Byline: Jeanette Hye

NEW YORK — With the explosive growth of private label apparel, retailers are hunting for technology to support their in-house design and production strategies.
The trend was very evident at last week’s Bobbin Show in Atlanta, where scores of retailers — Kmart, Gap, Dillard’s, Dayton Hudson, Target, Sears, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward among them — searched for new computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems, previously the domain of manufacturers. “Private label is going to continue to grow in importance for everyone,” said Anton Wilson, Dayton Hudson’s corporate director of quality assurance. “We need good systems to communicate designs to our vendors so that we get back exactly what we ordered.”
Wilson said that Dayton Hudson, which owns Marshall Field’s, Mervyn’s and Target, saw several interesting CAD/CAM systems at the show and is looking to buy both specification and design packages that it can use to upgrade its own in-house spec system.
Other retailers, including many that already use CAD to some extent, said private label growth is forcing them to upgrade and expand their design systems in order to help churn out fashionable and original designs.
“If we can get a 30 percent profit margin on brand names, we can make at least 45 percent on our own private label,” said John Lorimer, product development technician, men’s wear private brands marketing at Hudson’s Bay Co., Toronto.
“To support that private label effort, we need a well-rounded package,” Lorimer said. Hudson’s Bay is exploring several CAD/CAM options and is primarily looking for a system that offers total integration of the retailer’s in-house design process.
Sears is also actively working to integrate CAD into its private label business.
The retailer, which currently uses CAD for design and costing, is planning to branch out into CAM with the addition of pattern-making software.
“We want to standardize and shorten the design to production process,” said George McMahon, systems manager at Sears.
He added that the retailer’s private label business has expanded significantly over the last three years.
McMahon said Sears wants to continue to improve the quality of its private label products by using the technology to create products that are as close as possible to the retailer’s original specifications.
“We want to be able to put the pattern directly on the cutting room floor,” McMahon said.
The surge of interest in CAD/CAM systems is creating market opportunities for vendors. Until recently, they focused their sales and product development efforts on manufacturers.
“Private label is booming, yet many retailers are still doing design manually,” said Kimberly Broxham, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based CAD consultant who has worked with Gap and Sears on installing CAD systems. “Most retailers are just starting to look for the graphics tools they really need.”

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