Fiber manufacturer Invista and software maker Freeborders Inc. are launching an Internet service today for sourcing fabrics that has the potential to transform the design and development process in the apparel industry.

Think of the system, known as Fast — the Web site is — as Google, Microsoft Windows and something like Sabre, the airline-industry reservation system, all rolled into one.

Fast is intended to be a neutral platform open to any fiber maker, mill, manufacturer and retailer in the world — even Invista competitors, which make nylon and spandex fibers. It has the backing of some of the biggest names in the industry, including VF Corp., TAL Group and Fountain Set, and a significant number of participants, including some 1,600 manufacturers and retailers and 500 mills in 40 countries.

The core of the service is a search engine that will allow manufacturers and others to quickly locate fabrics they want to sample, such as a 1x1 rib knit fabric with 2 percent nylon. The idea is that designers will request a sample to be sent to them via FedEx, then complete the purchase offline. The service allows participants to set up private areas for information exchange and collaboration. It also lets fiber makers, mills, manufacturers and retailers manage the sampling process, fabric research and special requests for materials that don’t yet exist.

Jeff Streader, VF Imagewear vice president of global sourcing, said VF Corp. will use the service to unite and manage its design and development process across all its groups and divisions, which now don’t share information. In addition, he said, the company will use the service to set up private areas to collaborate on new products with its suppliers, all of which it will bring onto the service.

VF Corp. won’t just utilize the service for fabric, but also will use it to source buttons, trims, zippers and its other raw materials, he said. The company plans to integrate Fast with all its software systems, so data can be shared seamlessly between them. (The company does not use Freeborders software.)

The service is free to apparel manufacturers and retailers, and includes free implementation of their textile mill network. Fabric manufacturers pay to be on the service. The list price is $800 a month for unlimited access and fabrics. In addition, mills that join early on or are invited to join by their customers will receive significant discounts, Freeborders said.

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