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NEW YORK — Major clothing makers are using virtual three-dimensional draping software to speed their products to market and cut down on the time and expense of making physical samples, with potential savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The software has proven useful for large brands and private label manufacturers that produce for major retailers, and is also being tried by a handful of small designers.

Benetton, for example, uses V-Stitcher from Browzwear of Tel Aviv to bring key fashion items to market more quickly than the rest of its production, in much the same way Zara and H&M have relied on factories close by in Eastern and southern Europe to speed the trendier portions of their lines into stores.

It’s not clear if Benetton, like Zara, is able to design, produce and deliver a style in only three weeks, but the company has cut its time to market on late-breaking styles by 30 to 40 percent thanks to V-Stitcher, according to Yanir Farber, president of Browzwear.

V-Stitcher has been available in a full production release since early 2002 (it is now available in Version 3.0.1) and is used by about 60 companies in 20 countries, said Farber. Other customers include Delta Galil of Israel, which makes innerwear for clients such as Marks & Spencer, Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein and Wal-Mart; Ocean Sky International of Singapore, which produces for Gap’s three divisions, May Department Stores, Sears and Target, and Carson, Calif.-based Beach Patrol, a large swimwear maker that produces its own brand and others under license such as Esprit. Nike, Adidas and Russell Athletic also use the softeare.

Similar 3D packages on the market are Runway 3D from OptiTex Ltd., also of Israel, and Haute Couture 3D from PAD System Technologies Inc. of Montreal. Runway 3D started shipping in February of this year, and is fully integrated into OptiTex’s pattern-making software. Haute Couture 3D is still being tested and is not yet available in a full production version. Marketed to the film industry for animation, it can also be used by pattern makers to see what their patterns will look like when they are made up. V-Stitcher has been optimized to work with Gerber systems; all three programs can import and export data from other pattern-making systems.

This story first appeared in the October 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The basic concept of all three packages is similar. First the user creates on a computer screen a 3D virtual model, known as an avatar, with the desired measurements. Then the user takes an already created flat pattern, “sews” it together on the avatar by telling the software which seams are connected, and orients it on the mannequin by designating front, side and back pieces. Finally, the user tells the software the technical characteristics of the chosen fabric, and the software renders a 3D drawing of a garment whose appearance and fit should conform very closely to the real thing. Onscreen color shadings show where the garment is loose or tight.

“In making our swimwear, it is easy to see any pattern flaws quickly,” said Christi Kolisnyk, Beach Patrol’s technical designer and V-Stitcher user, in a prepared statement. “When fitting a live model, I need to have all the trims and linings that can affect the stretch of the fabric and distort my pattern. This system helps me look at each layer separately and see where I can improve the fit.”

Haute Couture 3D’s simulation is “very good,” said Andy Wilkes, the owner and designer of Syren, a costumer and custom clothing maker located in Los Angeles that is testing the software. “If you make a pattern wrong, it will show it. If the drape isn’t balanced through a whole garment, such as on a circular skirt — which will change depending on where you put the grain line — you will see it. You can see how tightly the fabric is fitting on the body, and everything is exactly where it will be.”

Feldman Manufacturing, a New York-based swimwear manufacturer for major retailers and catalogues, has been using OptiTex’s Runway 3D for three months. The 35-year-old company is using the software to shorten the design approval process and to cut down on the number of samples it makes for customers to help them decide what to order. The company plans to use the software for fitting in about six months, said Sonia Castro, designer.

“It saves us money and time,” said Castro. The company has already reduced the number of samples it makes by about 10 percent, and expects to eventually chop that by up to 50 percent. That would translate into a savings of at least a week to 10 days in the approval process, said Castro. A sample in actual fabric costs about $100, and Castro estimated that Feldman’s sample-making costs will eventually come down by about 30 percent. When the company starts using the software for production, that will snip even more time and cost out of the process. Eventually, Feldman plans to make alterations directly on the 3D model and transfer them automatically to the flat pattern.

Right now, the software helps Feldman’s customers decide between styles. If Feldman proposes a striped suit, for example, a retailer might also want to see it in a mitered style (with the stripes meeting at a 45 degree angle) and on the diagonal. Before OptiTex, Feldman would wait four to six weeks for the sample yardage, then cut and sew a sample in each style by hand, and ship it overnight to the buyer.

“The cost of yardage, shipping and actual labor is tremendous,” said Castro. “This way we can simulate the prints directly from the art work before we get the sample yardage.” Once a style is selected, the company will continue to make up a sample, so Feldman will still have to wait for sample yardage. But the software will shorten the approval process. Feldman employs about 100 people and does all its production in the New York area, mostly in-house.

Castro and Wilkes agreed that most buyers are unable to make an informed choice working only from a fashion sketch or even a technical drawing. So manufacturers produce samples to avoid misunderstandings and changes or cancellations late in the production process. A 3D rotating model on a computer is also a drawing, but because it shows the topology of the body, it’s much easier for customers to visualize exactly where a neckline will fall or where a patch pocket will hit on the hip. And because the software calculates the drape of whatever fabric the designer intends to use, the buyer can also better visualize the garment in a variety of fabrics and prints.

Other companies using Runway 3D include Petro Zillia, a contemporary sportswear firm based in Los Angeles, and Iziz Dezigns Inc., a start-up in Menlo Park, Calif., aimed at hard-to-please Baby Boomer women and whose business concept incorporates Runway 3D and OptiTex’s made-to-measure software.

The 3D software also has an unexpected benefit: giving customers more choice and control over the design process. “The software has brought me closer to my clients,” said Wilkes. “It’s enabled me to gain a level of trust with them that I don’t think was there in the past. You can get their input and actually show them what it looks like in a few clicks. If you’re empowering them, they want to stay with you.”

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