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Unfiltered Insights: A Heart-to-Heart Chat with Ann Hardiman on Her Digital Experience

We had a privilege of a heartfelt conversation with Ann Hardiman who shared her journey with Vestis Labs' digital product creation. Join us as we uncover her personal insights on how digital product creation is not just an upgrade but a revolution in the industry. You can read about her journey and the process here.

Fonny Bunjamin 0:00

Hi Ann, thanks again. Haven't seen you in a while now.

Ann Hardiman 00:06

Yeah, I know. Well, I haven't seen you physically for quite a while.

FB 00:15

That's true. That's true, we definitely need to meet up soon. So, I want to start this conversation with you, because you have done a beta testing of going through the VESTIS LABS workflow and digital product development process, as well as using the platform.

So I would like to have this opportunity to get your feedback and have a conversation about fashion, digital product development, traditionally, product development in general.

So, to get started, Ann and I, we met many, many years ago, when we were working at Karen Millen, it must have been 15 years ago. Yeah, about 15. About 15 years ago, right? So I was in the merchandising;/ team, product merchandising.

AH 1:13

I was design manager at the time. So I worked really closely with the creative director and the design team, kind of getting the vision really, and underneath through the business all the way out the other side. So it was a while ago, but really, an exciting time and an exciting brand was going through a lot of growth. It's really exciting to be in brands when they're kind of growing and developing and performing, I guess.

Yeah, that's where we met. And then we sort of through mutual contacts got in touch with each other, again, when you were working, initially with VESTIS. You just reached out for some feedback, really, you know, because I'm obviously a designer, I'm quite old school, pen and paper, not very digital savvy, I would say. But I was really, really keen and really, really interested in finding out about digital development. So it was kind of you who reached out to me at the right time when I was inquisitive enough to kind of try and I wanted to understand really, how it could be integrated into a traditional, I guess, product development design product development process.

Because as I said, I think previously I'd always been, not really anti technology or anti CAD, but I think at the time when I first you know, saw CAD or, you know, start to see people using, like computer aided design in their work. It was still very flat. And so I still preferred hand drawing, hand sketching.You know, just to- you've got more of a flow and a sense of personality and identity, where I found sort of like flat CAD illustrations, a bit soulless, a bit lifeless. And then also, I kind of it didn't really interest me that much then, you know, but I guess as the technology has moved on, and how the technology I don't know, say from gaming, film animation, everything has kind of melted through it, you know, into sort of 3-D and stuff, it's, it's just become so much more exciting to me and also, I guess the whole piece about sustainability.

You know, because so much waste is created, it takes so much time to go from an initial sketch to the sample stage, and especially with a lot of businesses now, not necessarily having a patent room, or the facilities, for a designer to work directly with the patent cutter to sort of create things 3-D on a mannequin.

You know, a lot of designers now just have to sketch flat, it gets sent out to a factory offshore somewhere. And then in the factory, you're kind of putting a lot of eyes on them to really understand how to take your idea from a flat 2-D thing into a 3-D area.

So I think it was just where all those cross sections in the intersection started for me, it just became really interesting. And then that's when you introduced me to VESTIS LABS really. And so for me, it really was a bit of a game changer.

Because obviously, as I said, I'm not that technical. And in previous businesses, when we have talked about 3-D development, there's always been a bit of, I suppose, worry, concern, the cost of investing into developing, you know, 3-D design alongside a traditional, you know, design team, that sort of the capital costs and invest in that the risk of training somebody up and have them leave, the sort of risk of having, being very much at the what's the word? You know, it's almost the technician of the 3-D system. It's how they work, and you then have to work to get them to translate it.

And, you know, so all those things kept coming into play all the time, whenever I was talking in businesses, about bringing, or how we integrate 3-D, actually into the process. So there was, there was always a little bit of hesitancy or a little bit of concern about different businesses, slightly different concerns, mainly financial, time, sort of messing up the current critical path? And how would it fit into the timeline? Would it? Would it actually increase the time make it more complicated? So I guess all the things everybody's thinking about when they introduce a new process into their practice into their business? You know, it's all those concerns, really.

Yeah, that's sort of how we started talking about it in a nutshell. I guess the sort of concerns that I've felt I've come across, when I've, I've tried to talk about it within businesses to get them interested. So I guess the thing for me really was when you said, Well, give it a go give it a try, you know, then at least I could experience it firsthand, see what the benefits are.

Because at one time, I was literally sat here thinking I have to be, I have to learn how to do 3-D design myself, I have to do some training, I have to learn how to do everything. Because you know, that's the only way I have complete control. And then you were like, no, no, no, no, you don't need to train yourself, you’re the creative, you have the ideas. And really it's about I was sort of thinking about this when you mentioned about, chatting to do the process.

I think there is a big bit actually with a lot of young people coming into the industry these days, but don't have a lot of exposure unless they're really fortunate. They don't have a lot of exposure and interaction, working in 3-D as in draping on a stand or working with a pattern cutter directly. So translating their design into a 3-D I see is that almost the biggest benefit, it really is a fantastic tool. It's the best you can get to real life in almost draping on a stand or, you know, seeing your design come to life in 3-D. Being able to rotate it, being able to see where you've put your seam lines or your drape or whatever. All of those things to be able to sort of see it come to life before you actually push the button on having the pack made.

It's a massive game changer. And I really think investing in that end of the process between, being involved either with yourselves or some factories now, investing in this area. But again, I think some businesses are still hesitant to work with the factories in that way. And maybe the factories are using it more on the production side of things, before they go into production. But I just think it's an amazing tool to bring your ideas to life.

And, you know, previously we've spoken about it shouldn't be a barrier, because actually, what it can do is bring all the elements together, you can get your tech teams on board really early on, they can see the garment, the prototype in 3-D, they can check where they think they need, because of the not, you know, been able to build your avatar in line with your brand guidelines, and, you know, minimum measurements and everything, that the garment techs and the QC teams can can have, you know, can get involved quite early on to sort of these things in the software also indicates if there's stresses or, you know, within the pattern, so, I really think it should be seen almost as a tool to align all the departments, rather than thinking it's taking a designer's creativity away, or tech's skill set away, it really should be seen as bringing all those elements together.

FB 10:25

Yeah. And that's really interesting what you just said, because that is one of the fears, or the concerns among certain teams, and the fact that actually this is a tool to enhance the way these teams work together and make it more efficient is something that we need to highlight here, not really eliminating, but enhance, improving the way the whole process will work together.

And in terms of the process and the workflow that we propose to you, from, the design sketch and the usability or the ease of use of the platform, what's your take on that? Is it pretty easy to follow and easy to take off?

AH 11:23

Yeah, I think it is quite intuitive. As I said I'm not fully trained in Illustrator, and all of the sort of Adobe Creative suites and everything, I can do little bits and pieces, but I'm nowhere sort of skilled in any of those programs. But I actually found it quite intuitive. I found it quite easy to follow through.

I think it's like anything, like any new sort of app or desktop system that you start using there's always not necessarily teething problems. But even if I changed the layout, my outlook or something, I'm suddenly like, oh, what's happened, it's so different. But you click another button, and it all comes back to how you remember setting it all up.

So I think it's, you know, the first few times you use it, there's a little bit of that going on, because you're like, Oh, what's this? What's this? Yeah, but it's pretty easy and quite simple to sort of follow through and pick up and, you know, I would say, if I can pick it up, most people can pick it up.

And it just seemed it just seemed quite logical, the flow of it. From sending your initial sketches, then proposing initial avatars and then initial prototypes. And then actually, the bit that I found most useful, I guess, or most exciting, was being able to do all the adjustments, almost like a fit session. So, from what you've got from 2-D to 3-D you're seeing it in real proportion. So you can suddenly go, oh, no, that needs to be bigger, that needs to be longer. Like all those little subtle things and you potentially might be doing in a first fit session, you can actually do all of that, on that prototype, which I found really quite exciting being able to finish that at that stage. So, yeah, I found it quite easy to use, really. And I found the process quite easy to use. No, I said, I think the only thing was, I wanted to do everything like that. Everything like 250 lines, I want them all carried. You know, in 3-D?

FB 14:34

And do you feel that you have to change the way you look into things? You know obviously fitting during a life fit session versus 3D, were there a lot of adjustments or did it come kind of, almost naturally, as you were going through the process?

AH 14:23

It came really naturally. And I think that was the sort of a little bit of a lightbulb moment for me, because it was that, oh, this is just like doing a fit session. We were sort of amending necklines or, just really subtle things that you might do in a fit session, I might take a marker pen out and draw on the garment or cut something. In a fit session, where you're actually making the garment fit the best it can, all those really subtle sort of design changes that make the garment much more flattering, just a much better garment.

It was that sort of moment, I was like, oh, this, this is really quite intimate, you know, this is really quite exciting. Because you can do all those little subtle tweaks, you can do on your avatar, so that by the time your proto comes in, you're doing less of that, or potentially not doing any of that. Obviously there will always be subtle things that change from the pattern to the fabrics, I think that it's inevitable, but it just means that you're getting it right the first time, or close to the first time, much, much quicker, much, much quicker. You know, and it can make a massive difference just sort of tweaking a neckline or a sleeve or the proportion of the garments and make it look more flattering and make it a better garment really for the customer ultimately.

FB 16:14

And I remember because after we finished the first main style that you wanted to develop you wanted to see in different colors and different iterations, and sleeves and all that. And we actually are able to do you not very quick types of sleeves.

AH 16:36

And that's, you know, that was brilliant. Because again you've got it in 3-D, and you can do really subtle changes on it, and make it look like a completely different garment just by, you know, again, we were changing sleeves and neckline and then obviously, the color.

And, you know, that was a really fun thing to do. But a relatively quick thing to do. So, if you were in a situation where you were working with your buying and merchandising team or you can just show them really quickly, and you've got half a range sorted actually quite speedily.

FB 17:17

Yeah. And we can, I think the great thing and one of the main opportunities for brands as well is we can determine like main blocks. And then you know, and see, as the season goes by you can repeat the main blocks with different details and or sleeves, types of color. So, it could be done and it can be simulated very quickly and at little cost.

AH 17:50

It helps the brand to keep their size consistent, then that helps the customer, if I buy this size, it's gonna fit me like this. And it's just, obviously, there's always going to be subtle tweaks, you know, depending on the style, depending on the fabrication ultimately.

But what I think what you're doing is you're almost sort of taking it and you're kind of removing a lot of the human error, but that can happen and almost well if standardizing it, but it's just making it a little bit easier for everyone they're not having to send it to check back on all those bits, because it's just consistent, you're starting from a really good starting point. And then equally say that same sort of block and prototype, going to two different supply bases in potentially two different countries, the likelihood of getting consistency across, that improves as well.

So I got quite excited again. It was a bit like when I sort of started my career, you know, and we did have a patent room. And, you know, we worked quite closely with the patent room, even when we would go on trips, we would take our suitcases filled with what we retrace offs, which are basically called blocks that we'll call dress, dress, top patterns, or whatever that we had, that we knew were like, really good fit consistently best selling pieces, we would take suitcases full of them with us on our trips to develop new product. And we'd hand those over to the factory, do some new designs and you know, new detailing or whatever. But, you know, giving that block to the factory is the starting point, because we knew we'd have a much better chance of getting a great fit and first sample. And I know, pattern cutting and everything that was, obviously it's all digital as well. But it just sort of made me laugh, because I thought oh, it's just a version of that really, you know, you can develop you can you can you can develop your prototype, send it to different countries. And the consistency of what you get back is the chances of that being closer is so much increased.

FB 20:30

I mean that's really an important point, given that, you know, the supply chain is so wide now. And most of the brands now do not actually, like you said, have a pattern room or not even have a type of development, but fully factored, where they just send everything and the suppliers take care of everything. Now, that's really interesting. And what are the challenges? What do you think about the challenges of this digital product development?

AH 20:57

Yeah, I think it's really funny. I think one of the challenges still is visually when a brand doesn't like the look of the Avatar, or the, you know, the mannequin isn't on brand, that sounds really stupid. And you're like, don't look at the shoes, don't look at the head, you know, it's like just looking at the body. People do and they get put off, seriously, they get put off? And it's, that's, that's quite a funny thing, because you think people would see through that.

And I think it's, I think it really is just down to people getting used to a new way of working and acknowledging it's going to be different. But, the benefits will outweigh the negatives, you know, they'll be slightly different. But they're all it will all sort of outweigh in the end? Yeah.

Because you can, you can see things more realistically. And it will look closer to what your final prototype looks like. I think it's a fantastic tool. And I think it's a fantastic way for people to test digital development, ultimately, it won't be for every brand and it might not be for every department or every area of every brand. But I think it's a fantastic way for teams to start working with the technology to understand what benefits it has. You know, and I do sort of think the more people use it, and the more we embrace it. I just think we're at the very, very beginning of sort of going over the edge on a roller coaster and then we'll be off kind of thing because it is such a fantastic tool.

FB 23:31

Thank you so much. Thank you, a great conversation. And I'm really glad that you share all the experiences that you had. Any parting words?

AH 23:48

Give it a go! For anybody that's sort of digitally curious. But anybody that thinks, oh, it's not for me, or it's too difficult to integrate it into my current work process. Just give it a go. You know, I think that's the thing for me, I was curious. But I gave it a go. And then once you've kind of gone through it yourself, you can see where the benefits are, you can see where businesses can most benefit from it and where it could fit in your, you know, design development process. So yeah, give it a go.

FB 24:30

Perfect. And any advice for me?

AH 24:36

Oh, Fonny! I think you've just gotta keep going. It's a fantastic idea and concept. And I do really believe that everyone's going to be on board with it, and you will be at the front of it. So just keep going. Keep the Faith!

FB 24:55

Thank you so much Ann for this session.



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