Talk of virtual reality (VR) these days generally focuses on immersive experiences and technology as a precursor to 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, shoemakers have turned to virtual reality as a design tool to allow them to create their 3D concepts in 3D space, rather than on a 2D flat screen.
“We still draw on paper, but we also draw 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 for the global footwear and design development.
Designers from 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 design their Futurenatural sneaker.
The technology might not be ready to replace flat sketching or 3D computer software anytime soon, especially when it comes to clothing, where 2D representations of clothing don’t sacrifice much. But in footwear, designers are exploring the possibilities of technology to produce what might be called more spatially accurate designs.
“I think the reason why [VR] will become more mainstream if it speeds up the design process in many ways,” said Joey Khamis, a former Reebok designer and co-founder of footwear brand MLLN (pronounced as melon), who just launched a collection that Khamis said to have been modeled practically. all in VR.
With a 2D sketch, for example, Khamis said you might like to see it directly, but when you see a three-dimensional prototype, it might not look like you’d expect from other angles or proportions. may be wrong. In virtual reality, “you can solve these problems 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 allows for the elimination or reduction of sampling rounds. While VR headsets aren’t cheap, they can still be cheaper than top-tier 3D design software.
Khamis said he was introduced to VR design by his mentor at Reebok, where he started as a shoe design apprentice in 2019. It wasn’t commonly used — and still isn’t prevalent across the board. industry. Timberland has yet to release a product designed in VR and has so far been content to use it to quickly create 3D concepts. But Khamis knows a number of designers among the major sneaker players who have adopted it and are now promoting it.
At Adidas, the team that used it to create the Futurenatural talked about other benefits of virtual reality.
“We realized we really needed something that would allow us to really work around anatomy, a tool that would allow us 360° vision. [degree] perspective,” Pascal Scholz, an Adidas shoe designer, said during a panel last year. “It allowed us to embrace those perspectives, but also allowed us to really challenge that classic way of having a midsole, having an outsole, having an upper and really making it all one. system.”
The resulting shoe is not sewn like a typical sneaker. Its upper is molded and fused to the sole.
The panel Scholz participated in took place at a conference hosted by Gravity Sketch, a maker of 3D design and modeling software. Other companies such as Adobe also make virtual reality modeling tools. Gravity Sketch has become popular among shoe designers. Adidas and Timberland both use it, as does Khamis, who has partnered with the company. On his Instagram account, he occasionally posts videos in which he draws in VR using the software in real time.
One barrier to more widespread use, Khamis says, is the VR hardware itself, which he says needs to become more portable and less intrusive. (He wears one of Meta’s Quest headsets in his videos.) It blocks out the user’s environment, and issues such as motion sickness from prolonged use have been reported.
Khamis added that he always draws with a pen and marker on paper or sometimes uses an iPad. But he sees virtual reality as another option available to him and has actually found it more intuitive to master than more common 3D design programs, which he says required a long learning curve.
His prediction is that the benefits of virtual reality will inspire more designers to embrace the technology to shape their ideas. Its use by brands like Timberland, Nike and Adidas suggests that it may be right.