EconomyNext – New technologies like 3D printing and holographic clothing could disrupt the apparel industry, a senior official working for a top exporter has warned.
"I see this physical form of product being eliminated," declared Udena Wickremasooriya, Director, Brandix.
"There are multiple technologies coming out. 3D printing is possible. Holographic clothing and virtual clothing are not very far away."
Wickremasooriya said existing apparel production was "not green at all" with heavy consumption of materials which have to be shipped long distances to where clothing is made and the product then shipped again to where the consumer is.
But he said it was possible for Sri Lanka’s apparel industry to survive the disruption expected to be caused by changing technology and emerge as a leader in the sector given its experience in supplying top brands.
"If we can create a ‘Silicon Valley’ in this island – because we have the risk capital and knowledge of apparel – where we can drive innovation across the entire apparel supply chain, then we can lead the industry."
Emerging new technologies could wipe out existing industries, Wickremasooriya told a forum on the supply chain revolution in the global fashion industry organised by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Sri Lanka.
In 2014 the majority of apparel production consisted of traditional manufacturing with a small portion of customised clothing and a very small percentage of 3D printed clothing.
By 2020, in the first expected ‘revolution" customised clothing will proportionately increase.
And 3D printing, although tiny now, by 2025 "will be big," he said.
"By 2030 holographic would start appearing," he added, referring to how the technology is already used in the entertainment industry with people appearing on stage virtually.
"There are holographic presentations, the media uses holography. Why should it be limited to them?
"Holographic clothing is entirely possible since clothing is about fashion and expression. We change clothes for different occasions and it’s messy to change. Why not be virtual?," he said.
"Even if that’s too far-fetched what would 3D printing do to this industry, to supply chains and transport and logistics?" Wickremasooriya asked. "It will wipe industries out.
"What if there’s clothing non-washed and non-ironed? Today we have non-ironed clothing. If there’s non-wash clothing what happens to the washing machine and powder industries and suppliers of these industries? "
Wickremasooriya said it is really time for a new business model with 3D printing expected to grow to a five billion dollar business by 2017.
"3D printing is coming for sure," he said, noting that it will have greater acceptance once the present latex-like feel of 3D printed material is sorted out.
Robots will also be used more in apparel manufacture like in auto making with improved new machines.
Till recently robots could handle mainly rigid materials.
"But five years ago the first gripper that mimics fingers was developed. Since then there has been a big revolution in robotics," Wickremasooriya said.
"Very soon we will see robotic fingers that could mimic the human finger in dexterity."