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Optitex: Virtual Images, Real Savings

Optitex: Virtual Images, Real Savings

At a fashion show, a model in a handsome tweed suit walks down the runway, stops and twirls. The jacket she’s wearing moves with her; you can see the details of the pleats and folds.

As she unbuttons the coat, the silk lining is revealed, its color subtly complementing the outer fabric. As she twirls once more, the garment drapes around her body, even revealing a wrinkle or two. Great presentation!

But none of it’s real. It’s 3D animation, the result of new CAD/CAM software that is revolutionizing the design and production of apparel and other sewn products. It’s one of a suite of applications – dramatically saving time and money for users – created by Optitex, a company whose products are sweeping through the U.S. marketplace.

Take the Optitex 3D Runway Designer, a true-to-life fabric simulation system. It offers the user a suite of tools that simulates all pre-production activities related to fitting, visualization and color variation. It’s specifically designed to be used as a communication tool among the retailer, subcontractor, designer, pattern maker, manufacturer and the engineering, merchandising, and management departments. With 3D Runway, all departments can instantly visualize any pattern modifications in full 3D form, based on accurate CAD patterns and the real characteristics of the fabric displayed.

The Optitex mannequins on screen are not stiff, one-size-fits-all creatures. They can reflect 65 different adjustable body measurements and several posture positions. Users of the system can also create their own specific base-size mannequins, saving fitting time. The Optitex system cuts down on time-to-market by reducing product development steps; reduces the costs that go with producing many iterations of a sample; and, thanks to accurate modeling, enhances the quality of the end product. Further, through the precision of its analyzing fabric behavior, Optitex takes good fit out of the realm of “I can imagine it” into that of “Yes, I can see it!”

Optitex is the only firm in the CAD apparel marketplace that holds the status of Microsoft Certified Partner. Users can paste Optitex images into other Microsoft applications, embed them in PowerPoint presentations, even link Optitex into Product Lifecycle Management systems.

“Optitex offers a unique connectivity,” explains Yoram Burg, president of the company’s U.S. operations. “Consider a contractor in some remote area of China, working with a designer in New York. With Optitex, the contractor can download the designer’s 3D prototype image of a garment and see a realistic replica of what it should look like ─ bust, waist, hips, body length, whatever the designer is asking for. The contractor can then create his own three-dimensional sample, complete with the garment’s internal structure, pockets, air masses, embroidery and pleats – and then ship the sample to the designer in the U.S.

“Now assume,” Yoram continues, “that the designer, in his New York studio, receives the sample, and tries it on a model. He decides he wants to shorten the sleeves a few inches, or drop the neckline, or move a button. Thanks to Optitex, the designer can relay the new dimensions electronically back to the sample maker. The sample maker, in turn, can modify and create a new sample and ship it back in a day or two.

“Maybe, at this point, the designer says, ‘No, that’s not what I meant,’” says Yoram. “Do we keep shipping still more samples back and forth across the ocean? Not necessarily. Through Optitex, the designer can specify the new details and send back the revised image, all electronically, all in 3D. The contractor can send the new sample. Do we eliminate all the shipping of samples back and forth?  Probably not, but we can certainly reduce it: instead of half a dozen times, with delays totaling several weeks, the process can be complete in two shipments.

“Think, too, of the ‘green’ aspect,” Burg adds. “In New York, for example, throughout the blocks where the apparel industry is concentrated, you’ll see a host of parked trucks, from companies’ own vans to those of the major express delivery services. Many of them will be waiting to take merchandise and samples to the airports, for shipment overseas. If, with electronic 3D messaging, we can eliminate the need for even one of these trucks, we’ll be doing our part for the environment.”

From the physical to the virtual
The Optitex technology is the result of the company’s years of work with leading universities, principally North Carolina State University and Cornell. Some half-dozen years ago, scientists saw that fabrics, once “translated” into algorithms, could be passed through systems to yield electronic impulses, and that these impulses could then be converted into two-dimensional and three-dimensional images. Further, these images could then be manipulated via computer. Optitex adapted the technology to the design and manufacture of industrial fabrics, apparel, upholstery, automotive and transportation-industry materials, composites, home furnishings and other sewn products.

The Optitex technology has now been adapted to many additional functions as well, such as pattern design, grading, digitizing patterns, marking, nesting, and matching fabrics. In addition, users can create their own models, saving substantial time during fittings.
More and more companies, in diverse industries, are taking advantage of Optitex’s technology. These include Land’s End, Kohl’s, COACH Leather, ABS by Allen Schwartz, Cherokee, Teamwork, Parachute De France and Tyco Toys; aeronautics firms such as Birdair, Boeing, Eurocopter, Irvine Aerospace; and, in the automotive industry, companies such as BMW, Porsche and Toyota, Audi, Johnson Controls, Prevent, and many more.

The Optitex technology is finding increasingly new applications, and new customers. Bernina, a leader in the home sewing field, offers an Optitex based system, called MyLabel Pattern, that lets users select their own fabrics, colors, buttons and other features, all to reflect their personal preferences. Cheered one customer: “This is the first time I ever made a pair of pants for myself that fit!” For retailers, the Optitex Made-to-Measure engine defines an individual’s dimensions – shoulder, chest, waist, hips – to ensure the best fit for a new garment. A leading producer of sports-team uniforms uses Optitex for its Web-site sales “brochure”, showing, for example, sweat-suits – various fits and lengths, choice of hoods, pockets and sleeve lengths, variations in team-name lettering and monograms – and how the uniforms would look on various body forms. Team buyers can come to the company’s Web site, see the images, rotate them – and order.

“This is technology time in the U.S.,” says Yoram Burg. “In recent years, a great deal of apparel work has been done in China – but now, with the shifting economy there, with people leaving the apparel industry there to find better lives for themselves, and with the inconsistency of the garments they are sending us, you will see more and more technological solutions here in the U.S. that will translate into return on investment. In America, as industry downsizes today, wise companies are replacing staff with the capability for virtual samples, virtual catalogs, virtual storyboards. The images may be virtual; but the savings will be real.”