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The future of fashion, Epson says, is about personalization – the prints and colors we choose to wear, in the size and shape that works best for us.

Combine digital printing, a bit of artificial intelligence, and a bit of robotics at the end of it, and it’s a vision that isn’t too far off, and that’s precisely what the tech company hopes to help deliver. possible in all respects.

Its senior team, including Global President Minoru Usui, was in New York City last week to host its third annual “Digital Couture” event. This saw 13 design teams from North America and Latin America take advantage of Epson’s thermal sublimation and direct-to-fabric printing technology to create small collections that were showcased at a hosted party. before New York Fashion Week. The occasion also served to officially introduce the fact that Epson acquired Italian textile printer manufacturer Robustelli in 2016.

“This event is an opportunity to highlight Epson’s commitment to the industry and showcase the growing impact of digital technologies on innovation in the fashion world,” Usui said. “Work with [Robustelli], Epson has helped digitize some of the world’s leading fashion houses who value the quality, throughput and high cost performance we bring to their unique designs.

While digital printing itself is not a new concept – Epson already works with many big fashion brands that it cannot name, as well as Under Armor and Adidas – it is now experiencing a period of rapid adoption, Usui explains. He refers to the idea of ​​being “one third of the digital mountain”. In fact, the global digital textile printing market is expected to grow by almost 25% annually through 2019, according to WTiN Intelligence.

Part of the reason for this increased adoption is due to market forces. First, the fashion industry is going through an evolution (even a revolution) in terms of how it gets products from the catwalks during Fashion Week faster than ever to stores and, ultimately, to wardrobes. client.

Focused on a strategy called ‘see now, buy now’, it is about closing the gap that exists between the fashion shows that have become heavily faced by consumers in the digital and social media age, and the point delivery usually around 6 months later. In short, consumers want to be able to “see” clothes now and even “buy” them right away. Designers inevitably want to not only capitalize on this buzz and undo the current fatigue that they see buyers feeling otherwise, but also increase the barriers for fast fashion brands to play the copier.

This motivation and momentum, however, means a serious change in the production schedule. Unique prints on textiles are only part of the cake, but important. It currently takes two to three months for traditional screen printing. Digital printing by comparison can happen immediately.

Other benefits include the fact that digital printing guarantees higher quality, more unique large-scale designs, a greater variety of rich colors and more. It is literally possible to take a photo on your iPhone today and immediately print it on a textile with photo-realistic quality.

The cost performance for small production runs also means looks can be created at a scale of one – rather than thousands. This means custom designs for individual customers on demand on the one hand, as well as the ability to print ‘just in time’ – so when the demand is there, rather than stockpiling and ultimately creating waste – d ‘somewhere else.

“The cost to produce one or thousands is the same, it doesn’t make any difference,” says Timothy Check, Professional Imaging Product Manager at Epson. The equipment itself can be scaled to multiple machines for mass production, or just be done on a relatively affordable small machine. His take is on the flexibility this gives designers and retailers to also tweak and tailor the strategy based on the top performing pieces on the market, or update looks for new seasons to the easy.

“People want something different these days, they want something that stands out,” he says. “We work with a lot of manufacturers who say they don’t make 20,000 of the same garment anymore, but only 500. Then they’ll make another 500, but in a slightly different color maybe. They do more things in smaller amounts. Digital technology allows a producer to do this efficiently. The traditional comparison method is not possible to do profitably.

This is especially relevant to Millennials, 48% of whom expect brands to customize offerings these days to their needs, according to American Express. It refers to everything from pricing to messaging, but the product becomes a ubiquitous part.

“The model of [the fashion industry] is to produce at high volume and sell at high volume, so we have to convince people to move away from this model for a custom model, ”says Usui, in relation to the biggest obstacle to the wider adoption of the ‘digital printing. “That’s why an event like this is good for us – we can bring young designers together to think about that and show what’s possible – to show how to bring this business into the digital age. “

Earlier that same day, Epson hosted a fashion and tech forum with speakers from PVH, For.Tex, Elie Tahari and others, discussing the same topic. Designer Erin Fetherston, who already uses digital printing, noted personalization, or certainly originality, as one of the most pressing needs in the industry: “The biggest challenge for a brand of my size is to see consumers wanting more and more uniqueness… On the contrary, you would have developed a strategy for your production a few years ago.

She added, “With see-now, buy-now, when that becomes the norm, then we have to work backwards in our process and understand how we do things faster. This is when technology becomes our greatest help.

Of course, the ability to print custom and made-to-order textiles at high speed still leaves an extra gap around the rest of the production process, which is where Epson believes new technological innovations can come in.

Artificial intelligence will increasingly play a role in sizing solutions, for example, while robotics will be what will help cut and sew. “Epson has a very large and growing robotics business and we would like to take advantage of this activity in this industry in the future to help designers create highly industrialized designs,” Usui adds.

Speaking at the forum, Barry McGeough, vice president of PVH Innovation Next, highlighted how important this will be for a “local for local” strategy (local manufacturing for local sales) in the future. It’s about both speeding to market and more sustainable processes, he explained. “To do that, we’re going to have to make sure we have robotics; a lot of automated processes that can move these things very quickly. It is a question of optimizing the deadlines.

He referenced Sewbo, a Seattle-based company that created the first industrial robot capable of sewing a t-shirt. While for designers like Fetherston, where a high level of artisanal and delicate work is at the heart of the collection, this may seem like an unlikely solution, but the long-term possibilities are obviously there. For now, the digitization of textile printing is inevitably and already well advanced.

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