Walmart pilots 3D weaving project to transform apparel production

Image of fabric weaving machine overlayed with Unspun and Walmart logos

Walmart pilots 3D weaving project to transform apparel production

The US retail giant, Walmart has unveiled a pilot project to explore a pioneering new 3D fabric weaving technology that will eliminate fabric loss, wasted inventory, and transport emissions in the process of producing apparel.

To embark on the initiative, the retailer has teamed up with the brains at Unspun, the developers behind the Vega 3D weaving technology that helps brands ‘skip steps such as cutting and stitching’ to go ‘straight from yarn to garment.

According to the business’ co-founder and chief product officer, Beth Esponnette, it’s an innovation that ‘has the potential to solve industry challenges, unlock and create skilled jobs in the US, and meet consumer demand for locally made garments while delivering transparency and sustainability within the apparel supply chain.’

It is Unspun’s ambition to have 3D weaving machines at microsites across the US, with the goal to have 350 machines in use by 2030.

So how does it work? Unspun’s Beth likens it to the scene in Cinderella in which a fabric gown materialises, tailor made for the princess. The reality isn’t that far off, with yarn feeding into the 3D weaving machine which produces its 3D woven garment on the other side.

It’s a technology that could completely transform the clothing and fashion industry. Traditionally, clothing is produced when yarn is spun into a flat fabric that is cut based on a pattern and sewn together. Excess fabric in this process usually becomes waste.

This traditional cut-and-sew model also requires businesses to carry excess inventory due to projecting what consumer demand will be amid ever-changing fashion trends.

“One big problem with the clothing industry today is that because clothing is made before people want it, excess inventory has to be produced,” said Beth.

For its pilot project with the technology, Walmart is creating a range of men’s chinos. These 3D woven chinos – at first glance – won’t look any different to traditional chinos. However, it will feature no leg seams, making it stronger and lighter, while labels will be woven into the garment rather than sewn in. Unspun’s on-demand model will also allow for potential customisation while bringing the manufacturing process closer to home through localised production.

“We believe that if we can think of the next generation of apparel and build a process that’s much more automated and enables on-demand manufacturing, we can allow an industry that has, more or less, left the US, to come back,” said Kevin Martin, co-founder and chief technology officer at Unspun.

“We were connected with Walmart because as we start talking about the ability to produce in the US on demand, there are very few people thinking about that as actively as Walmart.”

Walmart has underlined its ambition to tackle the waste crisis in the apparel industry. Last year, it detailed another pilot project with Rubi Laboratories to explore incorporating its patent-pending carbon capture process into its supply chain and convert carbon emissions into thread used in a garment prototype.

Meanwhile, in February this year, the retail giant announced it had hit its goal to work with suppliers to reduce, avoid, or sequester one billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions across its product value chains by 2030, six years early.

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