A cut above - marrying craftmenship with technology15 July 2015
For furniture, fashion and automotive companies working with leather, it can be difficult to maximise productivity, minimise waste and keep to tight delivery times. Celine Choussy Bedouet, chief marketing officer of Lectra, along with company CEO Daniel Harari, explain the advantages of balancing a traditional approach to craftsmanship with technological innovation.
For Celine Choussy Bedouet, newly appointed chief marketing officer of Lectra, there are exciting times on the horizon. Previously marketing director of automotive and furniture, she will now be presiding over fashion too, giving her a truly comprehensive overview of leather technology solutions.
"It gives me a new opportunity to speak with one voice to all our customers, and also internally within Lectra," she says. "Basically, what we'll be doing is to take what we've set up in our automotive and furniture marketing, and bringing this best practice to fashion and apparel in order to grow our footprint in this area. This can only bring more consistency and impact to our marketing."
Her appointment comes at a pivotal moment for Lectra. As the world leader in integrated technology solutions for industries using soft materials - fabrics and technical textiles, as well as leather - the company has recently made inroads with a number of high-profile clients, helping them meet increasing demands in a challenging marketplace.
Last year, for instance, Duvivier Productions, the luxury French furniture company, looked to Lectra to double its capacity, while preserving the traditional craftsmanship it is known for. This was no small task: if you want to double the number of hides cut every day, without increasing staffing levels, you might expect quality to suffer.
The company, however, contends that Lectra allowed them to achieve the seemingly impossible. Within just three months, it had Lectra's automated leather-cutting system, VersalisFurniture, up and running, along with the latest versions of its pattern-making and nesting software. This meant doubling throughput, without deviating from its notoriously high standards.
Starr Aircraft also recently looked to Lectra to help it ramp up productivity. Observing a rise in demand for leather seating, the aircraft product manufacturer implemented the Versalis solution, as well as the Vector fabric-cutting system.
Then, in February, German furniture manufacturer Polipol Group built on its 20-year partnership with Lectra, completely overhauling its leather-cutting process in order to optimise its performance and quality. While the two companies have worked together many times before, this project was easily their most ambitious.
"We are really keen to develop partnerships or long-term relationships with our customers," says Choussy Bedouet. "So what we've seen with Duvivier, Polipol and Starr Aircraft - but also in the fashion industry - is that this is a way for us to grow our footprint, to make sure that after 40 years we're still here.
"Most of the time, investing with our customers is a win-win collaboration because we exchange, share information [and] allocate resources in order to develop the partnership. This is a way for us to grow new markets but also expand the traditional markets we have."
Dedicated follower of fashion
In terms of Lectra's fashion clients, perhaps the most prominent is Samsung-Cheil Industries, the leading fashion company in South Korea. Recently, the company was one of the first to implement Lectra's new project life-cycle management (PLM) software.
"Half of Lectra's investment in software has been in PLM over the past ten years, so clearly PLM is central to our strategy in the short, medium and long term," explains Lectra's CEO, Daniel Harari. "We intend to be a key player - if not the leader - in the PLM arena for fashion.
"We replaced Samsung-Cheil's PLM in nine months, which was very complex, as it was connected to 23 other systems that were moving and changing every day. But the system has now been live for 15 months and I believe it's one of our major successes."
The PLM software in question - Lectra Fashion PLM V4 - is designed to streamline product development from planning to sourcing, enabling fashion companies to adapt their ways of working in line with new market pressures.
A key point of focus is collection planning and calendar management, imperative in an industry that contends with changing seasonal trends. Because the software enables different departments to work on a common platform - and therefore anticipate upcoming phases in the development cycle - it becomes easier to take a profitable collection to market.
Harari says this solution is well suited to fashion companies that want to take advantage of the growing wave of 3D technologies.
"We believe that 3D is by essence a collaborative tool, and it really makes sense when it's fully connected to PLM," he explains. "Our solution has a first level that corresponds to what you would find in classic PLM, and then we have a second level that integrates design - meaning a designer could change a colour or shape, and everyone in the supply chain would be alerted. The third level is doing that in 3D."
3D technology has been widely discussed as ushering in a new era of product development within fashion. Last year, at the International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Annual Conference, Lectra highlighted the evolution of 3D, emphasising how virtual prototyping can be integrated into interactive design.
"With 3D, everyone can see what the real garment is going to look like and marketing teams can see exactly what's going to be delivered," says Harari. "One of the areas we invest the most in is connected 3D - that's where we believe we have a significant role to play in the coming years."
Of course, for certain companies working with leather, this emphasis on IT may seem almost beside the point. Given the much-discussed skills gap within leather, might a cutting-edge approach detract from the importance of traditional craftsmanship?
Choussy-Bedouet thinks not, pointing out that Lectra has partnered with approximately 900 universities and schools to prepare the engineers and designers of tomorrow.
"We need to further develop the curriculum to support the leather industry, because this is a very traditional market and we need to invest in training the new people who will be working in this sector," she says. "The current craftspeople are very skilled but they're aging - that's something we've seen across the European region."
Transform the future
In March, Lectra hosted its seventh International Education Congress, which brought together representatives from 33 international fashion schools and universities, to discuss the transformations underway within the industry. It explored how various disruptors - globalisation, the rise of digital, new consumer expectations and the luxury boom - were affecting fashion companies, and highlighted the importance of bringing together industry and education.
Given that the leather industry is also facing an array of sustainability challenges, the need for a comprehensive approach is not in doubt. This means promoting a focus, certainly, on the traditional aspects of leather design and cutting, but it also means exploring how technological innovation might streamline workflows and reduce waste.
For instance, Lectra's Versalis automated leather-cutting solution allows furniture manufacturers more flexibility, managing hide analysis separate from cutting and using multihide nesting software to increase material savings.
"The fact that we can do not only single-hide nesting but also multihide nesting is a breakthrough in terms of technology that will certainly gain traction in the coming years," Harari says. "We continue to invest heavily in R&D, with a view to extending the gap between our technology and that of our competitors."
For Choussy Bedouet, remaining competitive will mean listening to customers above all else and addressing their challenges as and when they arise.
"We need to really understand these companies so we can deliver the proper solutions to the market," she says. "That's really what I would say will drive the market in future - making our customers the centre of everything we do, delivering expertise and building long term relationships with them."