26.11.2017, by Bina Champaneria
In her article ‘Digital Fashion?‘, fashion designer and lecturer Bina Champaneria has come to share her experiences from the fashion industry back in the days when handcrafted patterns had still been used for production purposes. Ever since, the digital age has changed this procedure drastically – where do we stand now?
No more old-fashioned
Technology enabled the move from card to digital patterns. This could be seen as a disruptive innovation moving away from full size card patterns to digitally stored, salable shapes on a computer. The storage of text files on the computer seemed obvious, but here we are talking about storing shapes that varied in size and where accuracy was paramount.
Normally, the initial pattern is made from card input into the CAD systems by digitizing the pattern piece by piece by tracing the outline using a large digitizer board and mouse. Another way was to use a giant scanner that read the pattern; whatever tool you used the pattern became a digital entity. Just the simple fact that the pattern was digital meant that it could be sent as a file to the manufacturing location (wherever it was in the world). I think that the creation of digital patterns can certainly be seen as an enabler for global outsourcing in the fashion industry.
Fashion for all
Technology also enabled faster mass production of clothing especially with regard to the cutting of fabric to meet the large orders from clients. For example, imagine if a company needs to make 1000+ shirts of varying sizes, use the fabric as economically as possible and meet the order as per the client’s request. This may seem like a challenge to utilize the least amount of fabric and still make sure that all the parts have been included with no mistakes (like upside-down elephants) on a shirt?
The solution was a planning system that used the digital patterns plus the information such as the width of the fabric, quantities and rules. With this information, and in automatic mode, the system would play around with the patterns and like a jigsaw puzzle, it would plan the optimum layout for what you requested. Previous to these automated planning systems, the layout was created manually by a team of experts who normally did not have an aerial view of the whole layout and probably used chalk to draw round the sometimes-worn-out card patterns.
With the optimum layout, the planner can be connected to an automated cutting machine. This machine would cut the patterns according to the plan and every piece thus giving accuracy and consistency in each shape. This is very different to the experience I had of using a cutting machine myself and accidentally cutting a part of my finger..but that is another story of my experience in the fashion industry!
Although many of the tasks and components in the design and manufacturing processes have become digitized, there is still the need for the expert eye of a designer, planner and cutter to ensure that we have a great design, a great fit and no upside down elephants!
Would you like to know more about technology changing the fashion industry? Then this article on how Nike is having static electricity fasten its production of sneakers might also be for you!
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