Harnessing the power of 3D for sustainable design & prototyping

Harnessing the power of 3D for sustainable design & prototyping

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The Power of 3D: Facilitating a sustainable design process

Sustainable fashion design is the process of designing garments with the aim of reducing the amount of waste, where today, traditional fashion production results in 15-25% of materials being wasted. Most of the industry’s efforts to minimise waste focuses on manufacturing, but the design process itself, is also a significant source of waste.

Many traditional fashion companies centre their efforts on aesthetics, functionality and production costs, despite their impact on the environment. This, in turn, has resulted in a very complex holistic approach that addresses aesthetics, functionality, production and sustainability.

Despite these challenges, according to a recent McKinsey report, Fashion on Climate, the industry’s priorities have changed based on consumer demand and legislative pressures, citing three main priorities:

  1. Reducing emissions from upstream operations
    – Minimise production and manufacturing waste
    – Decarbonise the manufacture of clothing
  2. Lowering emissions from the brands’ activities
    – Use more recycled fibres
    – Increase the use of sustainable transport
    – Use recycled and lighter materials for packaging
    – Minimise returns
    – Reduce overproduction
  3. Encouraging sustainable consumer behaviour
    – Create circular business models, e.g. rental, resale, repair and refurbishment- Reduce washing and drying operations
    – Increase recycling and collection

This blog focuses on implementing 3D technology for design and prototyping to reduce waste, and in turn, lower the carbon footprint, illustrated by innovative workflows and new opportunities. Simply put, the benefits of using 3D, when integrated into the design process, yield dramatic results, and play a major role in facilitating sustainability, and reducing material waste.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping


Design and model making: The great divide

Today, design and patternmaking are two very diverse processes. Design includes research, concept development, and prototype evaluation. It starts from a sketched idea, followed by a pattern developed from this idea. When a designer creates a garment, they do not necessarily consider its technical feasibility. Many designers believe that technical constraints should not impact aesthetics. This may be due to a lack of technical knowledge, or because they see patternmaking only as a tool that must comply with style requirements.

Patternmaking, however, includes the first stage of 2D patternmaking, often followed by the production of paper models and numerous prototypes. To create a paper model, the patternmaker prints a small scale 2D model on paper, cuts it out, and positions it accordingly. This is a relatively lengthy process. In essence, the canvas is the first full size three-dimensional version of the drawing, and often requires multiple modifications. Both methods, on paper and on canvas, are not accurate, and require a great deal of skill and years of experience.

By using these traditional methods, creating a garment is achieved by ‘trial and error’ until the result is in line with the initial objective. The process, in addition to being somewhat random, brings with it additional challenges – the lack of communication in the supply chain, little or no collaboration during the process, where a host of operational problems arise.

This way of working highlights the ‘divide’ between design and modelling.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

3D: A sustainable design model

A sustainable design model requires the elimination of the boundaries between styling and patternmaking. To achieve a sustainable design process, style and development must work in tandem towards the creation of a final product.

This new holistic approach can be challenging, at best. This is where Optitex 2D/3D PDS becomes an essential tool. Simultaneous 2D and 3D visualisation of the model, coupled with real-time, remote design modifications, allows for a more holistic approach, opening the door to a more sustainable design process. In other words, dramatically reducing the number of physical prototypes, and the need for travel for designers, marketers, buyers, and retailers, now replaced by seamless online collaboration.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

3D and the industry

The fashion industry has been relatively slow in implementing 3D in the design process, due in part to low computing capacity, and poor rendering quality, namely, insufficient fit and drape accuracy. As a result, the interaction between the avatar and the infinite variations in the behaviour of materials, made the development of 3D software all the more challenging.

3D simulations must be accurate and highly reliable to be implemented industry-wide, in order to reduce the number of prototypes and in turn, help lower the carbon footprint by reducing material waste. 3D tools must provide designers with an exceptionally high level of certainty, so that the garment designed in virtual 3D from the 2D model, is in fact, true-to-life.

To date, numerous tests have been carried out to compare the quality and accuracy between digital and physical prototypes, proving time and time again, that Optitex PDS 2D/3D generates exceptionally precise simulations based on three fundamental elements – the Parametric avatar, 2D model, and true-to-life digital fabric reflecting the behaviour of the actual material.


As a result, the fashion industry has only recently begun to embrace 3D technology. This phenomenon, however, has accelerated considerably in recent months, a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, stringent health restrictions in the workplace, and the surge in remote working.

Today, 3D digital design tools are fundamentally replacing the traditional sketch / pattern / canvas with an innovative holistic process – 2D/3D digital design that encompasses all of these elements. As a result, the seamless combination of several 2D and 3D processes into a single process, accelerates the overall development process, and saves on time, costly resources, and material waste.

Customer Talkback: Successful 3D integration in the design process

Today, over 8,000 Optitex 2D/3D software licences are deployed at customer sites around the world, where digital prototyping tools have helped create sustainable development cycles. This is how valued Optitex customers are implementing 3D tools in their design process.

Parmamoda, Italy, has adopted 3D to accelerate its design process, using Optitex 3D used to quickly and easily communicate with its customers, all recognized global brands. Parmamoda customers can preview 3D prototypes on a customised virtual mannequin, and quickly make changes before creating a physical sample, saving valuable time, resources, and costs.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

AMS Atelier, USA, uses Optitex 3D to enhance its creativity while eliminating the 3-4 previously required samples before producing a final product. AMS has increased its productivity by a remarkable 65%, while 3D has also supported remote working for its entire staff.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

Carmel Clothing, UK, uses Optitex 3D to visualise its models on digital avatars, and make faster, better-informed decisions before producing prototypes. Modifications made directly on digital prototypes reduce the time and cost of sending samples between manufacturing sites and buyers.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

Using Optiex 3D, Under Armour, USA, has been able to replace physical samples with virtual samples, resulting in significant cost savings and reducing product development time by nearly 50%. Modifications are detected and made much earlier in the process, accelerating time-to-market and improving product quality.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

Acquiring new skills for successful 3D integration

When the benefits of 3D are understood, and when 3D is embraced by organizations who are primed and ready for digital transformation, acquiring and applying 3D skills, become significantly easier across the board. What’s important to understand from the get-go, is the designer’s ability to visualise the multiple and changing perspectives required for the design.

This process, to be implemented effectively, requires learning and mastering new skills. For many designers, the connection between 2D and 3D is obvious. Experience in designing with 2D/3D software demonstrates the intrinsic relationship between 2D patternmaking and 3D prototyping. Today’s ‘new generation’ of designers involved in 3D design, understand the makings of this relationship.

With 3D, the ease of iteration at the conceptual stage, allows a large number of design experiments and modifications to be carried out in a relatively short time. 3D also enables design problems to be solved at a far greater level prior to physical prototyping, saving time, resources, and costs. Since adjustments to 2D models are immediately visualised in 3D, the interaction between design and technical realisation, furthers a sustainable design process, and reduces material waste.

Educating tomorrow’s design professionals

When it comes to education, in the classroom, digital tools should be seen as ‘complementary’ tools, and not as a replacement of traditional design methods that enable students’ practice to be rooted in real-life experiences. It is important to understand that 3D software is another valuable tool available to budding fashion designers.

One of the main advantages of using 3D design software in the classroom, is its unmatched ability as a learning tool. Once the initial learning barrier is overcome, 3D design tools fundamentally help students to learn, to experiment – and no less important, to enjoy the process and the challenge. Students can develop exciting new design ideas, and with 3D tools, they can test their ideas without even having the fabric on hand, and long before producing the finished product.

In the field of education, several leading institutes and training centres have introduced Optitex 2D/3D into their programmes, including Cornell University, US, George Brown College & ROM, Canada, University of Delaware, US, SUNY Buffalo State, US, and NIFT India’s National Institute of Fashion, India.

Harnessing the power of 3d for sustainable design & prototyping

Lessons learned

Optitex 2D/3D digital design tools generate precise and accurate garment simulations, to help support a more sustainable design process, eliminating the need for costly physical samples, and ultimately, reducing the amount of material waste at the very start of the process.

Sustainable design is a hybrid 2D/3D process that essentially links the 2D model to the 3D results, with the very objective of reducing waste. Each and every decision has an impact on both creativity and efficiency throughout the process, which is why 3D software allows designers to see the real effect of their decisions in real-time.

3D digital tools open up a whole new world of possibilities for sustainable design workflows, but also requires new skills and work practices. 3D makes it possible to move from approximate practices to precise and accurate digital experiments. Indeed, new tools are needed to reduce waste at every stage in the design process, and 3D makes it possible.

We are moving forward towards a more sustainable world, and by implementing 3D design tools, we can, and will, continue to forge ahead. We are, slowly, but surely, reducing material waste, helping to promote remote working and collaboration, and opening the doors for tomorrow’s design professionals. We are setting the stage for new sustainable practices that integrate style, development, and communication, in a truly holistic approach. From here, the possibilities are infinite.



Marielle Pesant

Marielle Pesant

Senior Consultant in Digital Marketing and Business Development for the Industries of Retail and Fashion