Asos's solutions to the tech challenges in fashion design – Drapers

9 December 2022
Asos’s head of design Nick Eley discusses the opportunities and challenges of digital fashion design.
At its heart the fashion industry is all about innovation and creativity. The artistic, expressive foundations upon which it is built, however, increasingly depend on technology to stay relevant, drive changes and enable opportunities for transformation.
Already, we have seen AI [artificial intelligence] drive personalisation in retail, in applications ranging from virtual reality fitting rooms to sizing. It is obviously not a new concept, but we are now reaching new frontiers.
At Asos we use tech across every touchpoint. As a disruptive online retailer, it is in our DNA – and design is no exception.
A new world of visualisation is opening through 3D design. It enables designers to accurately see the scale of a product, manipulate the placement of prints, and experiment with ideas more freely.
The use of virtual reality headsets takes this one step further still, allowing product teams to work together and achieve greater collaboration, both in house and with suppliers – all in a virtual environment. When these designs can then be printed in 3D by designers in house to create a physical iteration of the product for suppliers, the possibilities are endless.
Importantly, it also addresses two pressing priorities – ones we set our own targets on and which we know consumers increasingly care about: reducing material sample use and increasing the speed at which the garment is brought to market.
We are proud to have been building these techniques into our design process and experimenting across different product mixes over the past year. We have seen particular success in footwear, designing the soles of trainers and using a 3D printer to share physical iterations of designs with our suppliers before they create sample products. For our second circular collection, launched in summer 2022, we created virtual catwalks for each product in the range, using moving images that allowed our customers to better see the fit and movement of garments.
Nevertheless, digital design is not without its challenges. There is a skills shortage across the sector. Moving from 2D to 3D can be a real step change for designers, and it requires different technical skills. At Asos, we are committed to developing talent across the industry and have invested in software to serve this purpose.
Technology plays an important role at Asos. For us, it always has been – and will continue to be – about driving transformation. We see it as complementing traditional forms of design. So, we must not lose sight of the benefits that come from investment in innovation, and the creative opportunities that it might facilitate.
There has never been a more exciting time to work in fashion design. I for one am looking ahead with optimism and excitement at the potential that could be unleashed.
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