Mark Harrop, our CEO & Founder, has recently returned from Lectra’s Fashion Forward event, where he was one of eight guest speakers. Part one of his coverage focuses on the live customer interviews, Q&As and presentations around PLM, 3D and Fit. Here, part two explores solution demonstrations from Lectra’s Campus and further PLM presentations.
Kicking off part two of this report, I’d like to jump straight back in to the guest presentations. First up, a great session from Mark Charlton, VP of Technical Services, at Calvin Klein (part of the PvH Group). One of our industry’s biggest problems, according to Mark, is managing consumer expectations with regards to fit. Charlton has been helping businesses from around the world to resolve this problem for the last 2 decades, having been fitting apparel and helping brands to understand sizing constructs.
Charlton once worked for one of the pioneering companies of made-to-measure and early CAD systems, originating from the Hepworth tailoring business which became Complan Technology – a business dedicated to block development, pattern engineering and grading. One of the more famous names from the offshoot of Hepworth is the UK retailer, Next, For much of its history Hepworth was predominantly in the ready-to-wear suit market and in 1963 the company brought in the celebrated Savile Row designer, Hardy Amies, to help revitalise its ready-to-wear suit collection. This was certainly one of the best businesses to gain the foundations of shape and fit and a great platform for Mark to build upon over the following years.
Charlton stated that he doesn’t “have all the answers”, however he believes that unpacking what’s involved in fit will help retailers and brands to better understand how to communicate with their consumers. The science of fit is becoming more difficult. Fit is successful only in the eyes of the consumer experience and is a personal perception: how we feel about how a garment fits our own shapes. Fit is a very subjective matter that is entwined with science, shape, and material.
The purchasing and fit process is managed through the traditional fitting room experience, and what happens in the fitting room is that we ask ourselves, “does this fit me?” There isn’t always a simple answer. How something fits relates to a multitude of things: body type, body shape and size, comfort boundaries, trend adoption, wearability, ease of movement and personal taste.
Charlton went on to share three types of human body shape. A brand’s approach to body shape typically only fits 1 of these types. “But this is OK”, he explained, “providing that it’s carefully communicated to the consumers”. Then, he shared the “breath” (smallest to largest and the incremental sizing that takes place in-between each of the mediums) of fit.
So there’s the question of how brands approach fit, how to fit these body shape(s) and how brands identify the range of sizes that they’re going to offer. The approach will differ from brand to brand and will be targeted and exclusive versus acceptable fit, based upon a range. There is no right or wrong method to each approach and its important to recognise where your brand sits in the regional or global demographics, Charlton advised.
He asked the question, “what do you think is making fit harder than it used to be?” He talked about the globalisation of brands that today require a far broader and diverse range of body shapes and sizes having enormous impact on garment fitting and of course returns.
He also shared his thoughts on the diverse range of inputs a retailer and brand will need to consider to help devise the optimal fit for it’s consumers located across the global landscape and the challenges of making the process repeatable and scientific. Within this he discussed challenges like the range in comfort boundaries, the obesity epidemic, regional trends, and the growth of e-Commerce. How do we ensure right fit when the customer no longer wants the fitting room experience, but would rather purchase an item based on how it fits a (often virtual) model?
He made the point that this is why retailers and brands need to be carefully communicating their fit to their consumers, so that they can better manage expectations and avoid the level of returns for poor fitting garments.
He drew some great parallels between clothing and food, suggesting they share a human behaviour; both depend on taste, both are very subjective, both follow a personal and unpredictable pattern of “familiar, familiar, familiar, surprise me!”
He followed up with an assumption on this point: that we’ve all returned more clothing online than we have returned meals in restaurants. But why is this?
His answer was simple: a restaurant manages your expectations far better than a clothing brand does, and they communicate them (carefully and concisely) via their menu with no guesswork. Leading us to the likely conclusion that communication is the key. He even shared an example a ‘fit menu’ for apparel brands.
Charlton ended his presentation by suggesting that we should go way and ask ourselves whether we have a clear and concise message on fit, and whether we’re communicating this message clearly to our consumers?
Staying on the subject of fit was Zeta Beckett, 3D Lectra Senior Pattern Technologist at Matalan – a British homewares retailer established in 1985 and operating over 200 stores across the UK. Today, Matalan uses several technologies including CAD, PDM and 3D (one of the latest solutions to be added to the list). Beckett shared her extensive background in pattern making both by hand and using systems; she has worked for several of the leading suppliers to many famous named retailers and for the last two decades she been using the latest 2D CAD systems to design and engineer block patterns based upon her retailer’s customer type and fitting requirements. She complimented Charlton and said that he’d played into her hands in terms of what she wanted to share with the audience.
This session was a two-way interview between Laura Mylius-Prou, Operational Marketing Manager for Retailing Ecosystems at Lectra, and Zeta. Matalan has implemented both 2D and 3D and is now in a transitional state, operating between both solutions to help designers and buyers improve the fitting process, taking weeks off the manual process time and, at the same time, improving the speed and accuracy of virtual prototyping. Beckett went on to say that in the early days of the implementation the team had to learn new techniques, which at first were challenging when moving from a real-world, physical hands-on environment to a virtual world of trust and belief. She stated that after several weeks of using 3D for childrenswear, trust in the outcome became that much easier. At the beginning they doubled up the workload to prove the new way of working, comparing existing pattern making and sampling to the new world of 3D virtual prototypes.
Beckett went on to say that Matalan had started to rollout 3D to ladieswear, menswear and other departments; although it’s still early days, the benefits and trust in the output of the solution continues to grow day by day and her team is being asked to take on new products to help prove the technical challenges of make and fitting before moving ahead with the physical samples. She said it’s a “proving ground for what’s possible”, rather than having to wait days or even weeks to obtain samples, only to return them for make and fitting issues.
She ended her interview by saying that there’s “no going back to the old ways” of working; today it’s a mix of both the old and the new.
Next to present was Edwin Keh, CEO of The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HK RITA). This was a strategic presentation that discussed the long-term future of textiles and apparel.
Edwin opened by sharing a couple of new, multi-million dollar projects HK RITA had worked on. The first was partnering with H&M, working on biological and chemical research projects linked to re-cycling clothing – a $16 million dollar project over 4 years; another project was around waterless dyeing with several world leading brands and retailers. He stated that they had also worked on the 2016 Olympics and are already working on the 2017 winter games.
Edwin shared that we are all facing new challenges and the reason for this is that we are at an inflection point, where things are changing quickly and new, disruptive technologies are entering the market, changing the older ways of working.
He wanted the audience to consider three things that are happening in our industry today:
- There’s a shift going on
- There are some questions that we should ask of our supply-chain that impact what we do and what our supplier will do
- There are things we should be considering internal to our organisations? What should we be thinking about?
Edwin’s, objective was to share his thoughts and his questions, and he made it clear that he wasn’t going to be delivering the answers.
The shift Edwin references happened in our recent history: in 2005 the end of the quota system impacted what and where we could sell our products; 2008 was the global financial crisis; and 2010 was when e-Commerce really took off, reporting massive volume sales around the globe and becoming one of the new models for consumers to purchase from. Our supply-chains changed from hierarchal supply-chains (with designers on top and manufacturers at the bottom) to a pier-to-pier relationship which, because we need speed, things are shifting to real-time design and development No longer can we afford to share a Tech-Pack and wait for the product to arrive; design and communication needs to become dynamic.
So what is it we should be making? Where should we be making it? And who will make it for us? So, what gets made? What do we wear today? Edwin made the point that 15 years ago a watch was something that told you the time and a phone made calls, whereas today the phone is not only something to make calls on (in fact, we rarely do) and to check the time on, it’s the hub of our social life, feeding us constant news, updates, messages and more. And now, our watch can tell us what’s going on with our phone!
The thing that hasn’t really changed for many years is our clothes: they’re still dumb. When it gets hot we wear less and in the cold we wear more. We need to keep them clean and follow the instructions carefully when we come to clean and wash them, but in the next ten years this will all change. .Just like our watches and phones, clothes will become “smart” systems that protect us and keep us healthy, clothes will clean themselves, and hypoallergenic, fabric-based sensors will measure impact and more.
So, we need to start thinking of how we are going to integrate tomorrow’s clothes into our global systems.
Edwin quoted a new business, Wary Parker, which was formed by two of his former students and is focused around client service, with beautiful products, aesthetic packaging and new options linked to how you can try on and purchase the products. These new business models are not only very successful but are disrupting the way that we shop today, winning the hearts and minds of the consumer, connecting on an emotional level. He gave plenty of examples, and I wish I had more time to write about each of them! The bottom line was a new disruptive model that’s changing the way that businesses are connecting with their consumers and becoming billion dollar operations.
We need to think of how we make things and what the impact on the environment is. There are new ways to make our products. We are all under the microscope when it comes to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), and people are willing to pay more for green products and will be loyal to brands that show they care.
Edwin believes that our industry is entering a time where we will use predictive analytics (something I strongly agree with and have written about in recent articles); it’s no longer going to be acceptable to talk about what happened last season – when the rain in the UK came in June and swimsuits didn’t sell, or we had a warm Autumn/Fall and outerwear sales were down. In the future our systems need to (and will) be dynamic, providing insights coming from analytics sharing real-time information on what’s happening right now, what’s likely to happen and what we should be making now. It’s time to re-model the old supply-chain and design a new, continuous one. Just like cars and upholstery are made to order, clothing should follow the same path.
Also speaking from an educationalist standpoint was Professor José Teunissen, Dean of School of Design & Technology at London College of Fashion. [Editor’s note: our recent coverage on WhichPLM’s guest workshop at London College of Fashion is available here]. José was interviewed live by Anne-Laure Frizon, who is responsible for the Education programme within Lectra.
London College of Fashion is made up of three schools – Fashion, Design and Technology – with over 70 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and around 165 short courses for 500 students, across every imaginable subject in fashion. Courses include everything related to Fashion & Apparel: the craft of design, pattern making, merchandising and buying to list just a few topics. LCF is a world leader in fashion design, media and business education that’s been nurturing creative talent for over a century and is now re-engineering its own method of teaching the next generation.
José shared how LCF is, today, working closely with modern businesses from around the globe to ensure that the university is up to date on the latest process and technology developments. They also invite in guest lecturers who are currently working in high-profile businesses, rather than relying on past industry experts that are no longer in the loop, so to speak! José discussed the diversity of students at LCF, coming from every corner of the globe, and made the point that fashion is no longer a thing of the west. LCF’s students will leave the university and will go back to their native countries to share, up-date and, in a lot of cases today, start their own local businesses serving local markets.
Through this excellent relationship with industry and research organisations they are becoming experts in their own right on subjects like CSR. The university works closely with other internal universities, the likes of Cordwainer College, focused on technical footwear. LCF hosts two world leading UAL Research Centres: for Fashion Curation and Sustainable Fashion, as well as a Digital Anthropology Lab and 7 Research Hubs (including one that supports the activity of approximately 70 PhD students). Research spans practice and theory in design, performance, curation, artefact, psychology, cosmetic science, social science, sustainable and material practices, creative business and management, digital production and communication.
Another important part of the curriculum she shared was that the students from LCF have the option to go and work in the industry to help gain a clear picture of modern working practices and supporting technologies.
The university is plainly aware of the changing landscape of fashion and technology used and therefore it’s critical to student’s future success that the university not only recognises the need for improved modern education that will help tomorrow’s students find what it is they are working toward, but that they also emphasise new processes, and new technology linked to new business opportunities for tomorrow’s professionals. Again, I wish I had more time to write about what was a very fascinating interview.
The footprint of fashion is everywhere in Lectra’s heritage, as the second day’s tour of its Cestas campus showed. Attendees without early flights to catch were invited to tour the manufacturing headquarters. Due to the number of attendees we had to be broken into 4 groups, each with translators, and each seeing a separate group of presentations, encountering multi-lingual service teams in action and seeing preventative maintenance and support for Lectra’s PLM platform, fabric and leather cutting, plotting and spreading hardware.
We walked the halls of support and development before entering the factory floor. Through a set of door droves of developers carved out the latest revision of Lectra’s Fashion PLM software, and through yet another set was the Cestas construction floor, where Versalis and Vector cutters are made. The floor was busy with building, testing and shipping the spreading and cutting machinery that has made Lectra one of only a select few vendors to bridge the 2 & 3D CAD / CAM / PLM / IoT divide natively.
The broad range of technology on show included high and low ply cutting systems and leather cutters that are designed and assembled in Cestas and shipped around the globe.
This latter portion of the tour was no doubt exciting for those brands present that currently use Lectra machinery to manufacture their products, but it was really 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 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 that, “by changing nothing, nothing changes”.
This is a philosophy I’ve heard from Harari’s lips before, but only during my visit to the Lectra campus did it truly strike the right note. Harari and his team seek to do something different and something unexpected: rather than concentrating on 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 our industry. In return, Lectra brings its best solutions to the table, custom-built for individual business model, and providing access to dedicated professionals (from the CEO downwards) who all believe in transforming theoretical change into practical results.
*Readers who missed it can catch up on part one of this report here.