Going Green, Going Virtual: Kontoor Advances Use of 3D Design
Throughout the last decade, Kontoor’s Wrangler and Lee brands have been investing, developing and adapting their approach to designing garments in a virtual or 3D environment. This technique dramatically reduces both physical waste and the company’s environmental footprint through reduced fabric sampling and fewer physical prototypes. As technology continues to improve, more collections are being developed virtually, which allows for a collaborative, sustainable creative process. Now, as the world reacts to the new realities brought on by COVID-19, apparel brands like Wrangler and Lee are also shifting their perspective on virtual design as no longer experimental, but essential.
“Even many in the industry weren’t ready for virtual design when COVID-19 arrived, we were,” said Leigh LaVange, Patterns Team Manager, Kontoor Brands. “Fashion is a very tactile industry – some people feel like they need to touch and feel garments. But when the coronavirus hit, it was more difficult to source garments and samples, and we were unable to meet in person. We were forced to adapt, but thankfully – because of our previous focus on virtual design technology – we already had the tools ready. And everyone quickly got on board.”
Added Mitch Stadler, 3D Designer, Kontoor Brands, “Virtual design really presented something that was accurate and reliable in a time of uncertainty.”
Implementation of virtual design is no small undertaking. Designers have to train their eyes to look at virtual garments. All fits, styles and textures must be accurately digitized to be consistent across 3D modeling software so the computer can accurately mimic how the designs will drape on various body types. When done correctly, 3D design provides a method for taking a concept through to completion with minimal excess waste and increased creative efficiencies.
“The amount that we've done virtually from a fit perspective has really created a competitive advantage,” said Jamie Fason, Director of Merchandising for Wrangler. “And to see how far we've advanced the technology further as a design, merchandising, consumer insights and sales tool is absolutely incredible.”
Virtual design benefits Kontoor in that its more cost efficient and is environmentally conscious, but it also appeals to eco-minded consumers who are increasingly embracing virtual shopping.
““3D is becoming more mainstream and we are finding that the consumer is more comfortable with the technology behind virtual fit rooms, digital stores and interacting with products in a 3D space,” said Kaitlin Todora, 3D Designer. “We have begun implementing some of these features within select e-commerce channels and will continue to expand as the technology evolves.”
In Kontoor’s global model, virtual design also accelerates collaboration around the world. “Once you have those virtual assets, they're very easy to share with multiple departments – no matter the location,” said Robert Garner, Director, Patterns, Kontoor Brands. “You couldn't do that with samples. With 3D design, there is a transparency with sharing the design and development process with everyone very early on, which leads to quicker decision making.”
As an early adopter of 3D and virtual design technology, Kontoor estimates it designs most of its garments virtually in North America, with a goal to utilize 100 percent virtual design globally in the next 10 years.
“Change is hard and it takes courage to be one of the first to change – and I consider ourselves early adopters in this space,” said Fason. “If you look at the purpose and the values of Kontoor, this is having the courage to try something new and to do what's right. I think virtual design can push us further than we ever thought possible.”