Is Your Designer On-board or On an Island?

Examining the Benefits and Issues between Design and Technology

August 20, 2010

Written by: Paul Clarke and Taylor Williamson of Walter Wilhelm Associates

for The Magazine: Apparel Sourcing (

There are many articles espousing the benefits that technology integration within the supply chain, especially Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems, can bring to an Apparel or Footwear company. Most C level Directors understand the inherent value of this integration, but there are two issues of concern:

1. Possible overruns of the implementation in terms of cost and time
2. The Designers, whom they consider the lifeblood of their company and treat with "kid gloves", are typically resistant to technology

Implementation concerns will follow in a later installment but the second concern, the integration of the designer, is discussed in this paper.

Designers are a breed apart, "right brained" people in an organization exhibiting very creative characteristics. It is the creative characteristics that they bring to the design process that are valued by senior executives. Their designs are considered intellectual property so management is often wary of implementing any technology that might limit their creativity or make them bolt for the door!

From a designer's viewpoint, many are concerned that technology systems may limit their creativity, believing new systems will make them spend much of their day as a "data entry" clerk. As a matter of fact, during the demonstration of supply chain systems, many vendors purposely avoid the design department – they prefer to demonstrate functionality to technical designers, merchandisers and sourcing personnel, all of whom are normally more receptive to technology innovation.

This is not to say that vendors, especially PLM vendors, have left designers totally on an island. Many have written plug-ins to Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is the most used "off the shelf" graphical design software tool in the Apparel and Footwear verticals. Designers and technical designers prefer to use the Adobe software for such things as line drawings and measurement sketches because of its superb resolution as a vector based drawing tool. Creating an Adobe plug-in for a PLM package provides a level of comfort for designers so that the PLM environment is almost invisible, therefore, allowing them to remain in the Adobe application for the majority of their work day and feel creative and not "boxed in".

However, designers creating fabric prints, coordinating print and color variations, creating repeats, knits, weaves, stripes, checks, plaids, etc., and other members of the organization desiring apparel specific drawing tools, face a different challenge. Most PLM vendors, with roots in other industries such as Aerospace or Automotive, do not provide integrated design tools for Apparel or Footwear PLM systems. There are companies that provide proprietary design tools for the Apparel and Footwear verticals for Computer Aided Design (CAD), but they do not offer supply chain features nor do they fully integrate with any particular PLM system.

To avoid having your designer “on an island”, making integration with the flow of product development difficult, it is important to look for a system that integrates the total apparel or footwear development process as seamlessly as possible. For example, Lectra, a technology vendor working on total supply chain integration, has a unique advantage of having systems that address virtually each link in the supply chain and, therefore, an intrinsic knowledge of the process flow. Lectra’s Kaledo Suite was built around the hugely successful U4ia platform but specifically addresses the collaborative supply chain needs of the designer.

Capitalizing on design resources, reducing time to market and boosting creative options are critical elements in today’s global fashion industry. Fashion companies rely on coherent branding, marketing and product design to set them apart in a crowded marketplace and they demand this same flexibility from their off-shore contractors. Eliminating repetitive tasks that are labor-intensive and tedious allows designers to focus on what they do best: design.

The marriage of an artistic eye and technical know-how is very valuable. PLM is a supply chain solution that provides the forum to facilitate this type of collaboration, optimizing all the activities and processes involved in managing, designing, developing, industrializing and manufacturing collections. By aligning individual processes with enterprise wide priorities, supply chain technology like PLM supports companies as they seek to deliver cost-effective, on-trend collections in a timely manner, season after season, resulting in greater productivity and profitability.


About the Authors:

Paul Clarke is a Senior Associate with Walter Wilhelm Associates LLC and a recognized expert in “front-end” technology development and implementation for the apparel/retail industries. He has more than 25 years of product development experience in these industry sectors having held senior positions in industry leaders such as LECTRA, TUKATECH, Gerber Technology, Justwin Technologies, ENCAD and the Foxboro Company. He has extensive experience implementing technology and with process consulting to help shorten the product development process. Mr. Clarke, a naturalized American citizen born in Australia, holds a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts.

Taylor Williamson is serving as an Apprentice in a new Sustainability partnership that Walter Wilhelm Associates formed with Marci Zaroff Sustainable Brands LLC.

The original article can be found at: