By  on April 25, 2005

NEW YORK — Ace Style Intimate Apparel Inc., a $230 million maker of lingerie and swimwear, has begun using a Lectra ink-jet fabric printing system to shorten its production cycle of creating and designing prints for apparel from months to weeks.

In some cases, the turnaround time may be a few hours, said Daniel Harari, chief executive officer of Lectra, a Paris-based manufacturer of equipment and software for the apparel industry. While ink-jet printers are not new, Ace’s setup is still relatively unusual.

“It’s all been set up globally,” said Andrew Sia, chairman of $270 million Ace Style, based in Hong Kong.

Harari and Sia showed off the printing system at a design exhibit and cocktail party Thursday at the Ace Style offices here. Some 200 retailers and industry executives attended the event, which featured trend boards of printed fabric swatches and lingerie on mannequins as well as a demonstration of the printing process for which fabrics are pretreated.

The two companies plan a similar exhibit at the Sept. 3-5 Lyon, Mode City and Interfiliere trade fair in Lyon, France.

Designers in Ace Style’s New York studio print out and tweak fabric samples, then e-mail the digital files to Asia, where the fabric is produced.

“We have a [printing] machine here in New York at the front-end to work with [retail and apparel] customers, one machine in Hong Kong to receive the data, and the info is passed on to our factory in Huadu, China, which has 12 machines,” Sia said. “I’ve now decided we will have another machine at our design and R&D studio in Nottingham, England.”

Ace Style, which operates eight factories, produces 30 million garments a year for clients including Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom, Palmers and Calvin Klein Underwear.

Although ink-jet printers for fabrics have existed for more than a decade, they have begun to spread rapidly through the apparel industry in the last year or so, said Chris Moore, director of digital printing operations for S. Edward, a print converter. Most companies use them for producing fabric samples only. Nonetheless, they may be used “to produce small collections that are very trendy and get them to market quickly,” said Tim Copeland, vice president of marketing for Lectra.Mimi Sia, ceo of Ace Style and Andrew’s wife, said the applications can be used on a variety of fabrics, including cotton and linen, as well as man-made fibers such as sheer Marcasite and stretch opaque microfibers. The process may also be applied to Helenca lace and printed laces on a smooth ground that have a three-dimensional effect, she said.

“You only manufacture what you sell,” Harari said. “There are no losses.”

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