Visual nature: Fashionistas say they know as much about innovation—and outsourcing—as the others
The needs of the fashion industry, when it comes to product life-cycle management (PLM), are different from those of other discrete manufacturers. But as systems evolve for fashion life-cycle management, it may be that these fashionistas—obsessed as they are with visual images—have something to teach other kinds of goods makers.
Besides bringing automated equipment to the apparel industry for more than Gerber Technology pioneered computer-aided design (CAD) and PLM solutions for manufacturers and retailers in the sewn and flexible goods industries. It is one of four business units of $575-million Gerber Scientific .
Holly Beum, director of software product management at Gerber Technology, says the company has more than 1,000 PLM customers in fashion industries that include apparel, accessories, furnishings, and home decor.
Beum says it’s the visual nature of Gerber’s solutions that make them particularly relevant to the markets served. “You’re working with merchandisers and designers here, not engineers,” she explains. “They’re visually oriented, and not all of them are immediately drawn to technology solutions.”
It’s no secret that the entry of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) has had a profound impact on the apparel industry in the U.S. While Beum says some in the industry were well positioned, others were caught flatfooted, and have had to learn quickly how best to collaborate with outsourced manufacturers.
“Again, working with visuals [such as] online‘sand-boxes,’ line assortment pages, visual prototyping, and 3D models can help bridge language barriers, and we’ve developed a PLM solution specific to the collaborative needs of the fashion industry,” says Beum.
As market dynamics change and traditional low-cost based countries are pressured to reduce costs, Gerber believes PLM solutions will be more important than ever. China is looking to improve worker conditions and evolve its labor practices, and outsourcing has embraced other Asia-Pac countries. As a result, traditional outsourcing may not lead to the “automatic” margin improvement many companies expect, thereby increasing the need for production automation regardless of geography.
PLM vendors, says Beum, will have to “bridge the digital divide” between brand owners/retailers and their vendors. With expansion of the supply chain to less-developed countries, PLM vendors will need to provide localized versions of their product, local training, and support.
As the amount of outsourcing continues to expand “upstream,” says Beum, PLM solutions will need to deliver Web-based collaborative solutions that encompass every important decision maker and supplier in the “concept to retail” value chain—e.g., merchandisers, planners, designers, technical designers, vendors/partners, and sourcing/production and logistics personnel.
WebPDM is the conceptual predecessor of Gerber’s Fashion Lifecycle Management Suite, which launched in 2006. The suite combines the power of WebPDM, the industry’s leading product data management solution, with a robust, scalable, enterprisewide workflow engine and collaboration tools.
Gerber software solutions are used by more organizations in the apparel industry than any other provider. A sampling of customers include Abercombie & Fitch, Adidas, American Eagle, Carrefour, Gap, Haggar, Levi’s, Li & Fung Limited, Mervyns, Otto, PacSun, Perry Ellis, and Polo.