During a challenging economy, companies tend to tighten up their budget strings, but cutting technology investments out of the picture could lead to even more problems, warned executives speaking at the Tech Conference West , held April 2 at the Irvine, Calif., campus of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising .

“We have to be efficient now,” said Paul Magel, senior vice president of application solutions for New York–based Computer Generated Solutions .

CGS markets Blue Cherry , an enterprise software application that manages everything from production to sales and warehousing. “Companies need to get their houses in order now because when this cycle ends, they want to be up and running.”

The event was attended by representatives of major retailers and manufacturers who learned about emerging technologies such PLM (product lifecycle management), 3-D design applications and business-management systems. The one-day conference was hosted by Apparel magazine, which hosts a similar event in New York each fall.

Among the company representatives speaking at the West Coast conference was Tory Lowitz, director of product development for Los Angeles–based American Apparel . Lowitz offered plenty of evidence to support Magel’s claim. The company has been growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to its massive wholesale business, the company has 183 retail stores, with 79 in the pipeline this year. It recently opened in China, South Korea and Australia. It also has a growing online presence, which has at times logged more than $150,000 in sales per day. The company is known for its domestic manufacturing capabilities done “sweatshop free.” The plant is capable of producing more than 220,000 units per day and has, in some cases, produced garments from design to delivery in three days, Lowitz said.

American Apparel had been using about four different software systems to manage its business but recently installed the first phase of an enterprise system from Microsoft Corp. called Microsoft Dynamics AX , provided by Winston Salem, N.C.–based Sunrise Technologies .

“We wanted more control [using one system],” Lowitz said. “We now have a live tool to stay on track with areas like bill of materials. That alone has been a huge change. All of our departments are on the same page now.”

American Apparel practices modular team production. It has 200 different sewing teams that, in addition to producing the company’s staple blank tees, now make everything from denim to slacks and button-down shirts. It has its own knitting mill as well as a dye house. At times, Lowitz admitted, it gets chaotic, with truckloads of fabric arriving at different times, and when things are out of sync, it sometimes results in downtime for production teams.

“You don’t want your teams waiting around for 45 minutes,” he said. “That is all solved now.”

Brian Abraham, director of information technology for Four Star Distribution of San Clemente, Calif., presenteda different scenario for his company, which markets Circa brand skateboarding shoes and apparel. The company’s customers are largely influenced by its team board riders, who are spread out over the map.

“We have trends emerging from various regions,” Abraham said. “We needed our ERP [enterprise resource planning software] to follow it.”

The company is using CGS’s Blue Cherry to help manage production, sales and distribution. Abraham pointed to features such as Blue Cherry’s grid format and single-line plans that help it stay on top of business.

Magel added that the system is all integrated so that the different applications talk with each other and accept data to and from each other. The system is based on a single-source code so all customers are using identical software. It’s also an event-based system, which means managers have a view of the supply chain throughout a product’s cycle.

Also helping companies is PLM, a Web-based application that helps manage the pre-production portion of the cycle. Mark Burstein, vice president of PLM for Miami-based New Generation Computing , noted in his presentation that PLM has already helped many companies cut cycle times by 10 percent to 15 percent and enhance margins by 5 percent to 20 percent.

More specifically, PLM has given companies more control over the myriad of processes that go into developing a style. NGC couples the system with e-SPS , an application that incorporates sourcing. Burstein cited one example of how customers can use the system’s tracking capabilities to track down containers of landed product—a process that, in the past, would sometimes take several days.

“Now they do it in five seconds. That’s real-time visibility,” he said. “You can figure out scenarios like ’What if I bought that fabric at 30 percent less?’ You also have vendor profiles, scorecard indexes, revision histories that can show you all the garments with grommets, for example, just like that. You can track at the style or color levels, as well. And get milestone views of everything, so if you’re one day late, the system will notify the next in line.”

Jill Simmons, business-development director for Cypress, Calif.–based Lectra , showed how PLM is also helping to manage design peripherals such as sketches, colors, textiles, prints, trends and other visuals. It does away with the need for spreadsheets and paper because it’s all in one place and on the Internet, Simmons said.

Lectra’s collection-management application is called Kaledo , which is part of the larger Fashion PLM suite.

“Some companies have these huge design libraries now, and that can make it hard to find what you’re looking for,” she explained. “Some are electronic. Some are manual, but rarely is it all together.”

PLM has put it all together and has defined it in many categories, so it’s easier to access. The Kaledo system enables users to create styles with drawing and sketching tools. It can also import from outside sources.

Visibility also comes within the design channel, as Tukatech showed during a demonstration of the company’s e-Fit Simulator application. The tool takes the body scan of a fit model and creates a virtual mannequin, which can be outfitted with virtual garments to help designers tweak fit and design before a sample is made.

“When you are doing this virtual process, it has to be right,” added Ram Sareen, chief executive officer of Tukatech. “There’s zero tolerance.”

Maribel Diaz of Timex Garments in Sri Lanka was on hand to explain how her company has cut its cycle in half using Tukatech’s system. E-fit incorporates a color-coded, tension-mapping tool to show where a garment may bind or sag.

“It’s a great way to see a garment without having to make five to seven samples,” Diaz said. “That’s usually a sevenweek process for us. Now it’s two to three weeks. It has allowed us to take on more orders. We can even view them on mobile devices [such as an Apple iPhone ].”

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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