TECH PACKS ARE OUT, SEW-BY IS IN
The fashion landscape has changed drastically in the last decade. Manifold developments in retail and consumer behaviour are driving the new directions of fashion. The millennials of today are more informed and tech savvy. They are the ones who are driving new patterns of buying. Their preferences are very different, not driven by brands but by value, for which they are ready to pay a fair price. They are also very impatient and look for instant gratification. Though no one can really predict the future, Ram Sareen, Founder, Tukatech, believes that the period between 2017 and 2020 will forever change the apparel business around the world. Below are the excerpts from an exclusive interaction between Ram and Team SW…
SW: The retail industry around the world has been witnessing a slowdown. What could be the possible reasons for it? And how do you the see the future of retail industry?
Ram: For the last five years, many big- box retailers, chains and brands have either been losing ground or are stagnant in their growth. 37 out of 39 retailers lost sales and shared prices for three years in a row. Hundreds of stores are closing and thousands of jobs are lost weekly. Yet there are two “1,000- pound gorillas” in the room who are still growing: Amazon and Walmart. In fact, Amazon plans to hire another 100,000 employees in 2017. Both have earned the reputation of being value providers, while Amazon is constantly pushing the envelope by delivering faster and faster. To put it bluntly, those who think they can survive among these giants without changing what they’re doing, are going to be those who will fade the fastest.
The biggest challenge for brands today is to reduce the total product cycle time from initial design concept to delivery to the consumer. The last remaining opportunity they have is to tackle the product development and approval time, as that process counts for at least 65 per cent of the total lead time (and can sometimes reach up to as much as 75 per cent). This means that a 120-day lead time typically involves over 85 days spent in product development and approvals.
SW: Retailers like ZARA and H&M are successful because of their speed to market. How are they different from traditional retailers? You say that the tech packs through which designs
are communicated between the designer and the manufacturer are dead. What are the other new ways or options available in place of these packs?
Ram: One part of the world that really understands how to do fashion fast is California. In this “Golden State”, companies develop between 1,000 and 2,000 new styles every four weeks. These companies set the design trends throughout the fashion industry and also work very differently than the rest of the industry. Whereas the norm in most “high-tech” product development cycles includes big teams of people with tech packs and cumbersome product management systems, Californian companies simplify the process by using the “oldschool” methods of face-to-face communication and organized assets. Not only do these cut down on operations costs, but
Typically, a fashion designer describes what he/she wants to a technical designer, who creates a flat sketch of the garment, and adds it to a tech pack with all the information about that design, so that it can be sent to a vendor to make the accompanying pattern. But no one checks to see if the technical designer really understood what the fashion designer wanted in the first place. – Ram Sareen
also help the designers avoid miscommunication, which saves time. None of these fast fashion companies could have survived if their product development time and cost was as high as it is for the typical importer.
To reduce the amount of time and resources that a globalized product development process uses, many international brands, retailers and vendors have already adopted 3D sample making. Although sending a digital sample over the internet is faster than sending a physical sample by FedEx, sometimes designers still need to see multiple sample iterations of a style before they sign off with an approval. A back-andforth process, irrespective of whether it happens in 80 days or 8 days, is still an inefficient process. But not many people are looking at the real problem here, i.e., ‘tech pack’.
Typically, a fashion designer describes what he/she wants to a technical designer, who creates a flat sketch of the garment, and adds it to a tech pack with all the information about that design, so that it can be sent to a vendor to make the accompanying pattern. But no one checks to see if the technical designer really understood what the fashion designer wanted in the first place. When the vendor receives this book, or tech pack, it’s not just the pattern-maker who reviews and interprets the design, but rather the whole team of managers and merchandisers must come to a consensus that the first sample sent to the fashion designer is a true representation of the illustration in the tech pack. Sometimes this process requires two or three internal iterations in itself before a sample is considered good enough to be sent for approval.
Technology will play a major role in determining who will stay and who will not. No one knows exactly what the new fashion industry will look like, but it’s certainly evident that those who resist adopting technology will not survive quite long
– Ram Sareen
Even most of the time, when the first sample arrives, the first six words from the fashion designer’s mouth are (according to 97 per cent of 317 designers interviewed over a period of 18 months): “This is not what I wanted!” The real design process actually starts at this point, because the designer now has a reference garment to which he/she can request changes. But 12-14 working days are wasted to reach this stage.
SW: What can be done to make sure that the first sample that a designer sees is actually the garment he/ she envisioned? How can the miscommunication between the design and technical team be removed?
Ram: A sew-by is the most direct way of communicating with any of the suppliers. It is a kind of sample garment that a designer sends as a reference (perhaps with comments attached) to a vendor, rather than a flat sketch and pages of technical information.
Since the dawn of the tech pack, the sew-by has become a less popular tool, largely in part because the fashion designers of today don’t have the patternmaking skills required to make such a thing. The designers of today are mostly focused on the “look” of a garment versus the construction. Options to express their vision may end at sketching, or working with a technical designer to communicate their vision, which as has been earlier demonstrated, usually doesn’t work.
In New York City, the salary for a technical designer averages around US $ 60,000 a year and that of a fashion designer averages nearly US $ 10,000 more than that. Brands, buyers and retailers are willing to pay for talent, but none of them actually realize how much of that talent goes waste because of miscommunication with the
vendor who will produce the finalized design. Hence, instead of blaming the designer, we should give them better tools to work with.
SW: So what seems to work best to communicate a design idea are reference garments (whether they are initial sew-by, or the first sample iterations from a tech pack), organization’s assets and their face-to-face collaboration. This seems to work well in California, where companies are vertically integrated and issues can be addressed on the same day. But what about the rest of the industry? How does a designer in New York who has no pattern-making skills send a reference garment? How can he/she communicate to a pattern-maker who lives in a time-zone 12 hours ahead of him/her?
Ram: For decades, TUKAcad systems for pattern-making, grading and marker-making have given manufacturers immense power in process engineering and efficiency. In a path breaking move, Tukatech now offers premium technology solution subscriptions starting as low as US
$ 29 a month. A breadth of design and development applications integrate into a “New Design Room”, where all players (fashion designers, print designers, pattern-makers and sample-makers) have special digital tools designed with their unique requirements in mind.
More recently, the TUKA3D application for virtual sample-making has helped reduce the amount of time and number of iterations required to approve a sample for production. The “new kid on the block”, TUKAcloud, has given vendors and designers more mobility in the sample approval process with visual data-hosting, simple communication and flexible collaboration on the web. Finally, the design and development circle is completed with TUKA3D Designer Edition (patent pending), an up-and-coming visualization application that gives designers the independence to show their concepts virtually, without the need to ever touch a pattern.
SW: Is this design tool also helpful in the preproduction stage, especially for pattern makers to understand the language in which the designer has communicated the design to them?
Ram: The process really gets interesting when the pattern-makers on the other side receive this digital sew-by. Because the original 3D sample was draped from an actual pattern, the corresponding pattern pieces remain in the background. So, a designer working with the 3D styles doesn’t need to see the pattern, but since the data is still attached, it’s available for the patternmakers to use when they receive the digital sew-by. At this point, all they need to do is audit the pattern and prepare it for production processes.
SW: How do you think this disruption would affect the retail industry in coming years?
Ram: I believe that “2017 and 2018 will define who will survive in the apparel business”. With the retail sector shifting to a consumer-driven market, agility is the name of the game for brands and vendors to keep up with the “shift in the thinking process across the entire supply chain”. Technology will play a major role in determining who will stay and who will not. No one knows exactly what the new fashion industry will look like, but it’s certainly evident that those who resist adopting technology will not survive quite long.
If there is anything to be learned from the fashion industry, it’s that history always repeats itself. However, in this case, we are not talking about jean cuts and skirt lengths. What TUKA3D DE does is to allow designers to work the same way they did 30 years ago (with a sew-by) but in a digital environment. Sometimes the biggest paradigm shifts are not too forward in terms of thinking: they utilize the wisdom of the past and adapt it for the future.
Ram Sareen, Founder, Tukatech
In TUKA3D Designer Edition (DE), existing virtual samples are brought into the Garment Builder Module, where already-simulated style components can be swapped, added, or deleted to ‘snap’ together a new silhouette. This becomes a digital sew-by, without the designer even looking at a pattern
The print designers can use the digital sew-by as a blank canvas in the Print Visualizer Module, in which they can preview their own developments. A process that is typically done on flat illustrations becomes more powerful (and more accurate) on a to-scale 3D object