Byline: Michael Hickins

NEW YORK — Apparel designers at Mervyn’s California are getting more productive, thanks to an eclectic mix of design technologies.
The design technologies enable in-house designers to work more effectively with merchandisers, helping to boost sales performance of private labels such as Sprockets for children’s wear.
“Productivity in the design group has improved by at least 20 percent” in the past year, said Kerry Boozenny, manager of creative technology.
Designers and merchandisers at Mervyn’s, based in Hayward, Calif., conduct seasonal meetings each quarter to review the performance of private label garments.
Boozenny said the company could react more quickly to changes in consumer predilections and buying patterns because the in-house design team works closely with merchandisers and has the tools to produce new textile designs in real time.
Mervyn’s, the low-price retail division of Target Corp., based in Minneapolis, has lowered costs significantly by switching the operating platform in the design studios from Silicon Graphics to a Windows environment. “Before, we had to have a dedicated support person, and that cost us big bucks,” said Boozenny. “Now we get support from the corporate information systems department everyone else uses.”
While productivity increases have been common in most manufacturing trades, apparel manufacturers have been slow to benefit from such improvements because off-the-shelf and textile-specific software solutions don’t address all the complex needs of textile designers and production mills.
Mervyn’s has solved this dilemma by adopting “myriad solutions,” said Boozenny, that range from pattern design from Lectra Systemes of Paris to software from Koppermann Computersysteme GmbH of Schaftlarn, Germany, to “crank out colorways.” These apparel-specific solutions have been complemented with off-the-shelf graphics software from Adobe Systems of San Jose, Calif.
Boozenny said because designers can now create patterns, repeats and colorways — which are variations on a color scheme — in a digital format, merchandisers have more options. Rather than having to print samples, designers can produce reliable digital images.
In a crunch, she observed, even team managers who don’t usually get involved in the actual design process can lend a hand because the software is easy to use.
Once merchandisers have signed off on specific designs, they can be sent to the production mills in digital format, obviating the need for specialized draft printers, which are difficult to use and “maintenance-intensive,” said Boozenny.
Mervyn’s uses thermal wax transfer and ink-jet printers to produce physical records as backups to the digital files. This not only reduces printer maintenance and supply costs, but improves the productivity of the engravers who burn the screens used for producing color patterns on garments.
“Because of the software, we’re moving away from needing the physical sample as the be-all and end-all of record,” Boozenny said. “Engravers would rather work from a digital file anyhow.”
On the other hand, Boozenny warned, designers can’t rely on the digital process entirely. “We’ve learned that you still want to describe what you’re sending so if the digital file is damaged, the mills can tell you they didn’t get what you thought you sent. You have to communicate with people, not just send the disk and forget about it.”