ATLANTA--Time compression, Quick Response and globalization were the buzz words among women's wear manufacturers attending the Bobbin Show, as companies searched for the latest technology and other tools to provide a competitive edge. The four-day event, which ran through Friday at the Georgia World Congress Center, has evolved from primarily machinery and notions, to a broad assortment of support industries, including information systems, sourcing, fabrics and textiles. "We have to come here with an open mind, rather than a specific focus," said Peter Gabbe, executive vice president of intimate apparel firm Carole Hochman Designs, New York. "The show," Gabbe continued, "like the apparel industry, has become more cohesive and integrated, from technology and machinery to sourcing, distribution, education and retail." Gabbe attended the show for a broad overview of the technological advances in hardware, software and CAD systems. "All of our production is offshore," he said. "So we're looking for trims and findings to support direct delivery to our overseas operations, as well as product design aids that reduce man hours and costs." Speeding up the cycle from design to production was foremost in the minds of attendees. "Time compression is important to everyone, not only the big companies, but smaller size as well," observedEmanuel Weintraub, president of Emanuel Weintraub Associates Inc., a New York management consulting firm that was exhibiting at the show. "Retailers are the unspoken guest here, because retailers and their increasing demands for quick response are driving the business for everyone," remarked Weintraub, adding, "The big retailers are developing partnerships with big manufacturers, so smaller manufacturers have to be as fast, and sometimes faster, in order to survive." Frank Martino, chairman, Russell-Newman Inc., a Denton, Tex., manufacturer of women's lingerie, daywear, robes and sleep T-shirts with major department stores as clients, described retailers as "our greatest competitors." "We have to have to offer better quality in less time than retailers are able to produce themselves," commented Martino. Martino shopped for systems that could send design information to retailers automatically, CAD systems that take reduced time in screen printing, and machinery such as an automatic sleeve setter for T-shirts. Russell-Newman now does 75 percent of its manufacturing overseas, including a joint venture with Mexico that will start up in the next few months. "The biggest problem with maintaining domestic manufacturing is a labor shortage here," he said. In addition to sourcing opportunities, manufacturers were looking at ways to implement global marketing strategies. "We want to grow our international business 35 percent a year over the next three years," said John Adams, chairman, Russell Corp., Alexander City, Ala., sportswear and athletic wear manufacturer. "We're here looking at systems that will help us accomplish that." Despite the deep entrenchment of offshore manufacturing, there were signs that domestic manufacturers and contractors were healthier than in the recent past. "Business for our members has gotten much better over the past six months," said Al Howell, executive director, Southeast Apparel Manufacturers and Suppliers. "Many of our contractors are now completely booked and not looking for new business. "We hear of people who have tried offshore manufacturing that are coming back to domestic sourcing," continued Howell, "strictly because of the quick turnaround time demanded by retailers." Meanwhile, a demonstration of how Quick Response can be quickened was staged here as a curtain-raiser for Bobbin. The demonstration, underscoring what was cited as "agility through partnerships," was presented by Textile/Clothing Technology Corp. (TC2), Carey, N.C., a nonprofit research consortium of industry and government. In a partnership with 35 corporate sponsors, TC2 demonstrated how technology available at Bobbin could take a garment from design to distribution in 48 hours. Project partners included such organizations as Sprint, Computer Design Inc., J.C. Penney Co., Silon Graphics and Fashion Institute of Technology. Wide and local area networks, video conferencing and voice communications linked points in four states--Georgia, Michigan, New York and Texas--as well as five on-site locations at the Bobbin Show. The real time demonstration used a woman's top and skirt pattern in cotton and polyester base fabric, on which print modifications were made and communicated electronically. Through a video link, a buyer at J.C. Penney in Dallas requested a modification in a print from a designer at FIT in New York. Through 3-D computer design, the buyer could see the revised garment from all perspectives. The new approved print pattern was communicated electronically to a booth at the Bobbin Show where in-store merchandising materials, such as posters, banners and hangtags, were produced automatically by Cactus, a digital printing company. The white base fabric was then sent to a Gerber cutter, an automatic screenprinting area, and on to be assembled by modular manufacturing stations at the Juki and Sunbrand booths. An audience participant entered a personal order with size and color specifications for a garment and received a bar coded receipt that could be used to track the status of the garment during all stages of production. The final product was sent to a distribution point on the Bobbin exhibition floor. "This demonstrates time compression to an extent never witnessed in our industry," said Peter N. Butenhoff, president of TC2. "To re-energize American manufacturing, we need empowered work teams with technology at the forefront." "It's up to individual companies to use their imagination in applying this technology," said Mike Fralix, director of manufacturing and educational services at TC2. "It may not be feasible to jump into the whole thing, but to use parts, such as localized design or digitized point-of-purchase materials." In addition to J.C. Penney, retailers such as Dayton Hudson and Dillard Department Stores have implemented parts of the new technology, said officials from TC2.
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