The Limited Adopts Color Measurement From Datacolor As It’s Color Standard – Details by Jo Fleischer

 

July 01 “Executive Technology"

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – To keep up with fast-changing fashions, private-label retailers like The Limited here are focusing on ways to speed up computer-aided design and manufacturing processes.

 

CAD technology has quickened the pace of private-label design over the past decade by enabling designers to automatically transform digital sketches into 3-D renderings, complete with the specifications and patterns suppliers need to cut and sew the garments.

 

Ultimately, The Limited, which operates more than 5,000 stores, hopes to react to fashion trends almost instantly by making last-minute changes in orders nearing the production phase, said Jon Ricker, president and CIO of Limited Technology Services, which provides technology infrastructure for The Limited and for Intimate Brands, also here.

 

The Limited plans to test new styles in a few stores before a supplier begins cutting garments destined for thousands of stores. “If the size 6 top in burnt sienna is outselling everything else we have, we don’t want to cut more fabric until we know that," Ricker said. “We’d like to delay that decision and cut more of those sizes than anything else. That’s kind of the endgame we aspire to."

 

Ricker said the tests are in an early stage and predicted it will take several years to refine the approach with the company’s large supplier base. In the meantime, LTS is laying the groundwork to react more quickly by creating an “event management system" to automatically monitor the progress of the overseas suppliers that cut and sew garments based on the digital designs created in CAD studios here and in New York.

 

Fast-moving competitors are what’s spurring The Limited – and many other retailers – to seek ways to streamline the design and manufacturing processes, said Peggy Goutmann, a professor at Philadelphia University’s School of Textiles and Materials Technology.

 

“There are no longer four seasons," she said. “There has to be something new every time you go to a store."

 

For example, Gap, San Francisco, ships new fashions to its stores every 14 to 28 days. The trendy Zara chain, which is owned by Industria de Diseo Textil, La Corua, Spain, and has six stores in the New York area, is reportedly able to design and sew new styles for its constantly changing stores in as little as six weeks. The pace has definitely increased in recent years at Hayward, Calif.-based Mervyn’s, which manufactures 20 different private-label lines ranging from baby clothes to menswear, said Kerry Boozenny, manager of creative technology, Mervyn’s. The chain of 270 department stores is owned by Minneapolis-based Target.

 

“We used to do eight or nine sets [new apparel shipments] a year, but now it’s 10 or 11 sets," said Boozenny. “I think it’s just because we’re in a faster-paced world. There’s more competition and everybody expects more. We need to be quick, and you get some of that speed from technology."

 

Pacific Sunwear, Anaheim, Calif., is installing new CAD and production design and manufacturing (PDM) software from Gerber Technology, Tolland, Conn., this year, according to Ron Ehlers, vice president of information services. “Speed is the primary goal," he said. “We’re in a very competitive business."

 

With the PDM software, Pacific Sunwear will transmit designs to far-flung manufacturers via an Internet site rather than by mail. “We’ll be able to give a selected group of vendors access to specifications packages over the Internet" for bidding, he said. “Once we have finalized which manufacturer we’ll work with, we’ll lock it down so only that company has access to it to produce an approved sample."

 

Ehlers said Pacific Sunwear expects to cut several days from the time it takes to produce new designs when it completes the PDM installation. The 580-store chain, which caters to fashion-conscious teens, is also opening a new high-tech warehouse this fall to trim at least two days from the time it takes to ship new fashions to stores.

 

Boozenny said Mervyn’s is studying ways to use the Internet to share information with suppliers. “It would be great to measure approvals and determine whether you’re hitting deadlines," Boozenny said. “We have the timeliness we need now, but the follow-up is essentially manual with a lot of phone calls and faxes."

 

Sharply reducing fax and phone follow-up is also a goal at The Limited. Several high-tech suppliers are currently able to access the company’s event management system to provide updates on the status of orders – including when garments are cut, sewn and shipped, said Jeannamarie Cox, director of product technology, LTS.

 

“If you’re spending time checking whether every single part is on track, then you’re spending too much checking and not enough designing," she said.

 

Ricker said extending the event management system to most suppliers will take three years or more, mainly because many apparel manufacturers are in underdeveloped nations with little computer infrastructure. “The largest and most sophisticated [manufacturers] can deal with a high level of automation, but there are not a lot of those," he said. Ehlers said Pacific Sunwear is also working to speed up the design process by moving all of its designers to the same Gerber CAD drawing tools. He said the company now has designers devoted to everything from shoes to sunglasses, working with tools that range from off-the-shelf software to pen and pencil.

 

“Getting all of us onto one platform will give us a centralized library that will speed up designs for future seasons," he said. “In addition, we’ll be able to share design elements between designers. For example, there may be a pocket treatment on a pair of guys’ jeans that another designer may want to incorporate into a girls’ skirt."

 

Last year, The Limited adopted a color measurement system from Datacolor, Lawrenceville, N.J., as its color standard. At a time when no single color standard has been adopted industry-wide, using the system throughout the company reduces complexity significantly, according to Ricker. “It’s very difficult to describe a color accurately otherwise," he said. “You end up in endless discussions of whether a color is burnt sienna or whether it’s too red or too brown."

 

By providing suppliers with measurement instruments for determining whether colors meet specifications, retailers can eliminate the time-consuming step of examining dip samples that have to be mailed from overseas.

 

Color is an especially vexing problem when the various pieces that make up one lingerie garment or suit are being sourced from different manufacturers, Cox said. With a standardized color system, retailers use color measurement instruments to ensure that specified shades are used.

Mervyn’s has a color standard it developed within the company, but also uses at least two packaged color-management systems.

 

Despite all the emphasis on speed, Ricker said there are also cases where The Limited wants to shift key fashion decisions to later stages of the design production process. “We’ve had opportunities where we cut cycle time, and there have also been cases where we increased the time where a designer can be a designer," he said. “Part of the strategy is to have such an effective decision process that critical decisions can be delayed until the last possible moment before you cut and sew to go after those hot colors and hot items."

 

As Pacific Sunwear speeds up its design process, Ehlers said there’s also an awareness that it’s possible to move too fast. “The speed can help you get in trouble faster, too," he said with a laugh. “You still have to make the right decisions, whether you do it faster or slow."

 

For more information, call Datacolor’s marketing department at 1-800-982-6497 e-mail: [email protected].

 

Reprinted with Permission of Executive Technology, Fairchild Publications, Inc.