You have been investigating 3D prototype software for your clothing business. The advantages to using 3D virtual samples look pretty appealing and you have identified some of the benefits. You may have even seen a couple presentations from software companies. Now you are wondering, what else do I need to ask? There are other issues to consider and include in a budget to implement the software.
Adding 3D software is a great advantage, but must be planned for as a process change. You are not simply adding a new software tool. Gaining full advantage of all the potential revenue generating and cost savings opportunities will require you to make changes to your product development process and have a plan in place to assist your staff in making the adjustment to 3D.
Before diving into planning your 3D implementation, here is a reminder of the potential benefits. You can use this list to analyze and quantify the potential benefits to your particular organization.
Revenue Generating or Savings Opportunities
Less Tangible Benefits
The benefits can be great! Now you need to consider the related processes that need to change and form a plan for implementation.
Who will use the software and how?
The individuals who actually operate the software need a particular set of skills. Most organizations use technical designers or pattern-makers because they already have much of the required knowledge. You also need to consider if you can afford to take those individuals away from their current responsibilities or will you need additional staff. Will the benefits such as a reduction in fit samples to review, eventually balance the workload?
Skills needed to operate a 3D pattern-making software:
Do you want someone fully dedicated to using the software or will the current staff be expected to use the software as part of their daily tasks? Floating licenses are usually an option. Do you want to purchase ten licenses and share those among forty technical designers who will each use the software an hour a day? Or do you buy five licenses and have five fully dedicated virtual technical designers. Both approaches work, but you need to figure out which works best for your organization. Do not forget to calculate the time and cost for training. Regardless if someone uses the software all the time or a couple times per week, they will need full training.
Will the design team directly use the software? Many of the 3D options now offer additional software or plug-ins to Adobe Illustrator, which allows design to utilize the software without learning all the functions.
Do you need staff trained to use traditional 3D modeling or rendering software? Will you be using the 3D models for customer or client presentations? If so, the rendering capabilities of the apparel 3D software may need a boost by using a separate rendering software. Or if you use many custom trims you may need someone familiar with traditional 3D modeling to model trims.
Am I removing steps in the development process?
You are adding at least two steps; creating a 3D virtual sample and reviewing a 3D virtual sample. You will be able to review artwork scale, color variations, and style variations much faster in 3D. Your goal might be to replace some physical samples. Or you may review many more variations of a style because it is now faster in 3D. Make sure everyone is aware of your goal(s) and why you are implementing 3D.
Plan the new steps into the development process. When you first start the 3D model will likely be a pilot alongside the normal process. As you prove the success of 3D you can phase into a more streamlined process, replacing physical samples with virtual samples.
Do I have support from all the necessary departments and functions?
Treat the implementation of 3D virtual samples as a broader process change. Make sure you have support from leadership of all the departments involved. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits to each of the departments before rolling out the change. In addition to those using the software directly, many others will be involved in reviewing the virtual samples or providing supporting information. Design and merchandising must be comfortable reviewing 3D virtual samples in place of physical samples.
Who will be involved:
Consider the software limitations
Make sure everyone understands the software limitations. For instance, because a 3D pattern-making system utilizes the 2D pattern to make a model; sweaters cannot be modeled in 3D. Some of the software options are better than others at insulated garments, representing hard trims, and draped or tied pieces. Footwear and rigid accessories will need to be modeled in a different type of software. Make sure you educate all the stakeholders on the limitations of the software. You do not want to wait for a major meeting for someone to learn what cannot be modeled in 3D.
What hardware or additional software do we need?
Verify if your current workstations will support the 3D software. You may need to make upgrades or completely replace some workstations or laptops. If you will be presenting the 3D virtual samples in place of physical samples, make sure the presentation equipment is sufficient to showcase the virtual sample.
How are you going to test materials to be sure they are accurately represented in the software system? Some software companies provide testing as a service. Others sell hardware packages to allow you to test your materials.
Will you need to create specific rigid parts, such as zipper pulls or buckles? If so, does your company have an existing license for a 3D modeling software that can create those parts. If not, include one in your budget and do not forget to figure out who will be trained to use the software. If you are already using 3D modeling to develop footwear, can someone from that team handle creating apparel trims?
If you plan to use the 3D virtual samples for marketing, you may want to investigate animating the clothing or the avatars. The 3D pattern-making software may have some animation capability, but you may want to invest in a program capable of more complex animation.
Many of the 3D softwares used for apparel and sewn accessories now include photoreal rendering. If you plan to use the images to replace product images on your website, are you satisfied with the rendering ability or do you need further control? An additional rendering software may give you more control over camera and light positions. Some of the traditional 3D modeling software options have complex rendering engines built in.
Examples of traditional 3D modeling / render tools:
Photorealistic images are dependent upon accurate textures and shaders. Verify if the library within the software is sufficient or will you need to create and load your own textures? Existing libraries catering to 3D creators have focused on hard goods. Chances are you will need to capture some of your own fabric textures and create seamless images or shaders that can be uploaded to your 3D system. Depending on your planned end use for 3D, you may need a photo box, a scanner, or software.
Don’t panic. Any of the above needs can also be outsourced. There are many freelancers available using traditional 3D modeling that can create hard trims. Vizoo, offers to scan and create seamless textures as a service in addition to selling hardware and software. But do not plan on finding a technical designer or pattern-maker who also has skills in traditional 3D modeling. Up until now, no one person has needed both of those skills!
We want you to be successful
Adding 3D sampling to your development process can have huge advantages if implemented successfully. There are companies experiencing these advantages. There are also those who bought software licenses which are now sitting idle due to lack of planning. An exciting opportunity should not become a struggle.
Fireflyline offers 3D sampling as a service. We can help you test the process and generate excitement before fully adopting a new process. We can also help you plan for implementing 3D. I have a background in both technical design and project management. I can help you develop a pilot plan followed by a full implementation plan. Fireflyline uses Optitex but we have no obligation to a particular software company.
3D pattern-making and sampling will someday be an industry norm; a part of nearly every apparel product development organization. Before that day comes we want to make the process more accessible and ease the transition. We would love to hear from you if you have been contemplating adding 3D virtual samples to your development process.
As a student at Columbia College Chicago, I’d measure the passage of time in essays written, garments constructed, and cups of coffee consumed. As the new 3D technical design assistant at Fireflyline, I still drink lots of coffee, but now I measure the passage of time in skills learned and memories made. In fact, I’ve learned so much and made so many memories that it’s hard to believe that I’ve only been a part of the Fireflyline team for one month. In four short weeks, I’ve toured factories, attended a textile trade show, comp shopped a few retailers, and I’ve even managed to do some 3D technical design (can you believe it)!
At Fireflyline, just like at Columbia, I’ve had the good fortune of having Lacey as my guide. I’m new to 3D design, so it’s been very helpful to have my former instructor as my boss, helping me figure out why the software keeps eating my cuffs. I’m really starting to get the hang of it. Just a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the Optitex shader tool. Now, it saddens me to know that some people will go there entire lives never knowing the sublime bliss of using it. The shader tool allows me to add finishing touches to my 3D virtual samples, like colors, textures, fabrics, and metallic finishes. I could literally play with it for hours and never get bored.
Eventually, school will start again and I’ll return to passing the days with essays, sewing, and Starbucks. This won’t be tragic, because I love my school and I’ll still get to see Lacey on campus. But, I’m not sure if any classroom can ever truly replicate the experience of really learning, hands-on in the field. At Fireflyline, I’m not just working, I’m exploring.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the PI Apparel NYC conference. PI stands for product innovation. The conference was actually more focused on process innovation than product innovation. Majority of the attendees are brands and retailers looking to find new ways to compete in a rough retail environment. How are you the one to survive when you know the US is over saturated with stores? Retailers are struggling to compete with lower and lower retail prices. According to OTEXA the average cost per unit of an imported garment has fallen 3.9% in 2017 compared to 2016. Companies haven’t magically figured out how to make garments cheaper. Companies are sacrificing quality to compete on price and customers are starting to realize they only need a certain amount of clothing. The fast fashion model works for some, not for all.
After day one of the conference, I didn’t believe the industry was doing enough. The apparel industry is terribly behind in innovating and utilizing technology. The discussions and speakers I listened to on day one were focused on how they were implementing technology, but no one was discussing changing their traditional business model. Many challenges were discussed, but few offered solutions that would win new customers.
Speakers presented how they were developing product with more digital methods. Fast Retailing Co., Ltd talked about how they built apps so designers and technical designers could work within the PLM system on tablets. Pepkor discussed how they were using 3D prototypes to speed up the traditional development process. Digitizing the development process is great, but other industries have been using 3D modeling and PLM tools for decades. We need to figure out how to use those tools in more innovative ways.
Day two was like starting with a fresh slate! Marleen Vogelaar, founder / CEO, of Ziel Wear bluntly discussed how antiquated the typical apparel supply chain is. Marleen pointed out that there is no valid reason apparel can’t be produced immediately to fill a consumer need or desire instead of the typical 12-18 month lead time.
Craig Crawford, IT strategist, was next up to make the point that if you are not already reaching your customers digitally, then you are already behind. Regardless if the store is a single location boutique or a major US retailer, the product in the stores should also be available on-line. The consumer needs to feel engaged with the brand’s story and message in both the digital and physical store environments.
The conference closed with Moritz Waldemeyer discussing some of his works, which include some fabulous wearable art. I would have loved to hear more about his creative process, but the artistry was wonderfully inspiring.
By the end of day two, I was optimistic. Large brands and retailers are starting to realize they must take risks to move forward. There is also huge opportunities for start-ups to innovate new ways of working and reaching consumers. So what must happen for brands to thrive with all the challenges they are currently facing?
Not only shorter, but FLEXIBLE supply chains
Yes, product can be designed and produced in a week. Yes, product can be shipped to the consumer in two days. We need to think about apparel production in radically new ways. The technology already exists to support a new way of working. If you haven’t seen Olivier Scalabre’s Ted Talk “The Next Manufacturing Revolution is Here”; please do so. Flexible, smaller manufacturers have the potential to pave a new path of growth.
Think like a start-up and drop the legacy culture of the apparel industry
Stop worrying about what someone else is doing and figure out what your customers need or want from you. If it’s not working, pivot. Only Amazon is Amazon. You undoubtedly share customers, but it doesn’t mean the customers want the same exact product or service from you. As the authors of Rework, and founders of 37signals say “Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”
Don’t get hung up on what technology is needed. Figure out the business model or process, then find or build the technology. There are oodles of software tools out there that can be adapted to your needs. At Fireflyline, it’s the start-up brands or those outside of the industry that find new and creative ways to use our services. The established brands are using 3D prototypes for the processes we already know lead to success. But some of our favorite projects are from those who want to test the boundaries of what we can accomplish together!
Develop relationships with other companies
You don’t need to buy another company to learn from them and develop synergies. You need a short-term contract and a non-disclosure agreement to start sharing; not a merger. Want to learn how to deliver product in the shortest time possible, why not talk to food delivery start-ups like DoorDash or Postmates? Want to build cool interactive store displays, talk to museums.
Face the fact that innovation is difficult, predictability is easy
Gary Klein dedicates a whole chapter titled “How Organizations Obstruct Insight” in his book “Seeing What Others Don’t”. The premise is that it’s easier to manage the predictable but insight is disruptive. People only claim they want new ideas, but they are naturally more open to those that fall within existing business practices. New ideas can’t be neatly placed on a predictable timeline and budget. Create flexible budgets and timelines for implementing new concepts. Manage the timeline and budget, but build in flexibility.
I left PI Apparel NYC inspired to break down the barriers to innovation. As a small company we have much more flexibility than large corporations. Fireflyline was started to help companies of all sizes incorporate technology and innovation with minimal risk. Hopefully others left the conference inspired to incorporate a culture of innovation within their companies.
Rachel Hentrich has joined Fireflyline, YAY! Rachel learned the 2D side of Optitex at Columbia College of Chicago and is now learning 3D. I’m sure she will have some information to share about that process in the future. Her quote of the day is “It’s eating the cuff”.
We now have a grand total of two employees. The great thing about being a small company is we are lean and flexible. We can shift priorities in the blink of an eye!
Sneaky website updates
You may notice some additional services listed on the website. We have been working on fit improvement projects with clients, but waited to post the services on the website until now. Check out the new page and don’t hesitate to call to learn more. Developing the right fit for the majority of your customers is critical. And even if you have been in the industry for years, topics like grading can throw you for a loop.
Roo the office entertainer
The other new office member is Roo. His official job as a six-month old pup is keeping us entertained. Fuzzy sleeping puppies make the rest of the world melt away. When he isn’t sleeping he is busy keeping track of his people, climbing under desks, or getting in trouble for trying to help with computer work. If there is a typo on the blog, blame Roo.
Technical designers are a connecting thread in the product development process. They spend their days communicating designs to factories and making sure the designers vision is carried out. So what happens to their role as technology allows faster and easier visual communication?
I've heard some thought provoking questions lately around what skills are needed for those looking to start careers in pattern-making or technical design today.
⦁ Are companies looking for individuals with digital pattern-making and 3D design experience?
⦁ How do you identify if someone has the skills to work in Technical Design? What skills are needed for 3D pattern-making or prototyping?
Let's take a step back. Technical design as a career path took hold in the nineties. As companies off-shored garment production, they realized pattern-making could also move overseas. To effectively communicate with overseas pattern-makers a new role emerged. Someone who was responsible for technical communication between US designers and the overseas technical staff. Some pattern-makers moved into these roles, but also individuals with design backgrounds who were comfortable with fit and garment construction.
At the same time, the industry was beginning to take advantage of digital communication. Product specifications could be sent via e-mail in seconds instead of faxed page by page. Those with years of experience hand sketching learned to sketch with Adobe Illustrator. Digital cameras allowed images of fittings and products to be captured and transmitted quickly.
Technical designers today range in responsibilities and skills. Some companies require adept pattern-makers capable of correcting patterns and evaluating grading. Other companies expect technical designers to communicate issues to the factories and allow the factories to determine how to correct the fit problems. Some technical designers work on only fit while others may need a strong knowledge of garment construction, manufacturing methods, quality testing, labeling regulations, color, fabric, and trims.
The technology at each company ranges from creating specifications in Excel to highly customized Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) systems and 3D pattern-making. PLM software has been in wide use for many years. However, many companies have only recently began to leverage the ability to manage tasks or utilize the systems to directly communicate with suppliers. Task notifications can be sent to factories and factories can enter information directly into PLM systems.
A few leading retailers have already learned the advantages of 3D design or pattern-making systems, while others are beginning to pilot systems. WhichPLM has done a great job of recapping excitement around 3D at the recent PI Apparel conference. A few roles as virtual technical designer have emerged, both within corporations and individual firms like Fireflyline. Generally, technical designers and pattern-makers are asked to learn 3D while maintaining their other duties.
Technical design five to ten years from now will look very different from today. The development specification including measurements, construction information, and images will be gone. All this information can be condensed into a 3D file. The desired stitching can be communicated via the 3D image. The measurements, fabric, and color information can be included in the file or integrated with a PLM system. 3D software providers are beginning to form strategic partnerships with PLM providers to accomplish this integration.
Currently, 3D is primarily used as a prototyping tool, but the advantages of designing directly in the system will quickly be learned. Software will evolve to make it easier for designers and pattern-makers to collaborate. Browzwear has two separate systems; V-stitcher to create the 3D prototype from the 2D pattern and Lotta for designers to review stitch details, prints, and embellishments. The role of designer and technical designer may merge. Designers will desire to use 3D modeling tools so they can adjust proportion and scale of style lines, pockets, and prints or graphics directly. Why wait to see a sample and then need to communicate to shift a yoke seam or change a pocket size?
Will a production measurement specification be needed? Perhaps not. Someone may develop an app allowing depth sensing cameras or scanners to measure production garments compared to development garments or specifications.
The best technical designers will be those who find new ways to use the technology available to them. Companies utilizing 3D are investing time in training staff. They are also beginning to partner with colleges to ask that 2D and 3D pattern-making be implemented into the curriculum. Individuals are realizing the breadth of tools available are not only those created for the industry but also the everyday tools they use to communicate. Smart phones, tablets, Skype, and other communication applications allow us to visually communicate with the other side of the world easier than ever.
The next post will focus on training and development of apparel professionals and students to prepare them for this exciting future.
The excitement around 3D pattern-making and prototyping at Techtextil North America / Texprocess Americas 2016 was amazing. Wednesday a panel of speakers discussed 3D Evolution: Using 3D in the Apparel Fit Process. Individuals from UnderArmour, VF Jeanswear, and Adrianna Papell shared benefits their companies have experienced using various 3D software solutions. Questions following the presentations proved that many attending were seriously exploring how 3D could benefit their organizations.
3D Panel Speakers:
Pat Trautman, Moderator
Shannon Moulden - Under Armour
Jami Dunbar - Under Armour
Robert Garner - VF Jeanswear
Margarita Pasakarnis - VF Jeanswear
Ashesh Amin - Adrianna Papell
Adam Smythe - Human Solutions Assyst
Under Armour, VF Jeanswear, and Adrianna Papell are each using a different software but experiencing many of the same benefits. Each has integrated the use of the software in ways that work with their infrastructure and business practices. For instance, at VF Jeanswear, US based pattern-makers are responsible for creating 3D virtual garments using Browzwear's VStitcher. Adrianna Papell's pattern-makers in China use Tukatech software at the factory. Under Armour technical design staff can use 3D to create 3D virtual garments before proceeding with physical samples.
The companies discussed the multitude of ways they are utilizing 3D pattern-making tools.
Benefits mentioned by the panel included:
Using Optitex software has allowed Under Armour to rapidly prototype multiple style options before making final decisions. They are also able to review placements of graphic prints on multiple garment sizes.
Additional interesting uses of 3D virtual prototypes included:
Sally, one of your best customers called this morning and said the buttondown shirt she ordered doesn’t fit the same as the previous styles she bought from you. You start investigating and find the latest item Sally purchased was made at a new factory.
You have fit every style on the same fit model. You reviewed the patterns from the new factory with each fit sample. The pattern shapes are consistent with the blouses Sally has previously purchased. Sally is a size 16, so you check your graded measurement specification. The size 16 measurements matches your previous styles. You measure a size 16 shirt and it measures correctly. What could be wrong?
The final step in fit consistency is the grading. A graded measurement set is only one step in validating the grading is consistent. The other step, is checking a nested graded pattern. A nested graded pattern shows the patterns for each size stacked together.
Each point on the pattern has an X and Y axis. Uh, Oh! Flashbacks of high school geometry! The image below shows the grade for the shoulder of the shirt for sizes 4-16. In this case the grade is half of the across shoulder measurement on the measurement specification. Remember, you are looking at half the pattern.
Problems found in graded patterns usually don’t come from the points that match up to the graded measurements. The most frequent issues are when proportions are not maintained. For instance, the image to the right shows a pattern with a shoulder slope that decreases and increases by size. You could give a shoulder slope measurement on your graded specs, but it is a difficult measurement for quality auditors to check. The shape along the lower armhole curve is also flatter, which can’t be controlled on a measurement specification.
How do you prevent these problems?
If you don’t understand grading well enough to review the pattern, find someone who does. And don’t feel that you need to be an expert. Graders can make errors like everyone else. The best novelists still need copy editors to catch basic grammar errors.
Do you need technology?
No, you can check a paper version of a nested grade. You’ll need a clear plastic ruler and extra time to ship patterns back and forth.
The advantage to electronic patterns is speed. Grading is faster. Grading from whole sections can be copied. For instance, once the front pattern piece is graded, the points can be copied to the back. Patterns can be passed back and forth via e-mail for review. Nested graded patterns can easily be separated into separate sizes for use in making a marker.
Many brands and factories will make the first patterns by hand on paper. Once the style is fit approved, they will digitize the pattern to create an electronic file. Electronic systems can then be used for grading and marker making. Even if the pattern is graded electronically, they can still print a copy and send to you for review.
The process for creating a well fitting garment can be difficult to explain. There is a lot more to the process than assigning a set of measurements. A nice fitting garment needs to make the wearer look great, not simply fit around the body and stay put. Even those in the industry struggle to understand the nuances.
⦁ Why doesn't it fit, we sent the factory measurements?
⦁ Why do samples from two factories fit different?
⦁ Why do some customers love our fit and others are completely disappointed?
If these problems were easy to solve, technical designers would be out of work. Assigning garment measurements is not enough to create a well fitting garment. A square table and a round table can measure the same dimension across, but they don't fit in the same space or convey the same aesthetic.
What makes a garment fit well?
⦁ Balance. Horizontal seams should be parallel to the floor. Vertical seams should be perpendicular to the floor.
⦁ No drag lines. Those puckery areas that point to a problem.
⦁ Comfort. Garments should allow movement for the end use they are designed.
⦁ Fit preference. Not everyone wants their clothes to fit the same.
Yes, designers ask to break the above rules sometimes to push the boundaries of style.
Pattern shapes are as important as measurements. Two garment patterns can have the same measurements and fit differently. The pattern shape can be the difference between a garment that appears dated or one that feels contemporary and stylish.
The tee shirts in the below images share the same measurements that would be included in a basic measurement specification. The first has hip shape in the side seam. The sleeve is straight, allowing ease at the elbow. The second has less room at the hip. You can see the pant is bleeding through in the 3D render. The sweep and hip could both be eased out to maintain the same shape and aesthetic. The elbow has also been shaped to give a slimmer effect. Both of these garments would be acceptable fits. But you probably wouldn't find a single brand running both. For consistency one pattern shape should be followed consistently.
The below garment follows the same measurement specification. But it does not fit well. The shoulder slope is too flat (angle of the shoulder seam). This is causing the garment to hike (CF is pulling up). The armhole shape forms a V where the side seams meet. The sleeve cap shape is also different. This is causing excess fabric along the armhole. These are the types of issues technical designers and pattern-makers spend time correcting in live fit sessions and communicating to factories.
Communicating the pattern shapes to the factory along with measurements creates a better fitting initial prototype. Vital time and effort are saved for both the factory and the retailer.
Ways to communicate pattern shapes to manufacturers:
⦁ Send a block pattern. Allow the factory to adjust to match the new design.
⦁ Send the pattern from a previous style that sold well.
⦁ Create a pattern for the new style to send to the factory.
Why is creating the pattern for the new style listed last? Most large retail brands do not dedicate in house resources to this effort. Pattern makers located at the factory can often create the pattern cheaper. They also can work directly with engineers to make sure the pattern is efficient to sew, fits the marker well, and is adjusted for fabric shrinkage. Designers who want a high degree of control over garment fit and drape may employ an in-house pattern-maker.
The second step is to make sure the factory followed direction. Manufacturers should always send a copy of the pattern with the fit sample for evaluation. Electronic pattern-making can save valuable time. Even if you are not creating patterns in-house, a system can be used for receiving and reviewing patterns created by manufacturers. The pattern you sent to the factory to follow can be overlayed with the newly created pattern for comparison.
Consistency is key. Your customers need to feel like your tee shirts feel similar to your sweaters. If your marketing materials show a sweater layered over a button-down shirt, can the customer achieve that look purchasing the same size of sweater and shirt?
Consistency requires communication and management. The leaders of technical design and design are charged with the responsibility to maintain fit consistency and provide direction. Verbal or written communication is not enough. Technical designers and designers need to visualize the intended fit. Invite designers and technical designers to join fittings for other product categories. You can also hold a show and tell with staff from multiple product categories to discuss the fit. Document the fittings with photos or video that can be shared.
The right fit
So all your garments fit consistently. But is it the right fit? If you are a mass market retailer how do you decide how your garment should fit in the first place?
1. Ask a designer to dictate the ease over body and pick a fit model they think looks good in their designs.
2. Compare your fit to your competitors.
3. Analyze the body shapes of your target market.
The answer is really a bit of all three. Design should help guide the brand aesthetic, so they should be involved but the fit process is not a dictatorship. You need know what competitors are doing, but be aware that competitors product may not fit better. Body scan data can give you insight to the body shape of your target market. Organizations such as TC2 or Alvanon can advise how to interpret the data. ASTM provides standardized body measurements for infants and children. The goal should be to please majority of your customers, not everyone.
This weeks blog post is for technical designers and pattern-makers. You are challenged to create perfectly fitting garments in minimal time. The garments need to fit various body shapes, not just the fit model. Taking time to strategize how to create a smoother fit process amidst the challenges seems like a luxury. The following are some tips and reminders compiled for you.
Spend more time training
There are many viewpoints on how a garment should fit. Pattern-makers are trained differently around the world. They also grow up in different cultures. Sharing photos of your fit models allows pattern-makers to become familiar with the body shape. Holding fittings via Skype or recording fit sessions can help factory pattern-makers interpret the vision of designers and technical designers. Some companies assemble a manual for suppliers. The manual contains photos of garments that fit well and represent the fit preferences of their customers.
The right tools
Make sure your factories are using the same tools as you. Do the factory pattern-makers all have the same dress forms as your technical designers or pattern-makers? Do your factories have access to your product lifecycle management (PLM) system? Is their internet reliable to access your PLM system? Sharing the same tools allows everyone to meet the same goals.
There is a lot of free, dependable technology. Sometimes, we simply forget to capitalize on what is available. You can text message your overseas vendors for free with Whatsapp. Skype works great for collaboration. You can hold live fittings, share your screen and talk through photos or fit issues, or review samples with the vendor on a dress form before they are shipped to you.
Advanced imaging methods, such as 3D pattern-making and virtual samples allow you to visualize your pattern in the correct fabric before proceeding with physical samples. 3D virtual prototypes can offers numerous ways to improve fit. See the previous Fireflyline post Virtual Samples vs Fit Samples.
Tracking the status of styles in the development process also requires technology. The status of a sample can easily be lost in the shuffle. Virginia Meckley recommends keeping documents to track the status of styles within the fit process. “I use tracking docs that tell me where everything is at a glance. [I] color code categories for quick visual assessment of work flow and keep [the] team engaged with on going training. This gives me the flexibility to expedite and not lose time trying to find something.” Tracking documents can be created in a spreadsheet. Many PLM systems also track development status. Vendors can be given direct access to save time communicating via e-mail or retrieving large files from another location.
Rushing is not always best
Spending more time evaluating an initial prototype or spending the time to create a good pattern block can prevent countless iterations of samples. Waiting on correct sample yardage for the initial fit prototype can save time. Xochil Scheer reminds us “Never use muslin except as a draping tool. Even your first sample should be made in a fabric that is very similar to or exact to your final garment. If you're making a blouse in silk chiffon, muslin will never look, feel or hang the same on the body as silk chiffon.” A few days of patience waiting on information or materials may ultimately save time.
Sometimes, a deep breath and a moment to think is all that is needed to create better product. If you have additional tips, please share in the comments section. Collaboration can make all our lives a little easier.
The first step to reduce your development time is to build a strong knowledge of your schedule. Once you have built your schedule, you can begin to analyze and evaluate.
There are great reasons to reduce your development time:
Understand the reason each development task takes the time it does. Track the actual duration of each task versus the expected duration from the schedule. Most software scheduling tools will allow you to record the actual task durations and allow you to see if the schedule is staying on time.
If tasks are consistently early or late, by how many days are they early or late? Talk to those responsible for the activities. Why were they early or late? You can learn a lot by sitting down with the people responsible for completing the tasks.
Pull-off the bandages. You know they exist. Tasks that originated as a short term fix to a problem. Does that problem still exist? If it does, can you solve the root cause? It may take more time initially to solve the problem, but will smooth out the development process in the long run.
Are any tasks redundant? Are there departments doing the same task? Are there any tasks that both you and a supplier are doing? For example, is the supplier sending information which you are entering into a PLM or ERP system? Can the supplier enter the data directly?
Focus on the critical path
Once you have eliminated unnecessary or redundant tasks, identifying improvements gets harder. The tasks on the critical path add up to your total schedule. Eliminating or reducing the time each task takes is necessary to reduce your total timeline. You will need to address real issues that are slowing you down. These issues could be related to processes, staff, corporate structure, or environmental.
Eliminate Capacity Bottlenecks
Guess what? Some bottlenecks are people, but not in the way you think. Sometimes the problem isn’t the people who can’t get things done, but the people you can’t get things done without. If one person has to sign off on every idea that goes into development, that person is a bottleneck. There is a limited amount of work that person can review in a day. What happens if that person is out of the office unexpectedly due to an illness?
Make people more flexible and interchangeable. Everyone wants to be indispensable, but if that means work stops because one person is not present that is not good for the well-being of the company. Most leaders are familiar with the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. You may recall that part of what defines great companies are humble leaders who set their companies up for success beyond their tenure. If you are a leader, trust your staff to make good decisions. If you have to review everything, you are a bottleneck. Also, place value on the individuals who offer creative solutions, not those that crank out the most work or look the busiest.
You may find some tasks are late because one department or group is behind. Is it a long-term problem or due to a recent change. Analyze if a particular department needs additional resources or training. Has turnover been high and there are more new staff than usual? Is one group full of recent hires and would benefit from additional training?
The role of technology
Technology can eliminate tasks or reduce the duration of tasks. However, you will not understand the impact of technology without going through the above evaluation steps. Technology can solve issues with communication or reduce the burden on people. Understand the issue it is you are trying to solve before trying to solve it with software. Implementation of new technology is usually accompanied by process changes.
There are always improvements to be made. Hopefully, you have thought of a few you can implement as you read through the article. If you have had a great idea, share it in the comments!