Destination Maternity's New CAD System is a Perfect Fit

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Destination Maternity's New CAD System is a Perfect Fit

By Stacey Kusterbeck, Apparel Contributing Writer - 08/10/2010
Destination Maternity, founded in 1982 as a catalog company, became the world's largest maternity apparel retailer by offering pregnant women the latest trends and styles at a time when options were very few (and mostly unappealing). Now, the company is making a name for itself by being on the leading edge of technology.

Its eight patternmakers have perfected the art of getting the fit just right for women of all shapes and sizes, with rapidly expanding waistlines. The company designs everything from bras to swimsuits to wedding gowns, for its brands A Pea in the Pod, A Pea in the Pod Collection, and Motherhood Maternity, sold at more than 1,000 retail locations and online.

"We make so many different types of styles and maternity innovations. There really isn't anything that doesn't come through this pattern room," says Mari Alessi-Kowalski, director of technical design, who oversees pattern making and testing. "The team can really handle most challenges that come our way. There's not too much we can't figure out."

What the talented team was missing, though, was technology that would help them meet the company's vision of "staying on trend, maintaining our maternity fit formula and strong pattern quality," says Alessi-Kowalski.

The Philadelphia-based company knew it was being held back by an outdated CAD system. It set out to find a Windows-based system that would allow pattern makers to work efficiently internally and externally, streamline the pattern process, and improve pattern quality. Being better trained on the CAD tool was a high priority.

Relatively painless process
Choices eventually narrowed to a few vendors, with OptiTex at the top of the list. After a two-month test of the software, a training plan was developed and the system was implemented very quickly. "Even in the first two weeks of roll out, it did not hinder our productivity greatly. Our team was able to push the same volume while they trained and practiced on the new software," Alessi-Kowalski says.

The "super users" developed during training mode supported the other team members by troubleshooting day-to-day questions. Simultaneously, the OptiTex team custom-designed a training plan and completed the bulk of training, both in-house and web-based. This combination allowed patternmakers to work on actual time-sensitive production work while training. "They were so excited and energized by the new CAD system. It left no doubt that we made the right decision," says Alessi-Kowalski.

Patternmakers quickly became proficient with their new skill sets. "You're talking about people who had been making patterns on the same CAD system for 15 years without any change or improvement to their skill set," says Alessi-Kowalski. "It was very discouraging, and did not make the team feel highly proficient or highly skilled. I have a much slicker team now. They wear many more hats than they used to, and they are more confident doing so."

She credits this to the OptiTex trainers' ability to get to know the team's pattern design habits, and the chance to test out the software before actually implementing it. "To be able to switch out of the old technology in a relatively painless process, and increase the pattern skills and confidence in such a short period of time, is pretty amazing," says Alessi-Kowalski.

At this stage, patternmakers are doing spot training in the areas of functionality they feel they want to be more proficient. Alessi-Kowalski plans to audit everyone's skills early in the fall. Advanced training will allow staff to fine-tune skills even more, such as learning shortcuts for certain functionalities or speed.

Transparency is the key
Previously, only pattern makers could effectively check their own patterns for errors, or share pattern information or corrections. With the new CAD system, team members can navigate patterns or markers onscreen without getting up from their workstations. This allows technical team members the ability to research a pattern problem and see issues onscreen independently, then review and troubleshoot with the pattern team.

The old system allowed for very little collaboration on patterns. "Having the ability to do more double-checking prior to production gives you a higher degree of awareness and pattern quality," says Alessi-Kowalski. "Since the new CAD software is more logical, several pattern check points can be done by interfacing team members instead of just the patternmaker. As a result, we are doing a better double-check than we did before."

Previously, there was no way for anyone but a patternmaker to work in the CAD tool, because the system was not user-friendly and the commands were complex. "Now I can do my own research on a pattern independently. As the system uses typical Windows logic, it is easy to navigate," says Alessi-Kowalski. "I don't have to slow down a team member to help me. They can still do their work until I need to loop them in for resolution. This has improved our speed and ability to problem-solve pattern issues."

3D is next step
Destination Maternity is in the process of rolling out OptiTex's 3D software, which two super users are using currently for draping and pattern corrections. Patternmakers can refine the fit onscreen until they are 100 percent happy with the result. Only then is the fit sample cut and sewn.

This means that fewer corrections will be needed at first-fit stage. "The vision is to cut down on sewing extra fit samples, which will speed up the production cycle. We can focus on other competing priorities in the pattern and sewing rooms," says Alessi-Kowalski.

Currently, 3D is helping with plus-size maternity garments, which are particularly challenging to fit. "It is essentially two specialty bodies in one," says Alessi-Kowalski. "In the bottoms area, we are trying to perfect plus-size drapes onscreen, and cut the sample after."

Team members can review and approve product faster, because the initial sample starts out in a better place. "It could prevent the need to sew two or three additional fit/drape samples per style. That would mean a savings of two or more weeks in any given production cycle," says Alessi-Kowalski.

Alessi-Kowalski sees being ahead of the curve with 3D as a big competitive advantage. "More and more companies are adopting 3D technology to speed up the lifecycle of their product," she says. "Probably in the next 10 years, fitting virtually will be done in most large apparel environments."

From a training and development perspective, team members have much more opportunity to grow and refine their CAD skill set in OptiTex than they could in the prior system. "The sky's the limit for them," says Alessi-Kowalski. "Switching our CAD system and adopting 3D technology was a step in the right direction for the future. "
Stacey Kusterbeck is an Apparel contributing author based in New York. 
systems at a glance
* Digital Color Approvals: Color Solutions International (CSI)
* Digitizing: N-hega
* Garment Costing: Methods Workshop (Quick TruCost)
* Marking & Grading: OptiTex

* Product Lifecycle Management: YuniquePLM (now part of Gerber Technology)