Home Editorial Lectra Fashion PLM Revolution Seminar – the WhichPLM Report

Lectra Fashion PLM Revolution Seminar – the WhichPLM Report


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In this exclusive event coverage, our Editor reports on the presentations, roundtable discussions, solution demonstrations and manufacturing insights that collectively made up Lectra’s “Fashion PLM Revolution” seminar, held at the French technology’s house’s Bordeaux campus in late November.  

Lectra’s November “Fashion PLM Revolution” seminar – held at its campus and manufacturing centre in Cestas, Bordeaux – was more than just an opportunity to see the French technology house’s PLM solution in action, to tour the factory floor where its leather and fabric cutters are designed and assembled, or even to hear about the titular “revolution”.

It was a no-holds-barred chance to meet Lectra itself on the frankest terms.  Garrulous and transparent.  Ambitious and unabashed.  Uncompromising, yet humble.

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The two-day event did what many technology vendors (or indeed companies of any kind) would be unwilling to: it purposefully exposed Lectra at both its most confident and its least certain.  Its most human, in many ways.  Beyond the sleek and self-assured identity of its gleaming foyer, replete with looping videos reinforcing the host’s identity and ethos, the large parts of Lectra’s campus undergoing renovation mirrored CEO Daniel Harari’s frank admission that even he, at the helm of a “Lectra 3.0” specifically built for the “reset economy”, cannot predict what form the future of their industry will take.

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But, despite that uncertainty, the Lectra on display on 24th and 25th of last month was a vendor nevertheless willing to lead by example.  To wager its very identity time and again on the bleeding-edge intersection of fashion and technology, and to embrace what it sees as the one unavoidable constant: change.

And recognising that need to change – accepting that things are never going back to the way they were before – is characteristic of a business that understands that the current, constant state of flux experienced by retailers, brands and manufacturers around the globe is not a passing phase.  The dressmaker or tailor has always worried over trends and seasonality, yes, but today accelerating technological development, tectonic transformations in the geopolitical status quo, and the rapid adoption of new avenues for brand exposure and the intake of consumer demand have all conspired to create more change than ever before.

This is change not just for change’s sake, but a reaction to fundamental shifts in our day to day realities – change that’s felt to a more acute degree, compounded by the fact that existing market pressures remain in effect alongside them.  Operating a fashion business is no longer solely a matter of being successful in pure fashion terms – the best products, and a brand that resonate – but rather requires businesses to fight to retain their identity and integrity in an entirely new, ever-shifting context.

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As Harari explained in his introductory presentation, the essence of success in this reset economy – something he defines as post-financial-crisis, and influenced by shifts in the accepted East / West paradigm – lies in remaining true to your business model.  Lectra adopts the Harvard structure when discussing business models, so here Harari was referring to the combination of consumer value proposition, profit formula, key processes, and key resources.  And although the modern fashion market demands a great degree of change from retailers and brands, Harari believes that the fashion and retail industry must learn the lessons of the music and book markets – neither of which was prepared for change, as evidenced by their almost total absence from today’s high streets.

But rather than settle for lecturing his audience with cautionary tales of the impact of change, Harari chose instead to analyse their origins, and to talk about his own company’s responses to the new reality.

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Lectra, as Harari reminded delegates, serves just three industries: fashion, furniture and automotive textiles, with fashion remaining its major focus.  This kind of laser focus might once have been considered a recipe for success, but when each of these consumer-driven industries experienced shortfalls in sales of up to 30% in 2008 and 2009, Lectra’s own revenue figures dropped by almost 60% for hardware and software sales in three consecutive quarters.  With no other verticals to fall back upon, the vendor suddenly found itself affected deeply and perhaps irreversibly by change.  The Lectra team at that time was – justifiably – afraid of the future. Harari admitted that his shareholders, too, experienced fear when he revealed in 2011 that rather than cut corners, his approach to weathering the change would be to increase spending, hire 200 new people, allocate €8 million to marketing, and retain all activities essential to the Lectra DNA in its comparatively expensive home country.

With the benefit of hindsight, Harari’s approach turned out to be prudent.  Low costs of labour in China proved to be temporary, and today the United States is expected to prove a cheaper manufacturing territory than China within four years, while the latter rapidly ascends the consumption rankings.  But at the time he took those decisions, Harari explained, he believed that he had little choice; if Lectra’s role was to help its customer partners to lay the foundations for profitability and brand recognition in the new economy, he reasoned, then his company had to lead by example and place its brand identity at the forefront of a strategy defined by change.

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And there can be little question that Lectra perceives itself to be a brand.  Ours is a modern industry, so it’s unusual for any vendor to talk about heritage – this is typically left to the consumer-facing brands we support, but broadly speaking the apparel PLM market has neglected the past in a headlong sprint towards the future.  Until recently, the thinking went, prospective customers didn’t want to hear about where a technology supplier had been – only where it was going.  But things have changed, and readers of our 2014 Annual Review will already know that more than 80% of PLM customers today rank fashion industry experience, heritage, and focus as a major criterion for selecting a vendor partner.

The footprint of fashion is everywhere in Lectra’s heritage, as the second day’s tour of its Cestas campus showed.  Through one set of doors tour groups would encounter preventative maintenance and support for its fabric and leather cutting, plotting and spreading hardware; through another droves of developers carved out the latest revision of its Fashion PLM software; and through yet another set, the Cestas construction floor is busy building, testing and shipping the machinery that has made Lectra one of only a select few vendors to bridge the CAD / CAM / PLM divide natively.

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As Harari explained, Lectra today judges its own business model and practices by the same rubric it uses to categories and support its customers.  The vendor’s own value proposition, he reminded his audience, is not confined to technology, but rather spread across the broad base of support and expertise it has in helping the fashion industry to adapt to change.

Anastasia Charbin (Lectra’s Director of Fashion Marketing) followed Harari on-stage, and added yet more opacity to the looming spectre of change.  No longer can retailers or brands count on selling to the same customers they do today, Charbin explained.  Countries like China, India and Brazil are predicted to account for 30% of apparel sales worldwide in 2020, and statistics from the Global Retail Development Index place some of those same territories (China and Brazil, most notably) on the podium when it comes to the potential for opening successful retail / brand operations as part of an internationalisation strategy.  Internationalisation, Charbin reminded the audience, is distinct from globalisation, which implies a monolithic product mix rolled out around the world, when in fact tailored collections for local territories is the way to go.

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This was exemplified for me in a conversation I had with a major European retailer who had extended their operations to the UAE – a region with very minimal sales of womenswear in comparison to mens and childrenswear.  The company initially neglected to examine the market suitability of their existing product mix, and found themselves with almost empty floorspace when the usual amount of retail space was split evenly between men’s and women’s clothing.  This is change analysis in a micro form, underscoring the importance of facing in the right direction before putting even a single foot forward.

Refreshingly, for a single-vendor event, Charbin’s presentation remained purely educational from then on.  She passed over numerous opportunities to extoll the virtues of Lectra’s solutions to challenges like internationalisation, and instead retained a focus on the informative – joining the audience in mulling over the impact of accelerating change, the importance of consistent fit and regional sizing differences, and the widespread emergence of what Lectra refers to as the “hybrid business model”.  A hybrid model being, for example, a manufacturer launching its own private-label brand, or a treasured national brand opening new retail operations overseas – all without the company compromising its original identity.

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And although Charbin stopped short of naming Lectra as that potential technology partner, she emphasised the importance of reliable, innovate technologies and the forging of strong partnerships when it comes to achieving both hybrid and more traditional models in the context of the new economy.

The pioneering mindset was in no short supply during the round table discussion that followed, with five participants fielding questions under the banner of “PLM as a change initiative”, animated by Dominique Jacomet of the Institut Français de la Mode (Fashion Institute of France).  The author of three books on the history and globalisation of the fashion and textile industries – and with considerable experience at both the academic and practical levels – Jacomet was an able host, asking incisive questions of his panel of global experts.  These included WhichPLM’s own Mark Harrop; Pierre-François Le Louët, CEO of trend forecasting agency NellyRodi; Lectra’s director of strategic accounts for fashion, Bruno Mattia; Laetitia Hugé, now a business consultant for Lectra, but previously PLM project lead on a Lectra Fashion PLM implementation tasked with managing thousands of styles per season; and the Project Manager of PLM at a world-renowned French luxury brand.

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The roundtable formed the first hint at this event’s promotion of PLM as the “backbone” of holistic change – a whole-business project that can simultaneously unlock creativity in the face of change (the “initiative” of the title) and the one functional tool that can ensure its execution.

Le Louët began by listing what he referred to as his “8 Ws” that define the modern fashion industry, including: web, world, we (referring to brands fostering communities), words (brand storytelling) and “wow” – an exclamation that will usher in the presence of something entirely new and unexpected – the quintessential unknown of accelerating change.

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In response, Mattia explained how these change catalysts give rise to common challenges that unify retailers, brands and manufacturers of all shapes and sizes.  Grading for regional sizing differences, mounting cycle time pressures, and the difficulties inherent in working with multiple supply chain partners around the world.  Taken together, these challenges (coupled with each company’s own unique problems) conspire to create a vacuum between the ways that retailers and brands work today, and the processes that will characterise their lean, efficient futures.

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WhichPLM founder and CEO Mark Harrop talked at length, too, about the concept of process and PLM maturity – the need to understand the past in order to map the future.  Asked about best practices, Harrop talked the 100-strong audience through the history of apparel PLM – explaining how what started with the simple use of Product Data Management (PDM) solutions to produce a “tech pack” has grown and diversified into a $400 million annual industry with more than 1,100 verified implementations worldwide.

As Harrop explained, PLM and technologies like it used to be reserved for large businesses – the early adopters who could afford to take a chance on building new practices, without the hindsight of others.  This is no longer the case, Harrop said, since the costs of technology in general (particularly PLM) have decreased, all while baseline functionality has improved.

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Hugé in turn highlighted the importance of these core capabilities of modern PLM in addressing some of the most problematic aspects of digital working that she encountered during her own PLM project, where inaccessibility of information and disconnected solutions were rife.  As she explained, integrating teams represents a significant hurdle to many PLM projects, since consumer pressures force greater speed to market with each successive season, demanding the seamless circulation of information between teams that historically have worked in entirely disconnected applications and communicated only after the fact.

The topic of integration was something Harrop and the rest of the panel then tackled in detail, discussing the requirement for extended PLM (E-PLM) solutions to share a common data framework with PLM, and for the information they generate to be associated with the core product data stored in PLM.  With so many revisions being made to active styles within a given organisation (some of them from other continents), it’s absolutely vital that PLM be considered as that “backbone” of modern product development, collecting and serving up one accurate, contemporaneous set of information to every job role within the organisation – from designers to CEOs.

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Much of the remainder of the first day (and several hours of the second) was then given over to a joint team of Lectra solution experts – Luis Velazquez, Susanne Buss, Vanessa Lasale and Mark Powell – who were tasked with introducing the Lectra Fashion Platform, which comprises the vendor’s Fashion PLM solution, as well as the aforementioned cutting, plotting and spreading hardware, and its hundreds-strong professional services teams.

Titled “PLM as a strategic tool for change”, the team’s demonstration and presentation covered both the broad strategic imperatives that drive PLM implementations, and the technical minutiae that conspire to transform day to day processes.

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Velazquez began by reinforcing the concepts that had defined much of the discussion thus far: the challenges of connecting geographically dispersed teams with access to the information they require to innovate; PLM’s role at every stage of the concept to consumer lifecycle; the importance of quality management and collaboration; and the unification of theory and practice through effective change management.

Where his obvious expertise showed most readily was in explaining the specifics of the execution of that heady vision.  Prior to the actual software showcase put on by Buss and Lasale, Velazquez articulated how PLM – properly chosen and implemented – can welcome supply chain partners into an organisation, and facilitate a design-to-cost approach (a term Lectra recently coined) whereby products are not made if the target consumer is unlikely to respond to them, or if the brand’s own margins won’t allow them to be produced effectively.

Lectra Fashion PLM, Velazquez told his audience, is fully web-based, cross-platform and browser agnostic, and provides role-based access to a suite of different tools running the gamut from design to planning, including: three-dimensional pattern making and alteration, bi-directional integration to Adobe Illustrator, calendar management, RFQ tracking, management reporting and testing.

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To showcase the new accessibility that a hypothetical brand (one introducing a new brand concurrently with efforts to streamline deployment of its existing product lines) might have to previously-disconnected information, Buss and Powell together created a three-dimensional sample of a new garment (responding to an inspiration brief shared by a colleague in the Fashion PLM task manager, complete with synthetic costing scenarios) that was then made available for viewing and annotation by other users.  All of this was done with the end goal of reducing (and even eliminating) repetitive work that might otherwise have hampered the creativity and innovation of the product development process.

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These demonstrations and presentations were accompanied by professionally-produced videos featuring Lectra customers like Façonnable, Imperial Fashion, Wacoal and F&F (the private label brand of UK mega-retailer Tesco), each of whom talked about the difference that Lectra’s solutions and professional services had made to their business.  Four watchwords emerged from these testimonial videos, and from Velazquez et al’s presentation and demonstration: use, share, publish and communicate.  A snappy mantra, but one that fits well with Lectra’s vision of unified tools purpose-built for modern challenges and braced for the inevitability of change.

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Change was also the central topic of the first day’s final presentation, delivered by Jean-Maurice Férauge and Roberto de Almeida – both from the Lectra corporate team.  Férauge and de Almeida’s joint presentation was headed “Change Management and Lean Capability”, but might more appropriately have inherited its title from one of the pair’s initial slide headings: “PLM means transformation”.

By this, Férauge and de Almeida referred to PLM’s status as a transformative exercise, as well as the fact that the kind of transformation demanded by the modern fashion industry (increased profitability, heightened innovation, reduced costs, a truly networked supply chain) has prompted organisations from the multinational to the boutique to turn to PLM.  The wrinkle in this well-worn story, as Férauge explained, is that too many of these organisations expect their chosen PLM solution alone to deliver results – seeking a transformation driven entirely by technology, rather than one enabled and facilitated by it.

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It fell to de Almeida, then, to explain how the right approach – one supported by focus groups, communication, and measurable, durable change – is supported by Lectra’s on-site professional services – the third arm (alongside software and hardware) of the vendor’s market offering, and something it sees as a distinguishing strategy in an industry beset by sub-contracted implementations, regional resource disparities, and inexperienced “advisors”.

Operating from its global strongholds (of which Cestas is currently the most prolific), Lectra employs project managers, lean business consultants, technical specialists and customisation developers to serve the 23,000 customers that are spread out across its product portfolio.  Lectra has 110 people alone working on PLM, tasked with improving basic functionality, optimising integration, and providing the most robust framework possible for the other tine of Férauge and de Almeida’s presentation: lean working.

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Already introduced elsewhere on WhichPLM (and promoted routinely in our educational and advisory services) lean working refers to the prioritisation of only those processes and activities that add value to the operation – and the excision of everything else.  It may also be referred to as “agile”, since those businesses who have trimmed away the additional “bloat” are better able to respond to changing circumstances.  It is also, as de Almeida said, a matter of continuous, iterative improvement, and a lean business is one that consistently and thoroughly measures its progress from a current (or “as is”) state to an ideal future.

Although it would have been easy to dismiss this overview of Lectra’s professional services as sales by any other name, Férauge closed his presentation in an extremely poignant way, revealing that he understands the difficulties inherent in change, because it’s something he and his team have been through many times before.  Building a scalable, secure and customisable platform to support change, then, seemed for him not to be an academic exercise, but rather the furtherance of a conviction that global change becomes easier to face when a business is supported by experienced professionals with the right tools to hand.

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And it was the global aspect of change that Françoise Replumaz and Laura Mylius-Prou discussed on the morning of the second day, with memories of the Contemporary Art Museum of Bordeaux’s Franz Erhard Walther exhibition from the previous night still fresh in delegates’ minds.  The pair talked at length about the role that PLM and Lectra’s OptiPlan software can play in optimising supply chain, sourcing, and material allocation processes – the latter of which can easily account for 70% of product cost.  Citing the sheer scale of the organisation required to meet the “fast fashion” model that so many organisations strive unrealistically towards – Inditex famously own their own manufacturing, Esprit have a “quick response division” boasting times to market of 6-8 weeks, and H&M currently work with more than 900 supply chain partners worldwide – Replumaz and Mylius-Prou urged delegates instead towards more modest and more immediate goals.

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Lean, sustainable, flexible and collaborative sourcing and procurement processes, Replumaz argued, begin in the cutting room, where integration and exacting data pertaining to consumption, capacity and quality can become a competitive advantage.  Armed with this kind of insight, brands can order only the fabric they need, making informed decisions on the basis of fabric forecasting simulations.  And these are not just theoretical metrics; the TAL Group in Hong Kong has, according to Lectra, saved $2.1 million per year in fabric costs alone; and Art Stop Enterprises were able to achieve a return on their investment in Optiplan in the space of just one calendar year.

Although many PLM vendors can claim support – often to a very limited degree – for CAD/CAM, Lectra has very few competitors who can equal this ability to connect the entire product lifecycle from design to delivery via the intermediary processes of manufacture.  Only through native support can a vendor account for the so-called “ripple effect” whereby alterations to a given product originate in any number of different solutions – 2D creative, 2D pattern, CAD, Optiplan, bill of materials – cascade throughout other interconnected systems, ensuring that every point of access displays the same, current information.

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That kind of end to end perspective – a panoramic view, taking in more than the immediate challenges of this season’s deliverables – was one shared by the final three speakers of the second day: Anouck Olry of Petit Bateau (where she retains responsibility for Organisational Development and Corporate Social Responsibility), Geoffrey Gabelle, Worldwide Consulting Services Manager for Lectra, and a second presentation by Lectra CEO Daniel Harari.

Anouck Olry spoke about the interrelationships between Petit Bateau’s heritage – producing high quality products that embrace the values of sensory pleasure, freedom and spontaneity – and the way she and her project team approached the change management aspect of their PLM project.  As Anouck Olry explained, the same sense of historical identity that has supported Petit Bateau’s expansion into 60 countries has also made its team members accustomed to very particular ways of working – creating an environment characterised by silos and bottlenecks, where time to market was significant, and skilled resources were being occupied with repetitive administrative tasks.

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With their PLM project, Petit Bateau sought to improve productivity, produce fewer prototypes, and gain the ability to create one-off capsule collections in addition to their regular seasonal product mix.  Mapping these goals against their current processes at the start of the company’s 18-month implementation allowed Petit Bateau to build clear, realistic and transparent “to-be” targets, and to run change management initiatives concurrently.

Working with Lectra professional services team members, Anouck Olry asked team champions to thoroughly analyse their current ways of working only after they had a full understanding of the purpose of the transformation at hand, and then followed these up with fifteen-minute presentations, coffee meetings, training videos and progress reports – all built upon the promise to listen, acknowledge, inform and take action on the issues that mattered to the real owners of the project: the Petit Bateau teams.

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Picking up where Anouck Olry left off, Geoffrey Gabelle’s presentation was titled “PLM End-to-End Approach: How to Get Started”, but much like the earlier talks by Férange and de Almeida, served more readily as a primer on the methodologies and competencies of the Lectra professional services team.

Gabelle is an amiable and open speaker, and although he and his team have established best practices and adhere in most cases to proven methods, he remained candid throughout about the futility of promising “one way” to get the most out of PLM.  According to Gabelle, true success rests in re-examining your core business identity – the DNA Harari repeatedly referred to – and building a set of organisational, performance-driven and clearly structured goals geared around safeguarding that identity in the face of what will become all-encompassing and potentially disruptive change.

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That disruption is something vendors and consultants often overlook, focusing on the final result, but obfuscating the fact that a significant amount of pain often lies between the way things are today and the way we’d like them to be tomorrow.

PLM, as Gabelle rightly pointed out, is designed to challenge the status quo, to prompt re-examinations of existing processes and job descriptions, and to encourage the retailer or brand in question to re-define and then re-formalise codified ways of working.  Encouraging participation from stakeholders at every stage of the product lifecycle – through interviews and full-day workshops – can help to minimise those growing pains, ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clarified, and baseline skills, functions and processes understood.  This understanding then serves as an ROI (return on investment) template for the creation of the “quick wins” and priorities that will act as catalysts to overcome the inertia that typically greets enterprise-level change.

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Change remained at the forefront of the event’s final presentation, but with the onus firmly on Lectra itself, as CEO Danial Harari delivered (for the first time, not the last, given the applause that followed) a new look at Lectra’s strategic vision for the future of fashion.  As he explained during his scene-setting discussion of the “reset economy”, Harari believes that Lectra’s value lies beyond pure technology, but nevertheless he recognises that customers buy solutions like PLM (and CAD/CAM) not just on the strength of their actual functionality, but on the promise of their future development.

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To that end, Harari summed up his vision for Lectra as providers of fully integrated “production, collection, and product conception solutions designed to meet 21st century apparel challenges” tailored to the needs of what he sees as the three key business models in fashion: brands, retailers and manufacturers.  Rather than simply bundling as many processes as possible into a single solution, Harari instead wants to produce, as he calls them, “a PLM for brands” and the same for manufacturers and retailers – each of whom has a DNA distinctly different from other sectors.  A brand may have retail operations, Harari explained, but according to the Harvard business model, their essential activity and true calling would remain the creation and curation of an aspirational brand lifestyle, and products with an identity that resonates with the target consumer.

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This vision builds upon Harari’s own conviction that each of these sectors deserves a solution that caters to its own singular challenges.  And with these tailored solutions, Harari hopes to work with customer partners to manage the mounting complexity of their businesses, and allow them to remain flexible in encountering the unexpected.  A large part of this flexibility is inherent in the solutions themselves (connected cutters, 3D prototyping, quality management and more) but Lectra will, Harari said, continue to leverage pure functional clout alongside its “smart services”, which take in direct consultation, progressive implementation management, performance tracking and a host of other facets.

Harari indicated that customers can expect to see the influence of three key tines of technological development on the Lectra fashion platform by the end of 2015: cloud, 3D, and mobility.  By embracing these ideologies (something already commonplace in the consumer industries) Harari hopes to simplify technical administration, make information accessible across devices, enable online / offline synchronisation and hybrid applications, conduct large-scale product version roll-outs and patches automatically, and retain all development in France.

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To reinforce that homegrown identity, those attendees without early flights to catch were then invited to tour the Lectra campus – walking the halls of support and research & development before entering the factory floor, where Versalis and Vector cutters are made.  This latter portion of the tour was no doubt exciting for those brands present who use Lectra machinery to manufacture their products, but it was doubly eye-opening for me, since much of the work we do at WhichPLM is conducted at several removes from the core business of manufacture.

More than anything, my recent opportunity to meet the real Lectra demonstrated to me that the rest of the industry is only now catching up to something that the Bordeaux giants – who have always chosen their customer partners carefully, and invested in unpopular directions in the face of criticism – have known for some time: “by changing nothing, nothing changes”.

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This is a credo I’ve heard espoused by Harari before, but only during my visit to the Lectra campus did it truly strike the right note, when Harari himself revealed in response to an audience question that he simply isn’t interested in gaining market share.  Harari and his team seek to do something different and something unexpected, and rather than sales figures and customer names, instead they seek partners willing to join them in questioning the norm, and in sharing a vision as bold as they come in the niche of apparel technology.  In return, Lectra will bring its best solutions to the table, custom-built for your business model, and provide access to dedicated professionals (from the CEO downwards) who all believe in transforming theoretical change into practical results.

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Change nothing and nothing changes, then.  But reject the hard sell typical of the seminar format, hold fast to your identity, keep your gaze and your investment strategy fixed firmly on the horizon, and a leaner, more authentic version of yourself will emerge.

One far more suited to its role as a premiere technology partner in a new world, where the old rules no longer apply.

Ben Hanson Ben Hanson is one of WhichPLM’s top contributors. Ben has worked for magazines, newspapers, local government agencies, multi-million pound conservation projects, museums and creative publications before his eventual migration to the Retail, Footwear and Apparel industry.Having previously served as WhichPLM’s Editor, Ben knows the WhichPLM style, and has been responsible for many of our on-the-ground reports and interviews over the last few years. With a background in literature, marketing and communications, Ben has more than a decade’s worth of experience, and is now viewed as one of the industry’s best-known writers.