Levi's, digital sampling, and "the best assortment meeting ever"

There’s a significant level of technological innovation emanating from fashion brand Levi’s at present – be it online chatbots, customisation tools, or voice-enabled tech.

CEO Chip Bergh spoke up about it at the company’s first quarter results earnings call, in April, focusing on an internal tool used in the garment design process. By creating digital 3D renderings of garments and materials, Levi’s is able to sell to merchants from images rather than using physical samples, and this policy is reportedly driving business improvements.

The tech has been used in an assortment meeting, which would normally bring around 100 merchants and marketers from around the world to Levi’s HQ in San Francisco. Such an event is typically tailed by multiple weeks of regional meetings as decisions are made.

Bergh said: “By leveraging this digital technology to hold the meeting virtually, we were able to engage everyone simultaneously and complete this process in one meeting, taking weeks out of our go-to-market cycle.

“The feedback was that this may have been the best assortment meeting ever. And we may never go back to live meetings.”

Bergh added that he expects the technology to drive efficiency, increase Levi’s speed to market, and reduce waste – and help during the current Covid-19 pandemic when face-to-face meetings are ill advised.

The bigger picture

Various iterations of this type of technology are gaining momentum across fashion.

Fellow global brand Tommy Hilfiger said in November 2019 that 3D design technology is being incorporated into the apparel teams at its Amsterdam HQ, with the aim for its spring 2022 collections to be fully designed using this new platform.

Meanwhile, Farfetch’s recently announced Dream Assembly 4 start-up accelerator programme includes M-XR within its cohort. The UK-based business specialises in 3D capture technology, which lets brands, studios, and creators digitise product catalogues accurately and automatically.

The concept of digital fashion – i.e. dressing one’s digital avatar, or providing virtual garments solely for an individual’s gaming or social media presence – has been building as a commercial concept for some time, too. Academic Karinna Nobbs and early innovators in the space, such as The Fabricant, are helping map out a path for this movement.

Levi’s version of 3D technology was born in its Eureka Innovation Lab. In addition to assortment meetings, it has been integrated into Levi’s customisation tools on its website, as well as being showcased at its Miami Haus pop-up shop.

Commenting on Levi’s ‘Unzipped’ blog earlier this week, Bart Sights, vice president of technical innovation at the Eureka Innovation Lab, reiterates Bergh’s ambitions for 3D rendering – highlighting its potential for boosting efficiency in several ways.

He adds: “With this technology, we can move much faster through the design and sampling process and then pivot from design immediately to production.

“We now have this capability that can change a major part of the business, and it addresses a long-time stumbling block in ways that makes us quicker to market, more efficient, reduce inventory needs, and position us for a better performing future.”

Envisioning longer term usage of 3D design in the fashion retail industry, Leonie Barrie, apparel analyst at research group GlobalData, says: “Imagine being able to build a virtual clothing line, put it out on social media, see how many likes you get and then make the styles with the highest likes only.

“This is also hugely important for retailers as it helps to tackle another major pain point: the high volumes of returns.”

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