Byline: Andree Conrad

NEW YORK — Getting members of the supply chain to adhere to a single set of specifications has always been a challenge for apparel companies.
“The idea at retail is that we want everything to look the same and behave the same. But when you sew in different locations and finish in different laundries, you need exact, accurate information about fabric,” said Marina Wright, director of raw material quality, Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco.
Now that Levi’s has shifted from a business producing millions of the same product, day-in, day-out, to a shorter-run, shorter-season product, getting mills to furnish exact fabric information has become even more critical.
The solution to the fabric specifications problem was to create a Web-based document called a “fabric profile,” which contains information such as dyes, physical properties including fiber content, and results of tests including shrinkage and fading.
“The mills asked for input,” Wright said. “They wanted to achieve a certain level of reporting ability and see things historically in a different way. For example, the mills and us want to be able to group fabric together as all Dockers, men’s, as well as by supplier. The new version of this software will give us that flexibility.”
The Web-based system provides Levi’s and nine of its mills with the ability to collaboratively develop, communicate and track fabrics, specifications and issues in real time and free of error.
The developer of the solution is Applied Intranet Technologies, Camden, Maine, which recently was acquired by Freeborders, San Francisco. Core functionality of the system includes shared creation and view of fabric specifications between trading partners, and creation and management of fabric standards, test methods and vendor conformance.
In addition, features include public and private catalogs of images and data to allow shared or private views of fabric archives and current development, and multi-level searching capability on fabric types, construction detail and standards.
In addition to improving productivity in the product specification process, the solution has increased the speed that Levi’s can bring new products to market.
Decision-making, and the time needed for bird-dogging and follow up, have been cut substantially because Levi’s and its partner mills can now make accurate information available to one another with automatic updates that don’t require faxing or e-mailing. Previously, the retailer or apparel manufacturer would have had to fax or e-mail a fabric request form to a textile mill. The mill, in turn, would have used spreadsheets or printed documents to manually create a fabric profile, and would then have sent those documents back to the manufacturer.
Every one of these steps created extra work at each point along the supply chain, not to mention the potential for mistakes. Product deliveries were often missed, or the manufacturer settled for incorrect fabric just to meet a production deadline.
More than 2,000 fabrics in total, including denims, woven shirt fabrics, woolens and gabardines for dress slacks, cotton twills, blended fabrics, stretch fabrics and some microfiber, are currently handled in the Levi’s system.

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