Wacoal America Revamps Care Labeling

Brand name, logo, style number, sizing for various countries, country of origin, care instructions, content information, the manufacturer's registration number and a code for the date of production - all of this information accurately printed on a label small and soft enough to be unobtrusively sewn into the narrow back of a bra or thong underwear. 

That was the challenge facing Wacoal America when it decided to bring printing of its care labels in-house. The Lyndhurst, NJ-based maker of ladies' intimate apparel manufactures garments under its flagship lines Wacoal, Wacoal Petite and Wacoal Luxe. A new line, b.tempt'd by Wacoal, will be introduced in 2009. 

Previously, Wacoal used two methods to produce care labels. In-house printing was done on a machine that used etched plates, which became difficult to obtain. In addition, servicing the equipment was becoming expensive. A service bureau was also used, but this was not cost effective with the expanding needs of the business. Wacoal saw the need to update its technology and streamline the process.

Compliance with FTC and U.S. Customs requirements was another consideration. While the previous labels only gave sizing for the United States, increasing international sales called for sizing and care information for European and Japanese markets to be added.  

"We have Wacoal UK and a number of distributors in Europe and Canada. We wanted to label the garment in a way that would be valid in all of those markets," says Cathryn Hondros, vice president of IS for Wacoal America. "We wanted to make our label do more."

First step: Label design
When Wacoal set out to implement a new labeling system at its two Dominican Republic manufacturing plants, the size of the label itself was a challenge. "You can't really put a big label in some bras and panties," says Hondros.  "So we decided to make our label like a little book."

The label is printed on a long strip, front and back, folded in the middle and sewn into the garment. It is only 5/8 of an inch wide and 4 1/4 inches long, and when folded, is only half that length. "We didn't want something that would be irritating to a person's skin - we needed a soft fabric. So that was another requirement," says Hondros. 

On the hardware side, a printer was needed that could handle double-sided printing on a soft, long, skinny label, in a tiny font size that still would be legible. Wacoal also needed a cutter and stacker to make the process easier.

"We were also looking for a printer to have a sufficient duty cycle so we could produce enough in our plant and have plenty of time left for do-overs. We didn't want a printer to be running all day, every day to meet the workload," says Hondros. Currently, labels needed for an entire week's production - an average of 90,000 pieces - can be prepared in a single day. 

To meet FTC requirements that the label has to be legible for the useful life of the garment, wash tests were done. "Our garments are meant to be hand washed, but Wacoal's wash testing is done with repeated machine washing, which is much harsher," says Hondros.

Systems are integrated 
Cybra's MarkMagic solution was chosen, partly because it is included in the PkMS package that Wacoal was already running. "We have used it very successfully for other labeling projects, so we didn't consider any other vendors for the labeling piece," says Hondros.

Several printers were considered, but some had problems stacking the long, skinny label. "It was like pushing a rope - you'd see labels falling out of the stacker and sticking to the legs of the table because of static electricity," says Hondros.

Other printers had problems printing on both sides, so that the center was not aligned properly, and others only supported ribbons that weren't soft enough. In the end, two Paxar Snap 500 printers, with finishing station and cutter, were purchased, so production won't be held up if one breaks down. At the time, Cybra didn't have a print driver for that particular model, so one had to be developed.

Next, one of Wacoal's in-house programmers built a program that integrated MarkMagic with its ERP system, so data such as style and cut orders wouldn't have to be re-keyed. First, an audit was done to be sure all the information in the main system was accurate. "We printed out a label for every single active style we had, and proofed it before we went online with it," says Hondros. "Some people would say it was overkill, but we wanted to make sure everything was 100 percent correct."

The next step was having Cybra develop the label format with the MarkMagic software. A stacker unit was added to the Paxar printers, along with a fuser unit to finish edges so they wouldn't unravel when cut. At this point, members of Wacoal's MIS team installed the printers in the plant and provided training.

At first, only fill-in labels were done to get everyone comfortable with the new system. Next, Wacoal's production group worked on shutting down the use of the service bureau. The new system was gradually phased in over a four-month period until 100 percent of the labels were printed in-house.

Users can now print all labels needed for a particular cut order with a single request, so individual styles, colors and sizes don't have to be entered separately. "We wanted this to be very efficient for the plant and take work away from them rather than add it," says Hondros.

Savings in both time and dollars
Integrating the ERP, MarkMagic and the Paxar Snap 500 has improved efficiency. The Paxar printers and custom printer driver were the major expenses, totaling about $70,000. "Even though the printers were expensive, it was a fast ROI. I would estimate that the system paid for itself in less than two years," says Hondros.

Before, if "fill in" labels needed to be printed, a purchase order was placed and costly expedited shipping used. "Then, the plant had to receive it, store it and wait for that lot to come up in order to use it," Hondros says. "This makes their lives a lot easier and has also reduced cost for us. Our savings were at least 50 percent of our previous labeling cost, plus savings for emergency freight."

Likewise, a change in a label's wording didn't take effect for weeks with the old process. If a materials supplier goes out of business, for example, the replacement material might not have identical content. With the new labeling software, the plant can choose whether the material for Vendor X or Y will be listed. Country of origin and care instructions can also be changed easily.

With the new program, most changes can be made in a few minutes and take effect with the very next lot that is printed.  "We have almost completely eliminated the time gap between the production of the label and the production of the garment.  We can turn on a dime, which is necessary in today's business environment," says Hondros.

Stacey Kusterbeck is an Apparel contributing author based in New York.

systems at a glance

EDI: Inovis
ERP: Ron Lynn Management
Financials: Lawson
Forecasting: Logility
Printers: Paxar (Avery Dennison)
Product Labeling: Cybra
Warehousing & Distribution: PkMS
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