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3D Imaging Spreads to Fashion and Beyond

3D Imaging Spreads to Fashion and Beyond

A body scan can save a lot of time in the fitting room, and fields from medicine to architecture are adopting 3D computing applications.

by Rachael King , Special Report October 6, 2008, 12:01AM EST
Model on the Runway

Falling prices also make 3D computing more available to a wider range of businesses, such as jewelry, consumer electronics, and consumer products such as tennis shoes. And 3D is taking off in architecture and in medical fields, such as orthopedics and orthodontia.

Apparel businesses like Lori Coulter benefit from 3D software made by a company called Optitex that shows a fabric’s texture, how it drapes, and how it would move on a 3D model walking down a runway. Fashion designers can now create entire lines virtually before cutting a piece of fabric. Lori Coulter uses the Optitex software to do prototyping during product development. “We set those patterns in 3D, put them on a mannequin, and simulate the sampling process, and we use various body shapes to see what will fit,” says Lori Coulter, owner of the business that bears her name.

Optitex says that doing this digitally, rather than creating physical samples, can shave weeks off the time it takes to create new designs and get approval to sell them, as designers often need to wait for specific fabrics to arrive. “In the apparel market, there are about six seasons per year, and they run out of time with the prototypes,” says Gadi Zadikoff, vice-president for research and development at Optitex. “They go back and forth a few times and then they just settle, or else it’s too late for the season.” Aside from Lori Coulter, Optitex counts Tommy Hilfiger, and Coach Leather (COH) as clients.

While some within the fashion industry are just now warming to 3D technology, Coulter built her business around it. When she was studying at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis in the late 1990s, she wrote a paper about how new technologies were revolutionizing the retail industry. She became fascinated with body-scanning technology. At about that time her mother was getting ready for a trip to Naples, Fla., and was having trouble finding a swimsuit. “If we could just make a swimsuit that would fit, we’d have a gold mine,” she remembers her mother saying. “It’s hard for women across the board, even if they’re thin and fit and young.”

For Coulter, relying on body scanners was a no-brainer. Coulter buys her scanners for about $35,000 a pop from a company called [TC]², which has about 60 in the market, including in three Brooks Brothers (companyid=1380071) locations. The company’s biggest customer is BenchMark Clothiers, a men’s clothing company based in Little Rock, Ark.