PI Apparel NYC: Getting Your Software to Sing in Sync

The PI Apparel conference for product development leaders was held in New York last month. 

During the two-day event, innovative minds from fashion, apparel, and footwear came together to discuss the challenges and technologies disrupting the industry and the strategies for advancing digital product creation. 

This year’s hot topics were digital fabric interoperability and scalability. 

Digitization affects every aspect of the apparel business, from design to manufacture, logistics to sales, and customer interaction. As a result, tremendous opportunities are possible when companies start their digital journey.

Scaling is imperative across the value chain. The most urgent obstacles to tackle are in-house education, digital materials advancements, and systems interoperability. In addition, business owners must ensure the various software platforms in their organizations work together.

Of course, on top of scalability, the data itself needs to be able to flow seamlessly between systems. This is where interoperability comes into play.

The main challenges facing the apparel and fashion industries today are how to improve connectivity, collaboration, and communication. The textile industry is unique, it doesn’t have industry clusters, and information is dispersed and siloed, making integration and interoperability very challenging. 

It’s worth mentioning that Frontier.cool bridges the connectivity, communication, and collaboration gaps between the brands and their suppliers while revolutionizing the fashion and textile industries by providing a scalable solution so that 3D and 4D material digitization tasks can be carried out and scaled while saving time and money and increasing efficiency — an average timeframe reduction from 3 months to 1 day and an output increase from 8 pcs/day to 300+ pcs/day.

Frontier.cool starts working at the very beginning — the sourcing stage — where traditionally, brands send sample requests to their suppliers, and physical fabric swatches are sent manually by the suppliers — archiving is carried out manually, too. Frontier.cool eliminates manual processes while providing a supplier-to-brand information exchange.

Due to new digital solutions such as Frontier.cool, the possibilities for innovation in fashion are endless. However, to meet the evolving needs of the modern digital shopper, these solutions need to be better defined, structured, and communicated throughout organizations and systems. 

Christian L Harris, Senior Technical Designer for 3D Global Development at Nike, chaired the lively panel discussion on day one, which focussed on exploring interoperability between software, and which solutions are available to connect the fashion ecosystem. 

Frontier.cool's CSO, Wayne Fan, was invited to contribute to the panel along with Dwayn Catto, Head of Digital Innovation at PVH Americas, and Michelle Greenhouse, Chair of 3DRC.

As we build our solution ecosystems, what are some of the challenges and/or opportunities that we should be on the lookout for?

Chief Strategy Officer, Wayne, did not waste time diving in to answer the first question.

"The way I see it is two-fold. First, if we simplify the world of fashion design down to 'design/develop/make,' I see many application solutions from digital product creation all the way to market and then onward to the consumer.
However, I believe there's a void between 'develop' and 'make.' We'd be in a better place if we had more solutions to bridge that gap between the supply chain and the design material development process.
Second, we need to think about digital workflow. I liken it to the internet. If you only have one percent of the population on the internet, you're not going to get much benefit from it. I feel that's very similar to what's happening in the industry now. All the guys in PI are the elites, the one percent of the industry using a digital advanced digital workflow. So how about the other ninety-nine percent of the company?
A brand I work with has five hundred people in their company, twenty of whom are in 3D design. So what about the other four hundred eighty people? They're still going back to the conventional way of doing things".

Mr. Harris then led the panel to discuss interoperability, with Michelle Greenhouse commenting that one of the main challenges for brands using 3D software is that each has its own proprietary way of testing and measuring the physical properties of fabrics. She said that for organizations using more than one kind of software, this could become 'a huge roadblock' because brands don't want to test their fabric twice. So instead, there must be ways for brands to work together and improve the interoperability of tools in a non-competitive way.

What are some benefits and added wins for complete and connected data from the true source to the consumer?

Dwayn Catto believes in a data-driven strategy to enhance critical decision-making processes.

''If you're a big brand, you own and operate your own websites and also have social media, so you're collecting a tremendous amount of data about your customers, but there's no one place that you can go to tap into that in order to use it. 

If you understand what you've marketed to your customer, you know what your customer bought, and you're also monitoring socials to understand what your customer is interested in, then you can use that data to decide what products you make, how many products you make and who you make them for. I think that's a powerful recipe to transform the industry.''

Wayne from Frontier.cool commented that standardization is necessary to harvest the correct information and ultimately leverage that data to complete specific tasks.

 “I feel like the important components are around standardization and transparency. Then it's accessibility, so the rest of the four hundred eighty people from a company can use that resource and contribute and use the data.''

Scanning at source provides a single true source of data that will allow greater transparency and traceability. Frontier.cool currently has the world's most extensive online digital fabric library, with over 40,000 digital materials.

Historically, material digitization has been confined by hardware/location, skill sets, output volume, and information silos. Thankfully Frontier.cool has been breaking new ground, providing a new AI-powered material scanning workflow capable of scaling outputs across teams and democratizing such advanced digital workstreams to be more accessible and interoperable for the global fashion industry.

Dwayn Catto commented that success at interoperability is intrinsically tied to specific, defined outcomes and/or jobs to be done that can be measured. Prioritization of jobs will differ from company to company.

No two IT landscapes are the same, and each brand has its own way of working, honed over the years and reduced to its most efficient systems. So brands must now take the initiative when it comes to integrating digital technology in the way that works best for them. As you can see, there was a lot to talk about at this year’s event. If you didn't manage to catch the panel at PI Apparel NYC, or if you would like to see it again, please find the full recording below.