Home Featured “Make change a success” – WhichPLM reports on Lectra’s PLM-focused event

“Make change a success” – WhichPLM reports on Lectra’s PLM-focused event

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Following on from our evaluation of Lectra’s Fashion PLM solution earlier this year, the WhichPLM team was invited to Bordeaux to see how 3D technology, change management and professional services are transforming Lectra’s own business model, as well as those of its customers.

The fashion industry is built on a cycle of transformation.  Only the finest luxury brands can afford to call their collections “timeless”; everyone else commits to developing new styles, creating new product categories, and catering to new markets in order to remain relevant.

This has always been the case, but today the curve of that cycle is rapidly tightening, driven by advances in technology and shifts in the social and economic status quo.  In some cases, the change cycle itself has ceased to exist, replaced by a flat line – a universal constant of design, development, iteration and innovation operating at a heady, permanent pace.

It stands to reason, then, that PLM for fashion (and the vendors who sell it) shoulders some of the burden of helping brands, retailers and manufacturers cope with accelerating or constant change.  But while the software and processes that make up modern PLM are uniquely suited to fulfilling that role, Lectra were the first vendor to visibly embrace change management as the core of their business model.

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This message has been evident in the French software and hardware giant’s messaging for some time, but WhichPLM witnessed it in its most potent form this month, over the course of a PLM-focused event titled “Make change a success”.

Held at Lectra’s Cestas campus, close to Bordeaux, the two-day event gathered press, prospects, customers, and a “who’s who” of the Lectra fashion team under one newly-renovated roof, and was designed to present Lectra Fashion PLM and its associated R&D and professional services teams as a strong, stable partner – a steady face amongst the sea of change that has come to characterise modern fashion.

WhichPLM had the opportunity to analyse V4 of the Fashion PLM solution earlier this year, and our detailed findings are available in the Supplier Evaluation freely available from this site.  Technologically speaking, Lectra scored highly against our objective metrics, and this report will not focus on software, but rather on the renewed emphasis the vendor is placing on industry knowledge and experience – two things we know from our independent research to be essential if brands and retailers are to get the most out of their investments in technology.

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Lectra itself has undergone a great deal of change, recruiting heavily in development, advisory services and marketing for PLM.  After the delegates were ferried over from the coastal resort of Arcachon – home to oyster cultivation and Europe’s largest sand dune – and fuelled with espresso, we were shown a new corporate video, proudly proclaiming Lectra’s 40 years’ worth of experience in fashion, its 420 consultant and the 40 languages spoken across its professional services teams.

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Edouard Macquin (Lectra’s Vice President of Sales) and its new PLM Marketing Manager, Anne-Laure Louis, delivered an updated version of that familiar message, emphasising the degree or transformation required from brands who wish to thrive in a world forever altered by the global economic crisis.

It can be very easy to think of the financial downturn of 2008 onwards as being a bit of a blip – part of the boom and bust cycle of business – but it’s important to realise, whatever your industry, that we remain in a very real recession.  The first of its kind in almost a century.  The true state of developed markets’ indebtedness is often camouflaged by government rhetoric, and while there’s certainly evidence to suggest that fashion is flourishing, the world today is still fundamentally different than it was at the turn of the millennium – more interconnected and simultaneously more fragile.

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Macquin and Louis referred to a very apt quotation from Bob Higging of Highland Capital Partners who wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “changes in a business model bring more substantial value than technological evolution.”

Macquin used this statement to talk at some length about the role that broader business agility and the will to transform play in helping fashion businesses to carve out an identity in this new world.   Technology, Macquin said, is rightly positioned at the forefront of innovation, but there remains a tendency for organisations of all shapes and sizes to over-rely on technology alone to solve fundamental problems in their business models.

Talking about the environmental influences that have served as catalysts for recent changes, he explained that the unstable financial landscape is only part of the picture.  Brands must also cope with elevated levels of consumer attachment and a constantly accelerating pace of demand, leading to a situation where “speed to market is more about anticipation than delivery”.  And as you might expect, technology and business model alterations each play their part in enabling brands to achieve that kind of foresight.

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Macquin also explained that changes in Asian manufacturing dominance are being driven by the evolution of those markets as consumers of fashion, rather than simply cogs in its creation.  The manufacturing cost index suggests that China will become a more expensive place to make clothes by 2018 than the United States, leading to the conclusion that chasing cost – the most popular way of driving up margins – has become a false economy.

Lectra, as I’ve already said, has undergone changes of its own.  These were pertinent for Macquin to mention, since, under CEO Daniel Harari’s leadership, the vendor chose to invest heavily in R&D during the worst economic dips, and opted to retain all essential services in its native France, rather than outsourcing to what might then have been more cost-effective locations.

Lectra, Macquin said, has also increased its human capital considerably, growing by more than 200 staff in the last three years, and spending in excess of €8 million in marketing.

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These are strong figures, but as Harari’s prescient predictions for the reset economy demonstrate, money isn’t everything, and practically all of the presentations that followed drew attention to Lectra’s considerable experience of weathering change through specialisation rather than just spending.

On that theme, Macquin and Louis were followed onstage by Luis Velazquez and Laura Gellis, both of Lectra, whose remit was “future fashion trends”.  I’ve seen Velasquez lead sessions before: he’s an extremely able presenter, and a man who knows his subject matter exceptionally well.  Gellis, who I’d met before but never seen on stage, also proved interesting to listen to – drawing neat parallels between her previous industry (videogaming) and fashion in their common need to predict and exceed consumer expectations.

Velazquez began by talking about the changing face of fashion – an industry predicted to be worth 1.7 trillion dollars (US) by 2020, and one exhibiting dramatic, double-digit growth in emerging markets.  Understanding those markets, he said, is key to understanding the ebb and flow of the global industry as a whole.  Per capita spending in China specifically is expected to grow three-fold in the immediate future – increase on a scale that has never been seen before in a consumer market.

The flipside of this, however, is that China also remains one of the largest apparel producing regions in the world, accounting for 43% of all production in 2014.  This, in a nutshell, is the new face of fashion.  Producers and consumers in the same region, not as an exception, but almost as a rule.

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As a response to this growth in domestic consumption, Velazquez said, manufacturers in China and similar regions have begun to develop own brands to compete with foreign imports, and in all major fashion consumption territories except the USA (where American brands reign supreme), a mix of domestic and international brands share mindshare and sales in the top ten.

Gellis followed suit by talking about the accelerating effect the internet has had on the rate of these kinds of changes in fashion, highlighting initiatives like Net A Porter’s “Net Set” social network as examples of market forces that simply couldn’t have existed a decade ago.

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Similarly, Gellis explained that between 12% and 14% of clothes worldwide are now bought online, effectively negating the traditional process of browsing in-store and trying on – both things that had characterised the retail experience for hundreds of years.

To be expected, though, almost a third of these purchases are returned, primarily because of poor fit.  85% of consumers, Gellis said, will remain loyal to a brand whose clothes fit well, placing the responsibility for consumer engagement and product quality (with Gellis calling the product “the hero” and the fit “his weapon”) exclusively onto the brand itself, but also providing them with the means to increase their net profits by designing to demographic-appropriate fit and quality standards from the outset.

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Joining fit and quality in the list of forces conspiring to create complexity throughout the fashion industry, Gellis said, are time to market, cost and newness – the latter being particularly relevant for fast fashion businesses who enjoy up to five times as many visits to bricks and mortar stores as their seasonal counterparts, and who as a result of their choice of business model mark down products less than half as often.

It may seem at this point as though a disproportionate mount of this report is given over to wider industry topics rather than pure PLM.  This is a conscious choice on WhichPLM’s part, since our thorough report on Lectra Fashion PLM is already available, and because Lectra has always excelled at delivering an educational message without a sales hook – and nowhere was that more evidence than in Velazquez and Gellis’s join presentation.  Although mention was made of Lectra’s technologies and professional services, the content they aired was informative first and foremost.  This, in my opinion, should be commonplace in fashion-focused events, but in practice it’s become rare to find a software vendor who can resist the tendency to grandstand.

This isn’t to say that the product demonstrations and discussions that made up the remainder of the event were uninteresting – far from it – but rather that WhichPLM strongly endorses industry-specific education.  This is a view that we know the vast majority of PLM customers share, and indeed a later slide from Anne-Laure Louis cited WhichPLM’s research to demonstrate that fashion credentials and the will to educate rather than simply sell have become major criteria for modern PLM selection projects.

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After a brief intermission that educational angle was picked up in earnest by guest speaker Kim Mannino, head of trend service WGSN Live.

Mannino delivered an excellent presentation under the heading of “Global retail trends”, a subject that she sees as incorporating four key tenets today: mass personalisation, “fast laning”, elevated engagement, and quick wins.

Personalisation is, in all the ways that count, retail’s heritage.  The shopkeeper of old knew his or her customers by name, and over time learned to make recommendations based on their preferences, personal style, and purchase history.  In our rush to commoditise and internationalise fashion, much (some might say all) of this character was lost, but Mannino showcased several examples of how even purely online retailers – Mr. Porter and Very.co.uk – can rescue that sense of intimacy in what remains an entirely hands-off transaction.

In the case of Mr. Porter, a signed-in user will see the retailer’s name replaced with their own salutation and surname – a small detail that, as Mannino put it, can bring “huge delight”.

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“Fast laning” is a less obvious description for a growing, technology-driven trend: separating the traditional in-store browser from the shopper who either knows what he or she wants, or has even reserved it for collection prior to arrival.  The applications in retail are obvious, but Mannino also talked about the potential for unifying this approach with wearable technology in hospitality scenarios, citing Disneyland’s use of “Magic Bands” to streamline access to attractions, and to personalise children’s interactions with its themes and characters.

Elevated engagement, she explained, is really a catch-all term for the initiatives brands and retailers have begun to undertake that are not directly sales-focused, but rather geared towards making it simpler for consumers to remain connected to the brands they love.  With the right relationship fostered, brands like Revolve, Topman and Amazon are then realising revenue from consumers who will pay a premium for convenience, and who value entering into a relationship rather than just being issued a receipt.

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Finally, “quick wins” is a term that will be immediately recognisable to advisors and project team leads in the audience, who are already accustomed to prioritising the areas of their business that will deliver the most rapid and most potent return.

For brands and retailers these wins are often simple in nature – as seen in Marks & Spencer’s online bra size calculator – but rely on huge amounts of data and infrastructure for their execution, typified in Nike’s delivery of personalised, animated training progress stories to their Nike+ sports users.  Nothing in either of these examples is difficult to conceive as a concept, but the imagination required to adapt existing technologies and repositories to create that “huge delight” is by no means small.

Never lacking in imagination (or candour) himself, Lectra’s Director of Marketing for software, Philippe Ribera, then led a panel of international journalists (myself included) to the newly-created “software box” before lunch to talk about “when 3D meets PLM – enhancing collaboration with a new universal language”

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The software box is a red room, corporate colours from carpets to ceiling, encased in glass and given a prominent position in the lobby of Lectra’s Cestas campus, which is otherwise packed with manufacturing hardware.

To underscore the importance of software in his vision for three-dimensional working, Ribera took this opportunity to reveal that Lectra has opened its own innovation lab, collaborating with other technology incubators to build new use case examples for 3D technology and other potentially disruptive tools.

Those technologies, as Ribera sees it, represent yet another fundamental shift in the mindset and environment of product development – a transition from creating garments in isolation to “dressing 3D bodies with textiles, also in 3D”.

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We have seen the message of 3D communicated with growing intensity over the past fourteen months or so (with one vendor in particular building their entire product strategy and marketing around it) so it’s little wonder that Ribera told us that designing, prototyping, sampling and marketing in 3D is not a gimmick – but rather a business reality.

Some, including the team here at WhichPLM, might go one step further and call it a business imperative.

The element of 3D adoption that most surprised Lectra, though, was where the drive originated within their customer base.  Initially, Ribera expected pattern developers to be the major catalysts for 3D working, but in practice it was the executive level – within brands like F&F, Dior, Cordeiro Campos and October France – that exhibited the vision required to truly embrace a new way of working.

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Just as surprising, Ribera said, was the tendency for older people to take up the challenge of 3D; he had fully expected the younger generation to be immediately comfortable with the technology and its applications.  But in practice, found itself having to undertake an extensive programme of educational partnerships to bring the designers and patternmakers of tomorrow on board.

This sort of top-down approach (driven by executives senior in both years and responsibilities) has already delivered value for the brands Ribera cited, but he paid particular attention to F&F – the clothing arm of UK supermarket Tesco – who he says achieved a 0.4% reduction in costly physical prototyping as a result of their adoption of 3D tools from Lectra.  This may sound like a very slight figure, but when we consider that F&F achieved sales in excess of £2 billion last year, the return on investment becomes clear.

Talking openly, Ribera said that he believes the next stage in 3D adoption will come from a unity of realistic material simulation and accurate body scanning and fitting techniques.  With a rendered garment image acting as “the best collaborative language”, he explained his vision for better fit achieved through body shape acquisition, and the representation of those shapes as three-dimensional avatars.  This, Ribera said, will underpin Lectra’s offering to the made-to-measure industry – a market sector that is very rapidly achieving recognition for its growth, with the luxury market predicted to include more than 15% of bespoke or personalised sales in its total revenue.

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Ribera is one of the industry’s frankest figures, and someone I’ve never actually had the pleasure of seeing speak before.  When pressed by journalists, he was happy to reveal his learning experiences in positioning 3D tools for different markets – particularly China, where he found that the technological appetite existed, but that it wasn’t yet married to the level of fashion experience needed to see the next generation’s true potential.  But these failings, he said, were necessary steps on the road to creating the best possible collaborative tools for their audience of premium brands and retailers.

As Ribera put it, “the 3D race is on”, and t was clear that he believes firmly in positioning Lectra at the front of the pack, so that it can prepare its customers (and itself) for the next twenty years of business progress.

Prior to a boat trip across Arcachon bay (sadly dampened by some low-lying fog and rain) and the evening’s entertainment, Lorenzo Rossi of Lectra’s Italian consultancy operations took to the stage after lunch to give delegates an overview of luxury menswear brand Brioni’s PLM story.

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As tailors to several generations’ worth of James Bonds, Brioni’s name has become synonymous with luxury, and its intent in adopting PLM was to secure that reputation, increasing data consistency, securing operational integrity and brand equity, and improving collaborative working with the right investments in technology.  Critical to the success of this project was integration to other enterprise solutions such as ERP and 3D, and Rossi explained that more than four months’ worth of scoping and analysis was required in order to build a full end-to-end environment – one that supported Brioni’s strategic objectives.

The second day in Bordeaux was more product and process-oriented than the first, but no less compelling for it.

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Prior to these more open sessions, however, Anne-Laure Louis and Lectra Business Consultant Laetitia Hugé set out to explain what they see as Lectra’s customer value proposition, which is one of the four components of the vendor’s longstanding definition of a business model.

This proposition, as Louise and Hugé explained it, rests on three pillars – expertise, approach, and technology – all of which combine to create products and services tailor-made for the need for brands to be more agile, more creative, more adaptable and more sustainable than ever before.

Today, Louis said, faced with escalating social and economic change, brands and retailers are attempting to connect with disconnected tools – to deliver the rapid turnarounds, improved quality, and greater variety of SKUs demanded by modern customers, without the infrastructure to do so consistently and sustainably.

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In this environment, Lectra’s technology, expertise and approach represent more than just solutions to problems; they are collectively, as Louis put it, a “catalyst for change”.

This is an important distinction.  It’s tempting to think of change as a thing that happens to us, when in fact it should properly be seen as an opportunity in which we – as brand owners, designers, garment technicians and sourcing managers – can be active participants.

Another equal vital element of change management to understand is that, from a consumer’s perspective, only those transformations that directly affect the end product are visible.  As Hugé explained, a brand’s processes matter a great deal to the staff and suppliers who work within their confines, but are essentially invisible to their audience – loyal brand advocates who want to see results in the form of better quality products at the right time, with consistent fit.

Hugé was also part of the two-person team that led the morning’s second session, along with Geoffrey Gabelle, Consulting Services Manager for Lectra.  This session was almost entirely interactive, designed to place delegates in the shoes of a consultancy team tasked with deploying technology, professional services and proven change management methods to achieve measurable results in one of three key performance metrics.

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Before splitting the group into two to tackle these problems, however, Gabelle provided some insight into Lectra’s own consultation methods, including his definitions of lean and agile working.  Both of these are loaded terms, and there was some disagreement from more vocal members of the audience as to what, precisely, defines lean working.  Gabelle, to his credit, demonstrated a keen understanding of the need for brands and retailers to reduce or eliminate anything that does not add value from the perspective of the consumer.

As he put it, design, prototyping, sampling and so on are all essential business activities, but through the judicious application of lean working principles and technologies, their impact on cycle times can be managed.  Gabelle also reminded us that value is a subjective metric; meeting consumer expectations by removing non-value processes will look dramatically different between, for example, H&M and Brioni.

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Prior to setting his audience loose on their tasks, Gabelle neatly summarised the essence of lean working by saying that “the fashion industry is forever complaining about not having the time to be creative; lean working is about finding that time in sensible and sustainable ways”.

It was here that I and other delegates were asked to step into the role of consultants – in our case looking to reduce product development lead times for a hypothetical brand through judicious applications of technology and process improvements.

First, with coaching from both Gabelle and WhichPLM’s own primary advisor Mark Harrop, we worked to establish a baseline figure, before lively discussions began about the optimum ways to use 3D sampling, 3D printing, common blocks and components, and other initiatives to shave several months off our invented (but entirely realistic) 18 month cycle time.

Gabelle and Hugé’s approach to what would otherwise have been a rather traditional presentation was refreshing.  With my own focus having been resolutely on content and communication for many years, this was a rare opportunity to approach a problem without a preconceived solution in mind – and the exercise certainly reminded me of the sheer scope of potential improvements that can be made to every stage of the typical product lifecycle.

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The final interactive session was led by Nathan Macdonald, Susanne Buss, Camille Pellarini and Lourdés Cambra, alll Lectra solution experts, and several of whom were directly involved in showcasing the Fashion PLM solution to the WhichPLM team earlier this year as part of our supplier evaluation.

For a detailed look at the latest version of the Lectra PLM solution, readers are advised to download a copy of that supplier evaluation free of charge directly from this website. Most (if not all) of the functionality on display during this month’s event was identical to that we saw in February, but the delivery was notably different.

Rather than structure their demonstration as a typical design-to-manufacture, data-driven exercise, McDonald instead led the other demonstrators by creating a fictitious brand undergoing rapid growth and international expansion, and used this hypothetical scenario as a lens through which both core and extended PLM functionality was showcased.

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This proved to be a great way of distilling the essence of a PLM demonstration, making it immediately and directly relevant in a way I haven’t encountered before.  Modules like digital colour (using the ColourMunki tool and integrated Pantone libraries) took on a new life, and the workflow benefits of Lectra’s strong, bi-directional integration to Adobe Illustrator were plain to see.

As McDonald put it at the close of the demonstration – after the others had played the role of designer, patternmaker and product developer – for a manager in his position, “PLM gives me POM – peace of mind”.  That’s something even the most techno-skeptical amongst us will agree carries a lot of weight in a changing world.

The second and final customer testimonial – this one delivered by the brand itself – came from Colombian childrenswear success story OFFCORSS, part of parent company Hermeco.  Relatively unknown outside South America, OFFCORSS boasts 700 employees and more than $100 million (US) in annual sales, all driven by its rapid turnaround of monthly collections.

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Doing away with traditional seasonality in the United States and Europe is often a business decision.  The fast fashion model dictates that customers want more frequent iterations and the introduction of new styles, and as a result brands like H&M and Zara commit to developing new products on a continuous basis, but with elements of seasonality retained.  In the case of OFFCORSS, the same end result stemmed from necessity: Columbia, being equatorial, has effectively no seasons.  So, with the same weather all year round, what other avenues remain for a brand wishing to achieve newness and heightened consumer engagement?

Although OFFCORSS has not yet gone live with its implementation of Lectra Fashion PLM, the pressures of increasing creativity while retaining brand integrity, process organisation, and pursuing multi-channel expansion have made PLM the logical progression from the company’s current PDM solution.

To close the event and talk about his own interpretations of technological progression, Philippe Ribera took to the stage in the main auditorium, adapting his earlier presentation for an audience divided between colleagues, press and prospects.  All of what Ribera had to say about the present was consistent between presentations, but in these closing remarks he also set out what he believe to be Lectra’s strategic direction for the coming decade.

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Echoing previous statements from Daniel Harari, Ribera affirmed Lectra’s ongoing investments in R&D and human capital – something he believes is an absolute requirement in order for his company to remain relevant.

Mirroring the event’s opening comments about a reset economy, Ribera made it clear that his commitment – in innovation, recruitment, marketing and services – is to creating new rules, and building a new playing field for an uncertain future.

Because if one thing is certain in fashion, it’s change.  The choice, then (both for vendors like Lectra and for their customers around the world) is whether we wait for it to overtake and bury us, or whether we take a chance on uproot conventions and embracing a different way of thinking.

And brands, retailers and manufacturers who are willing to take that step will find at least one potential partner who has proven their own ability defy expectations and make change a success for themselves.

Our full library of photographs from the “Make change a success” event are available in our new Watch & Listen section, and readers can obtain WhichPLM’s evaluation of Lectra Fashion PLM V4 here.

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.