Last month's SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions trade show events marked the release of many new products for the apparel marketplace.
Many exhibitors at the recent SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions trade shows demonstrated the results of intensive R&D they have been investing in since the last time the three shows were held under one roof three years ago.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, in particular, were a major focus at the Technology Solutions portion of the three-show event, which was held May 8-10 in Miami. PLM solutions providers told Apparel the competition in their space will remain very intense in the short term as more apparel retailers, manufacturers and brands strive to define their PLM strategies and enter into serious solution searches.
With this ripening market opportunity in their sights, PLM vendors have been pouring development dollars into their solutions to help ensure they have a solid value proposition to offer their target customers.
PLM developments abound
Lectra, for example, emphasized how it has written all-new code for all of its software, including its PLM solution, which is now available in version 3. Daniel Harari, CEO of Lectra, said PLM technology is the central product in his firm's future.
Lectra's PLM strategy focuses on integrating design, product development and manufacturing. The company is encouraging clients and prospects to invest in its CAD technology in order to seamlessly connect all of their design processes with PLM. Lectra believes this is the optimum way to reap the greatest rewards from a PLM investment, said Harari.
He said there are big differences in the strategies of the PLM vendors that are targeting the apparel marketplace, and that "this is just the beginning" of expansion of PLM in the industry.
PLM isn't the only area in which Lectra has been investing. The company also completely rewrote the code behind its design solution, Kaledo, which will officially debut this September. Lectra also wrote all-new code to drive its automated cutters.
Harari said Lectra has invested tremendous R&D resources in recent years in order to provide customers with "the technology of tomorrow." Two-thirds of the products and software Lectra showed at SPESA Expo were less than three months old, he noted.
Gerber Technology also put a big emphasis on new product development at the show. President John Hancock said that his two major objectives when he started his tenure in the top post at Gerber Technology were "reinvigorating product development" and "creating great customer experiences."
Related to the product goal, Gerber showed the results of its development efforts in the form of seven new products at SPESA Expo, including a cutter and spreader designed for the needs of growth markets, such as China and Vietnam (where Gerber will soon open a second office). The products were designed in the United States and Denmark, and then manufactured in Gerber's factory in China. So far the new models have been installed in 10 different countries, Hancock said.
But it was PLM that stole the show at Gerber's SPESA booth. Hancock said clients running the firm's WebPDM software were eager to learn how they could "build on that investment base" with Gerber's Fashion Lifecycle Management (FLM) solution. Many of Gerber's customers want to preserve all of the data housed in WebPDM and are concerned about the risks of migrating it to other solutions, he said. "What's in that system are the crown jewels," he observed.
Like other exhibitors at the event, Hancock emphasized the relative newness of PLM to the apparel market. "Not a lot of PLM decisions have been made" among brands, retailers and manufacturers, he noted. He also said that whereas WebPDM investments have tended to be made by design teams, PLM decisions are being driven by "enterprise people" within apparel businesses.
Hancock said Gerber's alliance with ecVision, a supplier of product lifecycle execution (PLE) technology, enables Gerber to offer its clients a PLM solution that extends throughout the supply chain. Gerber will be collaborating even further with ecVision to leverage more of ecVision's capabilities, he said.
From the ecVision perspective, Gary Barraco, manager of marketing and alliance development, said that his firm is focused on offering a single system that facilitates collaboration and visibility from the design concept through to delivery of the finished product at the warehouse.
ecVision's Xpress Commerce Product Lifecycle Execution (PLE) solution, which is tightly integrated into Gerber's FLM, has been enhanced to offer greater real-time visibility into product status and more real-time reporting capabilities.
Version 8.5 of the solution offers greater trading partner management functionality, including vendor scorecarding and more standardized compliance documentation features, Barraco said.
He said enhancements to the solution also answer ecVision client requests for more ability to reserve production capacity with global vendors much earlier in the product development process.
The new version also is much more configurable, and offers dashboard technology so that individual users can see status on key performance metrics at a glance, and drill down to detailed data from their dashboard views, he added.
Both PTC and Enovia MatrixOne discussed the integration of Adobe Illustrator into their PLM enterprise solutions. Both firms indicated that their partnership with Adobe was driven by the need to make it easy for designers to work with their PLM packages and that early response to the integration was very positive.
Both of these PLM solutions providers, which are two of the largest PLM technology vendors targeting the apparel space, said they perceive the apparel PLM market as an emerging vertical with very little PLM adoption on a global scale yet. Therein lies great opportunity, these vendors and others concurred.
PTC announced at the show that the soccer apparel firm Umbro has selected its PLM solution.
Kathleen Mitford, vice president of vertical market strategy, said PTC's Flex PLM solution for the apparel and footwear market is now a mature technology capable of handling the complexities of the apparel product development process and supply chain.
Likewise, Matthew Austin, marketing program director, said PTC has been very focused on best practices and processes for PLM in the apparel market. He noted that a recent AMR Research report ranked PTC very high for the bill of materials (BOM) functionality of its solution. Version 6.1 of Flex PLM features a lot of functionality for managing variances on the BOM, he noted.
Version 7.0 of Flex PLM, which is due out in September, will offer many enhancements to the solution's vendor collaboration functions, including more costing features. "This is where you really bring people in," Austin said, referring to how the solution would help facilitate greater collaboration between internal and external parties in the product development process.
Enovia MatrixOne announced at the event that its parent company, Dassault Systemes, was ranked first in "direct and mindshare PLM revenues" in a recent CIMdata survey of comprehensive PLM companies.
Enovia MatrixOne's Tamara Saucier, director of retail industry solutions, and Janet Saxton, senior manager of marketing programs, stressed the scalability of the firm's PLM solution. While some marquee clients are very large apparel firms, such as Gap, the company also has an installation at Hagloffs, a $45 million Sweden-based apparel firm that has invested in PLM as part of its growth strategy.
Freeborders unveiled the newest release of its PLM solution at SPESA Expo. The company has completely overhauled its software to give it a more user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) and to make it more conducive to being a truly online collaborating meeting place, said Debbie Baldini, managing director for Freeborders' retail practice. The solution, which is version 4.0 of Freeborders' PLM technology, is called "QUAD" to reflect its similarities to a physical meeting place, such as a fraternity quad on a college campus.
Chantal Chabot, director of retail PLM for Freeborders and the key developer behind the new release of Freeborders' technology, was on hand at SPESA Expo to discuss highlights of the refreshed system. She emphasized that Freeborders addressed many of the requests on its customers' "wish lists" in the latest release.
Freeborders' clients Courtauld's, Christopher & Banks, TAG and CTE PTY LTD (Can't Tear 'Em) have committed to upgrade to the new version, Baldini said.
The system is much more configurable for the user, Chabot noted, and there is more seamless integration between the different modules of the suite. For instance, if a user enters some information into the fabric development module, the system automatically pushes that data from module to module. Also, workflow is associated with the product itself in the new version.
QUAD also offers expanded risk analysis functionality. Robert Bangser, Freeborders' new senior director of PLM business development for the eastern United States, said these features can help brands and retailers make better "go-no go" decisions on which products to keep in a line and which to drop during the development process. This part of the program takes into account risk factors such as using a new vendor or a new fabric, for example. It also can help apparel companies track possible reasons for the failure of a new style.
Freeborders also introduced QUAD Express at SPESA Expo. This software is a pre-configured version of the full QUAD program, and is being marketed under a limited-time "60 days, $60,000" introductory pricing promotion. Freeborders promises that the solution can be implemented within 60 days for a cost of $60,000.
Baldini and Bangser described QUAD Express as a hybrid PDM and PLM solution for firms that need to quickly ramp up with a web-based technology to enable collaboration. QUAD Express can provide PLM benefits to firms that do not have large IT departments or budgets, Bangser said. "They get to come to the party now," he noted.
Baldini said Freeborders sees "a huge, huge market" for this type of affordable entry-level PLM/PDM system.
SaaS is on the radar
The software as a service (SaaS) technology delivery model has captured the interest of many apparel solutions suppliers. Fashionware Solutions and TradeCard are among the pioneers of the SaaS model that were exhibiting at the Technology Solutions expo.
Fashionware demonstrated its Fashionshare Apparel-Software as a Service (A-SaaS) product development software application. The firm's monthly price per user is as follows: $350 for one to 10 users; $300 for 11 to 20 users; $275 for 21 to 30 users; $250 for 31 to 40 users; and $225 for 41 to 50 users. Fashionware offers a 25 percent discount on this pricing after 24 months.
This monthly subscription cost per user includes access to the software anywhere over the Internet. It also includes user setup and configuration, maintenance, upgrades, training, end-user support and hosting. There are additional systems integration costs, based on the project scope, to import and export master files, database files and historical data.
Fashionware reports that its A-SaaS solution leverages innovative technologies with minimal IT administrative or hardware costs. In contrast to traditional on-premise software installations that isolate product information on individual desktops, SaaS provides small- and medium-sized apparel companies with an option to deploy and implement a hosted product information management application more quickly, at a lower cost of ownership and with a shortened ROI cycle, the firm says.
TradeCard, which specializes in software to "marry money and information" to reduce risk and interruptions in the supply chain, has been offering its supply chain software as a service since its inception. This software on-demand model enables clients to leverage its technology very quickly, said Esther Lutz, vice president of business development, who compared TradeCard's technology delivery model to the use of a pre-paid phone card.
She said Guess just signed on to use TradeCard, and will be up and running in less than 90 days, as is the case for most clients. This implementation time typically includes getting an average of 15 to 20 internal and external parties in the supply chain linked into the TradeCard network, including global vendors, fabric and trim suppliers, logistics providers, etc.
Lawson, a leading middle-market ERP and retail technology supplier, also is taking a hard look at SaaS. Last month, the company introduced an SaaS solution for the healthcare space, and it plans another SaaS release in September for another industry vertical. While the firm's software on-demand introductions are not related to its fashion business imminently, it is possible that there could be SaaS options in the future for the apparel marketplace.
Lawson's new QuickStep solution (see "Retail Intelligence: In Brief" for details) is an example of the company's movement toward adapting its solutions to a flexible, quick-implementation model that is also at the heart of many SaaS applications, noted Peter Quinn, marketing manager for the firm's M3 product line.
Quinn emphasized that Lawson is very committed to the fashion vertical, and is serving apparel customers from $10 million in annual sales up to many billions of dollars in yearly revenue. He said the scalability of the company's technology is its single-most important differentiating factor.
Guatemala-based Koramsa, which has a reputation as a top manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, recently selected Lawson as its enterprise software provider. (Stay tuned for the July issue for more details on that implementation.)
In other Lawson news, Bob McKee, industry strategy director for fashion, said the company is busy exploring ways to integrate its manufacturing and retail technology expertise. "This goes along with the verticalization in the industry," McKee said.
Forms and fitting solutions evolve
Next-generation dress form technologies also garnered much interest among attendees at the trade show.
Shapely Shadow turned some heads in the show's "Cool Zone" future apparel supply chain demonstration area with its FastFit virtual fit session solution. This technology enables global manufacturers to capture their fit sessions with a video camera in such a way that the video footage from the fit sessions can be quickly transmitted to U.S. or European design teams for review. In turn, the design teams can offer their feedback digitally, saving much time and expense by eliminating the need for overnight shipping of samples back and forth across the globe.
Alvanon also made a splash with its expansion of its offerings into a full suite of solutions encompassing dress forms, vendor training, size consulting and analysis and services such as the creation of new pattern blocks and grade rules.
Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, said her company wants to take a holistic approach to helping apparel retailers, brands and manufacturers with their product development and fit strategies and processes.
Alvanon said it has the largest global bodyscan database, including more than 200,000 scans taken in the United States, Japan, China and Europe. It can leverage this information to help clients with specific sizing needs, Wang said.
In related news, Alvanon is working closely with the ASTM's size standardization committee on the development of new size standards that will be coming out this year and in 2008, and will be introducing new dress forms that incorporate the latest standards.
Kathleen DesMarteau is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at 864-627-0276 or [email protected].
Editor's Note: Watch for more product introduction news and announcements from SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions in upcoming issues of Apparel.