users to use demand manufacturing, which negates the need for over-production, Grier says.
Most fabric dyeing requires mass production through multiple factories, which often results in excess fabric from over-estimating production, Grier explained. His technology enables him to dye, print and imprint only the amount of fabric needed, all on one machine and on a much quicker schedule, instead of a designer having to place an order overseas to separate dye houses and printing manufacturers, Grier said.
“We’re trying to tie the manufacturing speed directly to consumer takeaway speed. That way, there’s no extra production. We can produce a one-off for the Internet for the same price as mass production,” he said.
Grier said this technology could help bring the textile industry back to the United States instead of relying on large-scale mass printing and production overseas.
“Four out of every five blouses produced overseas is not sold at retail price. That means we’ve produced four blouses more than we need for the marketplace, and the water use is somewhere around 100 to 150 gallons of water per blouse, so if we don’t produce four of them because the technology is closer to the consumer, we’ve saved water and pollution,” He explained. “Water is becoming a precious commodity, especially in California, and without waterless technology we lose the ability to control our own destiny on the products we produce in California.”
Top Benefits of AM4U Technology
- A perfect Fit every time for the consumer.
- A zero inventory production system.
- ACT technology save the environment by eliminating the use of billions of gallons of water with no caustic chemicals.
- Very important is the bottom line - AM4U technology will result in a 40% higher profit and will produce thousands of new jobs.
Higher Education Partnerships Wanted
Bill Grier and Bud Robinson would like to partner with higher education to continue testing AM4U (Apparel Made 4 You) demand manufacturing green technology. At the same time they would like to support higher education by providing an opportunity for schools and students to build funding streams for more student centered research projects. They will provide more details in an upcoming post.
If you can’t wait here is contact information for you:
Unique Solutions Tanya Shaw, President [Founder] and CEO of Me-Ality by Unique Solutions
Exciting things are happening at Unique Solutions. Body scanners that aim to ensure the perfect fit have attracted a $30-million investment for Unique Solutions.
Northwater Capital Management Inc.’s Intellectual Property Fund is putting the money into Unique Solutions Design Ltd. The cash infusion will allow Unique Solutions to open more than 300 of its scanning kiosks across North America by the end of 2013. Tanya Shaw states, “As of June 2012, 500,000 people have been scanned and Me-Ality has over 65 size matching locations that are open in malls across the US.” [article link: Body scanners help shoppers get better fit]
Where will all of those body scanners be located? Click here to see if one will be near you.
Size matching service answers the frustrating question…What is my size?
No more will our shopping experience either in the real world or the on-line world involve totally guessing how that brand will fit you. It is an open secret that there are no consistent sizing standards for clothing brands so it is a total gamble for a prospective buyer especially when they are purchasing online how that particular brand will fit. Vanity sizing is common among brands and some brands use it to give them a psychological ” vanity edge.” [translation: $ales] Instead of “those lying eyes” in retail it is now “Oh those lying brand sizes,” combined with a dose of self-denial from all of us.
Some brands actively manipulate the sizes to appeal to the customers vanity ego as a competitive tool to use against other brands with similar price points, but other brands have honestly been trying to provide as much information as possible to empower their customers to order the best size for their body shape. They realize that the lo$$ percentage due to returns from chaotic and random sizing far outnumbers the additional rate of sales for “vanity sizing.”
The task in the past has been near impossible. Why? Because the culturally diverse US only has one sizing survey “public” database [SizeUSA] in the last 40 years. [see 3D Bodyscanner - Ready to Wear, Cornell University]
From the [TC]² site about Size USA:
[TC]² conducted a comprehensive sizing survey of the U.S. population, scanning nearly 11,000 individuals in 12 locations across the U.S. The first such survey in over 40 years, SizeUSA provides current measurements on the sizes and shapes of today’s adult consumer. [NY Times archive article]
Using this vast data base of scanned subjects, [TC]² can provide statistically accurate shape and sizing data analysis for manufacturers, brands, and retailers to improve fit.
SIZE UK using TC2 scanners
TC2 scanners were used to gather 3D body scans for SIZE_UK_STATISTICS during 2001 & 2002. During this time approximately 11,000 scans were captured and a total of 1.5 million measurements have been analysed.
Alvanon sizing surveys in China and France:
In 2008 Alvanon released the results of a body scanning survey in China and published those results: A 2008 fashion industry survey: The average US female is 5’4″ at 155 lb?
Alavanon also collaborated with: the Institute Francais du Textile et de l’Habillement (IFTH) to create standard French sizes for the apparel industry. The study, conducted by IFTH in 2006, which included more than 11,500 scans of French citizens in 37 different sites in France, provides powerful insight into how to improve fit for the French body for apparel brands both in France and those seeking to gain a competitive advantage in the market Link to announcement here.
Phase I? What is Phase II?
Now the title of this blog posting is that Me-Ality represents Phase I towards revolutionizing the way we shop. You may be wondering what is phase II? Really exciting developments are underway right now incorporating Microsoft Kinect based technology to initiate and fast forward development of the Phase II: that includes the development of holy grail home fit services for online shopping. Bodyscanning on the retail site “or at home” and in addition to accurate body size match up to a variety of brands. Once the users body is scanned, the user can then virtually select and try on brands [to test accurate fit] that are matched up to the bodyscan. Customized clothing or garment patterns can be ordered from in store “or home” using this service. Here is a link to some earlier research in this area from Cornell University College of Human Ecology. More in future posts.
Update: If Me-Ality installs 300 bodyscanner brand size matching services in shopping centers across North America, they will have addressed and resolved a portion of the accurate sizing issue for online retailers. Once your accurate body measurements are in the Me-Ality database, you can shop online for accurate fitting clothing.
About Unique Solutions Ltd.
They develop and commercialize advanced body measurement technologies and maintain the largest database of body measurements that accurately reflects the real size and shape of people. The company’s proprietary technology yields aggregate data and body measurement information that readily translates into better fitting products and services.
Me-Ality [formerly mybestfit]
What is it? Me-Ality is a FREE service that matches body sizing to specific brand sizing measurements that takes less than 10 minutes from Scan to Shopping Guide and makes it easy to find the best fitting clothes for your unique body. Customers are given a shopping list of jeans and apparel that will fit and flatter them. Specific brands and stores in the mall that carry those brands are listed to find their selections. They can also narrow their list to specific style features, or to favorite brands, or the price they want to pay.
Here is a link that will show you the current brands that are working with the Me-Ality service.
The Intellifit Virtual Fitting Room is a high-accuracy scanner utilizing low emitting radio waves to capture 200,000 points of data on a fully clothed individual in less than 20 seconds. It includes a high-volume transaction server to store a customer’s shopping profile and body measurement information. The data collected can be converted into body measurements for the purpose of size and styling recommendations, product customization as well as health and wellness indicators and progress tracking.
Online Size and Stylist Recommendation Software
Unique licenses its customer measurement database for use in body research, and technical design applications. This data could also be licensed in aggregate to apparel brands, or used for marketing to consumers through their affiliate programs through our mybestfit service.
The program is available to retailers and apparel and lifestyle manufacturers who sell apparel and lifestyle products through an e-commerce portal; or want to enhance their brick-and-mortar customer experience with the ability to quickly size-match customers to their products. Managed Business Services An all-inclusive scanning service offered to industries which require high volume scanning (measurement collection) during a specified and short period of time. This service is aimed at those who would like the scanner to come to their location as opposed to sending people to an outside location. Consumer Reports Fitness and wellness Comprehensive Measurements.
Links to Unique Solutions News
Direct update from Gregory Saumier-Finch, General Manager of My Virtual Model
We have updated our 3 products: Weightloss Avatar, Virtual Dressing Room, and Tog Outfitting Solution. A public API will be launched this summer that will enable developers to build their own weight loss applications for web and mobile. We are getting a lot of interest for the Tog Outfitting solution that uses professional photography and supports different mannequin poses. The Virtual Dressing Room can now use garments digitized at a lower cost per garment. email@example.com
This week there is a MUST READ article by By Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY titled,” Unlike reality, virtual retail sales are hot, especially for avatars. ” The article verifies the trends that the Fashion Research Institute has previously concluded. Millions of people are buying virtual fashion items and sales are booming.
There is a section that illustrates CEOS’ AVATARS: What virtual-world execs find fashionable. Mark Kingdon CEO of Linden Lab, Neil Edwards CEO of Cellufun and Cary Rosenzweig CEO of IMVU are pictured along with their customized avatars.
Second Life CEO Mark Kingdon states that perhaps the bad economic conditions in the real world are positively impacting sales in the virtual worlds.
“Virtual goods cost a fraction of what goods cost in the real world,” Kingdon says. “You can get a beautiful pair of white ice skates for … less than $2.”
The USA Today article has a short explanation of how the buying and selling process works in a virtual world but if you want to know how it works in Second Life – listen to Missy’s virtual internship interview. Missy’s SL Virtual Internship Interview I ask Missy to explain the entire buying and selling process of virtual fashion goods in Second Life.
The USA Today article goes on to state that:
“IMVU, a social-networking site and virtual world that caters to 13- to 24-year-olds, does more than $2 million in sales each month. Almost all of the virtual goods sold on IMVU are made by users, who keep the proceeds. IMVU makes its money selling the credits used to buy virtual goods. Overall December sales are expected to be up 20% over November, and sales will be about $22 million this year, mostly from the direct sale of virtual credits to users.”
In an earlier guest post FRI: Virtual Fashion Internships by Shenlei Winkler [CEO of Fashion Research Institute], she summarized current retail fashion trends for the virtual world:
“we think the virtual goods marketplace will burgeon rapidly. In 2007, virtual goods accounted for $2.6 billion in sales. Although the total value of virtual goods pales in comparison to the $1.7 trillion apparel industry, this market compares very favorably with the accessories market which generates about $1.8 billion in sales. Various analyst reports indicate that the virtual goods marketplace is set to double in 2010. Fashion designers are often encouraged to move into handbags and other accessories to add a new revenue stream and enable brand extension. With virtual goods slated to open up further in 2010, designers should definitely consider this new niche market they can readily move into which can help them generate more sales in a completely new area.”
The growing trends of virtual fashion sales and the translation into real currency for this market translates into viable reasons for fashion education to begin addressing the niche market of virtual fashion.
Please try to attend the student fashion installation in Second Life this Monday, December 7th from 7-8PM ET [4PM SLT/PT] for Missy Lavecchia, a Buffalo State fashion student. Missy has been interning for the past 9 months with Shenlei Winkler [aka: Shenlei Flasheart in SL] from the Fashion Research Institute. This installation will represent Missy’s first solo show in Second Life.
Shenlei Winkler, CEO pf the Research Institute states that:
“Missy will be showing formal gowns developed in rich jewel tones in honor of the holiday season. Her gowns, fittingly enough, will be presented in an opulent winter wonderland of snow and ice. A dozen gorgeous models and 4 handsome gentlemen callers will showcase Missy’s romantic gowns in a tableaux befitting the set.
Please join us on Monday December 7th, at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT in Shengri La Second Life to celebrate the outstanding work of this star performer as her models show her work with aplomb.
Here’s the SLurl Link to teleport you into SL for Missy’s show: The set will not be open to the public until 7 pm ET promptly – early arrivals will just end up wandering aimlessly around in our marketplace so please wait until 7pm ET to teleport over.”
Missy has the Bella Fantastique boutique in Second Life. Here is a SLURL link to her boutique.
Other blog postings related to Missy:
Head on over to Shenlei Winkler’s [FRI] post detailing last minute preparation for the Threading the Needle Fashion Design Conference
I visited the conference area in the images below. Shenlei orientated my avatar and provided it with clothing, hair, skin and shoes. Thank you Shenlei! Here is a link to the FRI orientation page. I visited the conference area where I will be presenting.
I managed to snap an image of Steven Zucker obsessing about his avatar’s nose. It look just fine to me Steven! :)
[Note: this is a guest post by Shenlei Winkler, CEO of the Fashion Research Institute, Inc., 419 Lafayette, NYC, NY 10013 [ph 646-688-4042] [fx 646-688-4043]
- Author, Designing Dreams: Best Practices for the Art & Business of Avatar Apparel Design & Development
- Author, Shengri La Spirit: A Designer’s Perspective of the Making of OpenSim
Fashion Research Institute has been working in virtual worlds for the past few years, exploring them as platforms and tools for use by the $1.7 trillion apparel industry. We have since developed a design application, Black Dress Design Studio, which is currently in closed alpha. Black Dress shows promise of being a disruptive technology for the industry, as well as a game changer for the way product is developed in both apparel and in the much larger soft consumer goods industries.
As we worked in the virtual world space, our understanding of both the potential power and range of the platform, and our understanding of how to educate fashion designers using virtual world platforms grew and changed. We knew that understanding how people learn is as critical to our success in bringing our application to market as making sure the application is ‘right’. With that understanding as a basis, we launched a series of educational programs, which currently include our Shengri La Marketplace program and our student internships.
Both of these programs focus on educating designers and helping them achieve their dreams. There are critical differences: the Marketplace program is intended to help designers of virtual goods, or ‘virtua’, develop their label in these virtual spaces. These designers have varying educational backgrounds and they have a burning desire to create within virtual worlds. Their product is not intended to ever be manufactured in the industrial complex, nor will it be sold through usual apparel industry retail channels. This product is sold to the users of avatars for some of the same reasons we buy real life apparel – we want to customize our appearance in a way that sends a message to people who see us. Obviously in a virtual world we don’t need to be concerned about fit or function, nor on manufacturability, which can be very freeing for the creative spirit. The Marketplace program has a rolling admission deadline.
The internship program, in contrast, is designed to teach fashion student designers how to go through the process of developing a collection from original concept to final runway show. Using virtual worlds as the platform, we take our interns through a fast-paced development sequence where they learn about both the art and business of design and development.
Our internships run about sixteen weeks. In that time the interns are expected to develop marketing concepts for their label, which include logo, showroom, storefront, customer service policies, packaging, and an overall look and feel for their line. They use these concepts to present their actual collection to the virtual goods marketplace in Second Life. The interns are expected to create all components of a collection during their internship – we have them create a mood board, color stories, and materials story, which we keep displayed in their workspace for reference.
The interns are taught to develop product using the in-world content creation tools. We maintain presence on several grids, and we usually have them prototype their designs on one of our OpenSim grids because there is no cost for developing on our grids. When they are ready to develop for the marketplace, they develop their product on the Second life platform, package up their outfits, and place them in vendors. They receive immediate feedback – either their outfits sell, or they don’t!
Our interns are expected to complete one look a week from their original sketches, developed in 3-6 colorways. Our goal is to help the interns produce a visual ‘story’ for their portfolio that shows they understand how the product development cycle works in the real life apparel industry. Using these low risk platforms enables us to take our interns through the process at a nominal cost. They are encouraged to explore the full parameter space of their own creativity.
Our final project with our interns is to help them produce a full virtual runway show with live models presenting their designs to a general audience. These shows are group shows where the interns collaborate to define their theme, name the show and determine the run order for the models. The interns are all individually responsible for styling their models and determining makeup, hair, and accessories to complete the look. They must also select pre-determined poses for their models to strike at the end of the runway.
FRI has a team of dedicated volunteer models who generously offer their time for fittings and the show. They also provide needed moral support and encouragement. The FRI team builds the runway and make sure that all of the models are correctly styled. We also manage the overall show including media and marketing. In addition, we have an audience of supporters who are gracious enough to come to the shows and demonstrate their support of our student designers by blogging about their work, buying their work, and simply being present and giving these new talents a bit of an ego boost.
At the end of the runway show, our interns have a chance to be recognized for all of their hard work by taking a bow on the runway. They depart with valuable experience in the real life development process. We stop short of pulling physical samples but the design cycle is the same and when the time comes for them to enter the work force, they will recognize the design process because they have already been through it. The educational process is fast-paced and demanding, and we set very high standards for them to reach.
Virtual Goods Marketplace Trends
We’re particularly excited to be working with our student interns from Buffalo State university because we think the virtual goods marketplace will burgeon rapidly. In 2007, virtual goods accounted for $2.6 billion in sales. Although the total value of virtual goods pales in comparison to the $1.7 trillion apparel industry, this market compares very favorably with the accessories market which generates about $1.8 billion in sales. Various analyst reports indicate that the virtual goods marketplace is set to double in 2010. Fashion designers are often encouraged to move into handbags and other accessories to add a new revenue stream and enable brand extension. With virtual goods slated to open up further in 2010, designers should definitely consider this new niche market they can readily move into which can help them generate more sales in a completely new area.
Not only is there a business case to be made for providing design for this niche, but designers can also use the low-risk OpenSim platform to explore new design ideas, and to show their work 24/7 on special runways, where models can walk the catwalk at a touch of the button and show off designs as they are meant to be: in 3D and moving.
Virtual/Real Runway 3.0 Project
We are very excited to be working with the talented students designers from Buffalo State University, and we’re very much looking forward to our Spring work with them. Working virtually, we will be helping them develop the exact same looks to present on our virtual runways as they will be showing in real life in their graduating senior runway show, ‘Runway 3.0′. Our work with them will extend even outside of our virtual space. We’ll be taking a day to tour them through the fashion district in New York City, the home of fashion. And finally, we’ll be working with them as technical fashion designers to help them create real world apparel with a decided technical bent: we’re going to help them add motors, lights, and more!
Virtual Intern Applications Being Accepted
We’re accepting new applications for our next internship cycle from Fashion Programs, which begins at the end of January. Admission is highly selective. For more information, please visit www.fashionresearchinstitute.com
I would like to include a link to the Bella Fantasique blog that Missy started when her virtual fashion brand concept was developed in the summer of 2009. If you would like to visit Missy’s Bella Fantasique store in Second Life to see all the virtual fashion garments she has developed for yourself here is a SLurl to teleport you there. If you do not want to visit in-world yet but would like to see Missy’s fashions here is a link to her fashion products on the XSTREET Marketplace. You can purchase something there and have it delivered in-world to you or to someone else as a virtual gift.
After Missy’s SL Virtual Internship Interview ended and I uploaded the podcast, I thought of some additional questions others may have for Missy regarding this entire virtual internship experience. I sent the questions to Missy and her responses are below.
1. Are your Second Life experiences relavant to any of your fashion education classes? If so in what way?
My Second Life experiences are related to two fashion classes I have taken at Buffalo State college thus far, FTT208:Introduction to Fashion Technologies and FTT308: FashionCAD. Both are fashion CAD classes, using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Once I learned the basics in those two classes, I was able to learn so much more about those programs.
2. Do you feel that the experiences that you are simulating in second life regarding developing a brand and coordinated fashion lines, presenting and merchandising your brand integrates and simulates the knowledge and skills that you are learning in your fashion education classes?
If anything else, Second Life inspires me. I am eager to create and design garments and have the ability to change what I am making with a simple click of a button, instead of having to completely redo a sewn garment. I am faster at finding ways to get things done more efficiently in my fashion classes.
3. Are your fashion design and merchandising related experiences in Second Life providing you with a clearer picture of what is involved in the real world design and merchandising process? If so how?
Second Life is making having a fashion line real to me. It’s a fast pace enviroment and putting your ideas into Photoshop and Illustrator and then into Second Life virtually shows an image of what my designs would look like on a body, without the cost of materials and sewing time. I like seeing the progression of sketches to actual garments, and it cuts time so much shorter to see it on a virtual body first to make sure everything looks they way I want it. I also have always had a love for marketing and the business side of fashion, and I get to do this in SL by running my store and modeling. So it’s the best of both worlds… literally. [note from e.polvinen: Missy really does mean this literally because the Lindens $L she makes from selling her virtual fashions are easily converted into $US dollars.]
4. Would you recommend a virtual fashion design and merchandising experience to other fashion students?
I absolutely would recommend virtual design to other fashion students because that is where technology is taking us. If we have the programs available, it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with them, in order to make presentations and amazing concept boards. So many things are done now with the computer, so why not make fashion with it too?
From my own experience as a professor teaching fashion students introduction to fashion concepts in Second Life for the last three years, it is an ideal platform for developing unified fashion garment/line /brand concepts, building presentation skills, organizational skills, fashion terminology, business and marketing skills…and it’s an opportunity to makes real $$$.
Other blog postings related to Missy:
There is a reason that my posts have not been frequent since the spring semester ended. I have been focusing on developing two on-line courses for fall 2008. One is totally in world and on ANGEL. See post titled: Register for College Level Intro to Virtual Fashion in SL [fall 08'] I would like to invite Fashion professors from other countries that would like to sponsor a fashion student for an independent study to participate in this class with me. If you are interested – please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learning to conceptualize, work and develop in a free 3D virtual application like Second Life will introduce fashion students for the transformative changes that are currently underway in the global fashion industry. If students gain a comfort level working in a virtual world, their learning curve for a multidimensional product development application will be substantially reduced.
I have also been “officially” retooling over to the multidimensional OptiTex technology; it is the next logical step to prepare future professionals for the 3D transformational changes that are currently taking place in the global fashion industry. I have a twenty year CAD/CAM technology background that includes retooling, developing course materials and teaching surface/textile design for industry, computer pattern making, marker making and more recently 3D fashion applications.
The 360 degree rotational images that are possible with this system can be used for marketing or pre-marketing. Perhaps even using the digital 3D imagary for a mass personalization retail marketing application like MVM’s BrandMe. Developing a fashion product in digital format from square one will save time, cut costs and facilitate marketing of the product on line in addition to collaborating directly with the manufacturer in 3D to eliminate costly development miscommunication errors.
I would like to integrate the OptiTex cutting-edge CAD/CAM Marker, PDS and Modulate programs in the curriculum. The reasons why I selected OptiTex to retool on are listed in my blog posting titled: Technology Day at FIT: Teaching and learning in Four Dimensions.
I have been working on it for the past three-four weeks now and it’s a totally amazing application! I am planning to develop some basic pattern development and modification tutorials, so I thought I would begin by sharing a bit of the stitching, simulation and 3D viewing for a basic sloper video [posted above] that I created following the instructions from Helen Joseph Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design. The Optitex online support Wiki is both an exceptional learning and teaching tool, it will facilitate quick response retooling for educators and industry.
Oh by the way – the fabric pattern in the video above was from a portion of a Second Life screen shot during a visit last evening with Bettina Tizzy [and some close colleagues from FIT] at CHakryn Forest. Bettina founded the working group “Not Possible IRL,” : 1) To identify, showcase and promote content creation in virtual worlds that would not be possible in Real Life; 2) To seek and disseminate knowledge that empowers content creators; and 3) To advocate for better recognition and protection of the rights of content creators in virtual environments. Here are some FLICKER links to NPIRL [Not Possible In real Life] : Situations Not Possible in Real Life (NPIRL) and Avatars Not Possible in Real Life (NPIRL).
…and here one of the textures [that I used in the video above] that I developed from the image above in Photoshop.
Here are two more from the same inspiration…
As I stated during my presentation at Technology Day at FIT, RMIT and Ryerson, if fashion education does not initiate the type of quick response solution (that students are taught with regards to the real world) to the unprecedented transformational technology shift that is taking place over to 3D, they run the serious risk of becoming redundant and obsolete and could actually be the driving force for industry to develop private training institutes.”
The primary focus of this Virtual Fashion Technology blog is to document the transition and expansion from 2D traditional to 2D Digital to 3D virtual for apparel textile product design, development and retailing. Retooling on a multidimensional fashion product development application will be a major contribution.
© 2008 All Rights Reserved.
Technology Day at FIT: Teaching and learning in Four Dimensions
Panel Presentation: Preparing the Next Generation of Industry Executives for the next Generation of Marketing Tools: YouTube and More. Susan Reda, Executive Director of Stores Magazine, Kathy Savitt, Chief Marketing Officer, American Eagle Outfitters & David Polinchock, Founder and Chief Experience Officer, Brand Experience Lab.
Ms. Savitt began speaking about AEO – American Eagle Outfitters. Their mission is to be generous with their brand. She stated that, “Content is King, distribution is Queen and the Arch Duchess.”
77E is a dedicated unscripted content entertainment platform on A&E. MTV will run the show. It has unscripted content with social community building blocks via Stylehive, a new media application. Stylehive is a social community where users can share and bookmark trends. [note: another similar community is Stylefeeder]
No sharing between divisions was mentioned by David Polinchock as an example of a growth stifling issue within a company. [note: that is also true in an educational institution.] He went on to state that some of the rules are changing with new instant social community media. An example was described about a customer that had a very unpleasant experience trying on clothing at a well-known retailer – the experience was “twittered” from the dressing room and was immediately picked up and amplified by multiple blogs.
YouTube was mentioned as a new media and postings of the The Charmin Potty Party promotion. The Charmin Potty Party was group of custom designed Charmin Bathrooms set up in Times Square as a Christmas gift to New Yorkers in 2006.
An example of a brand that uses new media technology to their advantage is Zappos. They made use of Twitter as a promotional community marketing and promotional tool by selecting someone from their Twitter community for a free pair of shoes.
The panel mentioned some top leaders in the next generation marketing and why they stand out.
- Zappos Twitter channel – they are using new channels and helping people engage.
- E-Shirts – took an industry that never changed and to rethink how they do business.
- Nike ID on Facebook– a consumer destination for designing personalizing and customizing NIKEID footwear, apparel and equipment.
- Webkinz – building a social marketing community
When something is launched online there is immediate attention. Relevance is now the criteria. Unscripted content like concerts, music, spring break is not vulnerable but scripted content is vulnerable because when you create scripted content you may get comments that you don’t want.
The panelists felt Second Life would evolve into a mixed reality. They mentioned some RL business ventures and why they “dabbled” in SL but then abandoned it after 12-18 months. Many business people walked away perhaps because they did not take the time to truly understand how to integrate the RL and the virtual world experiences. Businesses did not want to get involved if they did not want to deliver a unique and compelling experience.
One of the biggest problems with a brand trying new things is that they don’t understand the media. Unless they really make a commitment and find their voice they will be lost. The definition of success differs from brand to brand. If the focus is “only” on the product or “only” on the brand you could get in trouble with your message but if focus is “only” on the customer then stupid irrelevant material will not be developed if new media is your content.
The panel discussed “standards” on a site. They stated that standards can be limiting but some people go to a place specifically because they have standards. There is room a a lot of different options regarding standards.
How new marketing tools could impact marketing strategies was a topic of discussion. New media is an unbelievable opportunity to get customer data. [note: the new viral marketing tool that MVM has developed for retailers popped into my mind at this point]
- offers a way for companies to get smart.
- empowers companies to directly engage with their customer base.
- enables creation of a customer community that can be integrated into a company Website.
- provides branding authenticity.
- provides companies the opportunity to engage outside of the bricks and mortar.
Because of the new media tools – people are using brands to do more. And finally the most important statement for last – companies that focus and serve customers will take on a level of honesty that is contagious.
Raymond Yee, Author of Pro Web 2.0 Mashups: Remixing Data and Web Services presented “Create Mashups to make the Web Your Own.”
Raymond gave an excellent demonstration of what is involved in building a customized mashup with the Pipes Web application. He also demonstrated the Picnik application that is integrated into FLICKR to photo edit images on the Web.
Raymond also spoke about the Open Source FLICKR viewer in Sl. Here is a link to an article about it. This is a fantastic development! Up until now we had to upload each image that was needed to present a slide presentation in SL for $10L each upload. Now it will be possible to use our FLICKR images to project into SL.
…to be continued.
Link to my FLICKR images from the conference.
© 2008 All Rights Reserved.