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Virtual merchandising and sustainability.

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The fashion industry is an economic colossus, providing jobs to millions around the world. Fashion also makes consumers feel good. But that good feeling comes at an enormous environmental cost:

• In the Ghanaian capital of Accra, there’s a 20-meter high cliff of landfill. An estimated 60 per cent of it is unwanted clothing.

• Americans generate 9 billion tons of apparel and footwear waste each year.

• Dyeing a single ton of fabric can take 200 tons of water and enormous quantities of energy.

• Globally, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.

• The apparel industry is thesecond-biggest consumer of water globally, enough to meet the needs of 5 million people every year.

No doubt, the rise of fast fashion, as exemplified by companies like Zara and H&M, certainly bear a large portion of the blame for these shocking statistics. But there’s another issue at play: Brands really don’t know what’s going to sell before they go into production – sales forecasts are often nothing more than educated guesses based on sales of previous styles. Without a reliable method to test consumer demand for new styles and colors before production, brands are forced to guess what consumers want. And that leads them to over-order from the factories, because it’s cheaper to double volumes with a factory and deal with the excess later – even if that means sending it to landfills or burning the dead inventory.

However, there is a better way. Virtual merchandising – digital renderings of potential new designs and colors – allows brands to test the appeal of these new products before committing to production.

Until now, brands have shied away from virtual merchandising. Creating “spinnable” 3D renderings of products is time consuming and very expensive, both for the software itself and the labor required to digitize the products. It’s not an expenditure you want to make if you’re just testing for product appeal.

But you don’t need that software to realize the benefits. Advanced 3D product models with 2D perspective renderings from a variety of viewing angles provide consumers with hyper-realistic images of the product at significantly lower cost and with no loss of visual appeal. Moreover, the difference between 3D you can rotate and 2D from all angles isn’t as dramatic as you might think, particularly if the software allows the customization to be “warped onto” the product and not simply pasted on top of the 2D image. (See this golf club and this tote bag as examples.) The lower-cost, high-resolution 2D solution enables designers to test demand for new styles without committing to container loads before they know how consumers will react. It’s a new paradigm that can greatly help with sustainability and profitablity: Design it, sell it online, THEN MAKE IT, after it’s been ordered. Of course, a brand needs to have the capability to build on demand, which is where JTB Custom comes in. JTB Custom can help any brand plan and execute on-demand manufacturing with its proven “walk > run > fly” gradual rollout approach.

Sustainability is increasingly of concern to broad swaths of consumers. They want to know that their products are made in both an ethical and an environmentally sound manner. Otherwise, they’ll not only avoid the brand, they’ll castigate it on social media. Virtual merchandising may not be a panacea for the environmental costs of fashion, but it is an important arrow in the quiver of countermeasures against this problem – and one to know more about.

Want to learn more? Please contact us. We are here to help!