Talk of virtual reality (VR) these days generally focuses on immersive experiences and the technology as a harbinger of a future metaverse. But in fashion, some brands are already using it for a very different purpose.
As more companies embrace 3D product creation and sampling, shoe manufacturers are turning to virtual reality as a design tool that allows them to create their 3D concepts in 3D space, rather than on a flat screen. in 2D.
“We still draw on paper, but we’re also drawing in the 3D world, because that means we have a much more realistic understanding of proportion, shape and volume,” said Chris McGrath, Timberland’s vice president of global footwear and footwear. design development.
Designers at Nike and Adidas are also experimenting with virtual reality design. 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 sketching or 3D computer software anytime soon, especially when it comes to apparel where 2D renderings of garments don’t sacrifice much. But in footwear, designers are exploring the possibilities of technology to produce what we might call more spatially accurate concepts.
“I think the reason why [VR] it will become more mainstream if you speed up the design process in a lot of ways,” said Joey Khamis, a former Reebok designer and co-founder of shoe brand MLLN (pronounced melon), which just launched a collection that Khamis says was modeled on pretty much everything. in virtual reality.
With a 2D sketch, for example, Khamis said you’d like to see it head-on, but then when you see a 3D prototype, it might not look as you’d expect from other angles or the proportions might be off. In virtual reality, “you can solve those 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 easy to communicate to the factory what the finished product should look like and helps eliminate or reduce sampling rounds. While VR headsets aren’t cheap, they can still be less expensive than top-tier 3D design software.
Khamis said his mentor at Reebok introduced him to virtual reality design, where he started as a shoe design trainee in 2019. It was not commonly used, and not yet widespread in the industry. Timberland has yet to release a product designed in VR and has so far only used it to rapidly create 3D concepts. But Khamis knows of several designers in the big sneaker players who have embraced it and are now promoting it.
At Adidas, the team that used it to create Futurenatural has talked about other benefits of virtual reality.
“We realized that we really needed something that would allow us to really work around anatomy, a tool that would give us a 360-degree view. [degree] perspective,” said Pascal Scholz, an Adidas shoe designer, during a panel last year. “It allowed us to take those perspectives, but it also allowed us to really question this classic way of having a midsole, having an outsole, having an upper, and really making it all a system.”
The resulting shoe is not stitched like a typical sneaker. Its upper part is molded and fused to the sole.
The panel in which Scholz participated took place during a conference organized by Gravity Sketch, a maker of 3D modeling and design software. Other companies, like Adobe, also make tools for modeling in virtual reality. Gravity Sketch has become popular among shoe designers. Adidas and Timberland wear it, as does Khamis, who has partnered with the company. On his Instagram account, he occasionally posts videos in which he draws in virtual reality using the software in real time.
One barrier to more widespread use, in Khamis’s view, is the VR hardware itself, which he says needs to become more portable and less intrusive. (He wears one of Meta’s Quest headphones in his videos.) It locks down the user’s environment and there have been reports of issues such as dizziness from prolonged use.
Khamis added that he still draws with pen and marker on paper or sometimes uses an iPad. But he sees virtual reality as another option available to him, and indeed found it more intuitive than more common 3D design software, which he said required a long learning curve.
His prediction is that the benefits of virtual reality will drive more designers to embrace the technology to shape their ideas. Its use by brands like Timberland, Nike and Adidas suggests that he may be right.