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Nimble and Quick: How Lectra Adapts to the Denim Industry’s Demands

Adapting to a wide variety of denim fabric properties is nothing new for Lectra, the France-based integrated technology solutions company.

Lectra provides the global textile industry software, automated cutting equipment and related services designed to reduce errors, waste, and production time, and improve companies’ overall workflow. The company’s technology offerings include the automated cutting solutions, Vector, and Modaris 3D, a 3D technology that runs throughout the development process from design to subcontractors and producers.

“With a full range of machines dedicated to different types of production from flexible just-in-time production to high volume flexible production to mass production, we can offer the right product for the job at hand,” Laura Mylius-Prou, Lectra marketing project manager for retailing ecosystems – fashion and apparel, told Rivet.

That demand for flexibility has never been more valuable to denim companies in the chase for the next trends and big idea.
“An efficient supply chain has never been more crucial here: design elements and finishing treatments need to be selected, applied and modified quickly, and production needs to be fast and precise, so that the stylish, perfect-fitting pair of jeans can make it onto the stores on time to capitalize on new market trends,” she said.

RIVET spoke with Mylius-Prou about the innovations Lectra is bringing forward to adapt to denim’s ever-changing needs.

RIVET: What are the biggest design and development challenges facing the denim industry?
Mylius-Prou: Denim brands are racing to keep up with the pace of fast fashion, designing and delivering new, on-trend styles to the market quickly, while dealing with added expenses linked to rising labor costs and the pressure to use environmentally responsible fabrics and production methods. Moreover, the growing demand for denim in China and other international markets is posing new challenges as companies adapt their styles and sizing to accommodate a wider range of morphologies across different regions.

It’s also important to point out that fit has always been challenging for the denim jean industry. A pair of jeans can have as many as 24 different measurements from waist to ankle; determining what those should be and how to translate them into other sizes, can be a mammoth task.

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RIVET: What about shrinkage?
Mylius-Prou: Denim wear is more affected by shrinkage than any other clothing category. For this reason, being able to predict how denim will look and behave after being washed, chemically treated or mechanically distressed is also key to good design and development. Add stretchy new high-tech fabrics into the mix and multiple trials to decide which finishing treatments to use, and the product development process becomes time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive.

RIVET: How do washes and treatments affecting the accuracy of fit?
Mylius-Prou: Today’s array of treatments/washes vary from clean to coated, destroyed, to stone washed, acid washed, dirty washed and vintage washed to laser burned, ripped, batched, crushed, whiskered, sandblasted, screen-printed, tinted and bleached. All these techniques give the fabric a softer feel and enhance consumer appeal. They also affect the accuracy of fit. Denim fabric has, by nature, significant shrinkage and many of these washes and post treatments are applied to the sewn garments, significantly affecting the accuracy of fit. Adequate precautions must be made to calculate shrinkage values and adjust the geometries of the patterns accordingly. Lectra’s Modaris 3D allows designers, merchandisers, and pattern-makers to work hand in hand to select the new treatments to apply. Once post treatments and washes are selected, shrinkage values for the combination of post treatments are calculated on fabric samples or sewn garments and easily applied to patterns to insure the accuracy of fit.

RIVET: How is Lectra keeping up with the pace of fabric innovation?
Mylius-Prou: As far as cutting technology is concerned, Lectra has a significant advance on the competition in regards to denim fabrics. Our dedicated cutting solutions for denim have been on the market for more than 10 years, with improvements to each generation, and are a reference in the industry in terms of quality, reliability, and productivity.

RIVET: Where do you see areas that need improvement?
Mylius-Prou: For some time now, we have concentrated on improving the product development, industrialization and cutting activities. A few years ago, we also began providing lean product development and lean manufacturing offers to our customers to bring a much larger scope of activities into the picture, measuring and improving productivity and efficiency in and around product development and cutting rooms.

RIVET: How does the composition of fabrics affect cutting technologies?
Mylius-Prou: The largest influence that fabric compositions have on cutting technologies concerns the blades and the actions of the blade while cutting. Heavy raw cotton denims are tough and abrasive, requiring robust blades. Lighter-weight, highly synthetic compositions require variable cutting speeds and accelerations and controlled blade vibrations enable our customers to avoid the melting of fibers and cut layers that stick together when using Vector technology. A variety of blades and drills are available to meet each customer’s cutting requirements. Optional blade cooling systems are also available to handle particularly tricky fabrics with ease.

RIVET: There are several trends going on in denim at once—rigid, stretch, performance, raw. How does Lectra adapt?
Mylius-Prou: Whether cutting rigid, stretch, performance or raw denims, Vector’s cutting quality and performance are maximum due to features such as video assisted control, dynamic vacuum control, digital blade compensation, built-in sensors for automatic calibration and Eclipse, the ability to cut even during conveyor advances. Pre-programmed cutting parameter files allow operators to adapt to new fabrics quickly: By pulling up a new parameter file, all settings are changed instantly to cut the fabrics perfectly every time.

RIVET: How do you ensure accuracy?
Mylius-Prou: Accurate cutting of all types of stretch fabric relies on tension-less spreading beforehand, conveyorized transfer of spreads to the cutting surface, excellent blade control and dynamic vacuum control on the cutter to prevent stretching during the cutting process. Lectra’s Brio range of automated spreaders uses a cradle feed for tension-less spreading. Our conveyor transfer tables guarantee the stability of the spread to avoid stretching during the transfer process. Also, the most recent generation of Vector Denim cutters have dynamic vacuum control to ensure that the fabric does not stretch or move throughout the cutting process, even when nearby pieces have already been cut, releasing the vacuum surface.

RIVET: How is Lectra reacting to the market’s demand for fast fashion and quick turnaround?
Mylius-Prou: Today’s market is all about speed. Fast fashion has been around for some time now and quick turnarounds have become the new norm.

Lectra keeps a close eye on market demands, responding consistently with product and services dedicated to the improvement of process in design, product development, pre-production, in the cutting room and throughout the collaborative product lifecycle. Lectra Fashion PLM is not like any other PLM on the market. Integrating business processes and dedicated solutions, Lectra Fashion PLM re-unites managers, planners, merchandisers, designers and technical designers, sourcing teams, pattern-making teams, marker-making teams, costing teams and suppliers to make sure that quality products are brought to market quickly and efficiently on a regular basis with the high degree of visibility and the key performance indicators expected by executive teams to measure and improve process.