By Dustin Bowersox, Market Manager for Textile and Apparel
These days, instant gratification is expected. And fashion is no exception. From runways to movies to TV shows to our phone screens, style influencers are everywhere. And wherever there’s a style influencer, there are eager consumers who want the latest trends in their closets, well… yesterday.
This leaves brands and textile mills with two often-competing priorities: respond to trends as fast as possible and stay true to a brand’s identity. Thankfully, advancements in accurate digital measurement of single-colored textiles have come to the rescue. But why can’t we digitally measure color for more detailed textiles like patterns, trim, yarn, zippers and lace?
It’s time for that to change. What does it take to rise to the occasion? Let’s dive in. But first, a video:
The History of Digital Measurement for Single-Colored Textiles
Once upon a time, responding to trends with the right, consistent colors was inefficient, costly and highly subjective. After all, a color might look dramatically different depending on who you ask—and what lighting that person is in when they come to their color conclusions. There were other major roadblocks to accurate color analysis, too:
- Samples were sent oversees to brand headquarters for final approvals, adding weeks to the development process.
- The average headcount on color teams has decreased dramatically over time, both on the brand side and the supply chain side.
Thankfully, several industry shifts took some of the pressure off the process of quickly getting consumers the trends they were after:
- Brands started establishing regional offices where approvals could take place, saving weeks in the development calendar.
- The designation of engineered color standards and the implementation of supply chain accreditations shortened—and sometimes eliminated—the color approval process for development samples.
- The use of spectrophotometers (tools for accurately measuring the color of a material), QC (quality control) software and lightboxes (to view how a color looks under multiple lights) made much of the process more objective, and led to cost savings and a faster, more accurate response to trends.
The Missing Piece: Digital Measurement Beyond Single Colors
Despite their status as industry game-changers, the logistical and technological advancements we just talked about have one major limitation: they only apply to solid colors. And we’re not just talking about polka dots, florals and stripes being left out.
Analysis of lace, zippers, yarn and even garments with a different color trim falls on highly skilled (and highly paid) color experts and designers to analyze, which takes up valuable time that could be used elsewhere. Here’s what the process looks like today:
- Suppliers do a visual review of these non-solid textiles.
- Then, they send samples overseas to a brand to do the same exact thing (hopefully, the brands and buyers have the same visual experience).
- As you might expect, rejected samples are often inevitable. When that happens, it leads to further reviews, extending the entire process.
In a world where there’s an app for everything, these color experts and designers are still alphabetizing color samples and filing them away. And skilled as they may be, even the most experienced color team doesn’t see color the same way on a Monday as they do on a Friday. Blame might be pointed in the direction of designers, but it’s really a visual evaluation issue. So, what’s a color expert to do when keeping the consumer waiting isn’t an option?
Engineering an Answer
The key to bringing these “unmeasurable” materials into the digital color management game is an approach called hyperspectral imaging, where sensors collect information as a set of images, rather than a single image.
Let’s say, for example, that the latest trend is an elaborate floral print. Hyperspectral imaging allows that print to be broken down into many different images across the electromagnetic spectrum. Then, those images are prepared for objective measurement by combining them into something called a hyperspectral data cube. What you get is an accurate analysis of each color in the pattern (or lace, zipper, fabric, or trim). You also get a lot of relieved employees at brands and textile mills.
This approach to color measurement may be new to the world of textiles, but hyperspectral imaging isn’t so new to other industries. It’s used in astronomy to map galaxies and stars, in agriculture to assess diseased crops and in geology and geography to measure topography and moisture sources. It also has biomedical and surveillance applications.