Virtual Reality’s best use in fashion may be for design

Virtual Reality’s best use in fashion may be for design

Talk of virtual reality (VR) these days usually centers on immersive experiences and the technology as a precursor to a future metaverse. But in fashion, some brands are already using it for a completely different purpose.

As more companies embrace 3D product creation and sampling, footwear manufacturers have turned to VR as a design tool that allows them to create their 3D concepts in a 3D space, rather than on a flat 2D screen.

“We’re still sketching on paper, but we’re also sketching in the 3D world, because that means we just have a much more realistic grasp of proportion, shape and volume,” said Chris McGrath, Timberland’s vice president of global footwear and design development.

Designers at Nike and Adidas are also experimenting with designing in VR. Nike used it in the process of creating the Air Max Scorpion, while Adidas used it to conceive its Futurenatural sneaker.

The technology may not be set to replace flat sketches or 3D computer software anytime soon, especially when it comes to clothing, where 2D representations of garments don’t sacrifice much. But in footwear, designers are exploring the possibilities of technology to produce what one might call more spatially accurate concepts.

“I think the reason for that [VR] will become more common because it speeds up the design process in many ways,” said Joey Khamis, a former Reebok designer and co-founder of footwear brand MLLN (pronounced melon), which just launched a collection that Khamis said was practically modeled. all in VR.

With a 2D sketch, for example, Khamis said you might like it straight on, but when you see a three-dimensional prototype, it might not look the way you expect from other angles, or the proportions might be off. In VR, “you can solve these things live,” he said.

Multiple designers can collaborate in a shared VR space, which is useful for companies with teams in different cities or countries. The resulting 3D model also makes it easier to communicate to the factory what the finished product should look like and helps cut out or reduce sampling rounds. While VR headsets aren’t cheap, they can still be more affordable than top-tier 3D design software.

Khamis said he was introduced to designing in VR by his mentor at Reebok, where he started as a shoe design apprentice in 2019. It wasn’t commonly used — and still isn’t widespread in the industry. Timberland has yet to release a product designed in VR and so far has only used it to quickly create 3D concepts. But Khamis knows of a number of designers at the major sneaker players who have adopted it and are now promoting it.

At Adidas, the team that used it to create Futurenatural have talked about other benefits of VR.

“We realized that we really needed something that would allow us to really work around the anatomy, a tool that would allow us a 360 [degree] perspective, Pascal Scholz, an Adidas footwear designer, said during a panel last year. “It allowed us to take those perspectives, but also allowed us to really question this classic way of having a midsole, having an outsole, having an upper and really making it all into one system.”

The resulting shoe is not stitched together like a regular sneaker. The upper is molded and fused with the sole.

The panel Scholz participated in took place during a conference hosted by Gravity Sketch, a maker of 3D design and modeling software. Other companies such as Adobe also create tools for virtual reality modeling. Gravity Sketch has become popular among footwear designers. Adidas and Timberland both use it, as does Khamis, who has partnered with the company. On his Instagram account, he occasionally posts videos where he sketches in VR using the software in real time.

One barrier to more widespread use, in Khamis’s view, is the VR hardware itself, which he said needs to become more portable and less intrusive. (He uses one of Meta’s Quest headsets in his videos.) It blocks out the user’s surroundings, and there have been reports of issues like motion sickness from prolonged use.

Khamis added that he still sketches with pen and marker on paper or sometimes uses an iPad. But he considers VR another option at his disposal, and actually found it more intuitive to pick up than the more common 3D design programs, which he said required a long learning curve.

His prediction is that VR’s benefits will lead more designers to embrace the technology to give shape to their ideas. The use of brands such as Timberland, Nike and Adidas suggests he may be right.

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