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Posted Date: 10/8/2009

Rag & Bone Takes the Plunge into Computerized Patternmaking

By Stacey Kusterbeck
Rag & Bone, a maker of classic yet modern sportswear with a handmade feel, prides itself on the craftsmanship of its high-quality sportswear, and the manufacturing it does locally in Manhattan's Garment District. Founded in Kentucky in 2002, the company's apparel is sold at retailers including Bergdorf-Goodman and Barneys New York; its denim jeans retail from $195 to $245 and jackets sell for an average of $550.

Yet, as the small company grew, it found that while the homespun feel of its brand was very appealing, that handmade quality did not translate well when it came to managing the processes that accompany growth. To keep its business up to the high standards it set for itself, Rag & Bone needed to make its patternmaking process more efficient.

"It's extremely important to us that we produce within the United States as much as possible," says Sandra Estrada, the company's head of computer patternmaking. "But wherever our product is made, 'Quality Guaranteed' is a statement we stand by."

To give an example of the processes that were posing challenges to efficiency: Because the New York City-based company didn't have the time or resources to manually reproduce copies of paper patterns being sent out to its local factories, it routinely sent the originals instead. "That caused many problems," says Estrada. "Even if the factories were careful, pieces - and sometimes even entire patterns - would be lost or damaged."

More generally, the company was increasingly faced with the challenge of managing all of its information: For example, filing, storage and organizing were becoming more complicated. Keeping earlier versions of patterns for reference was becoming difficult, both in terms of space availability and record-keeping. Additionally, the company needed a more efficient way to finish patterns.

"It always boils down to saving time," says Estrada. "This is a fast-paced industry with insane deadlines. The next market season is always on top of us. Since we do both men's and women's lines, that complicates things even more. We needed to find something to streamline any and every process we could."

Ready to make a transition
With that goal in mind, Rag & Bone set out to make the transition to computer patternmaking production, but didn't quite know where to start. Price was a big consideration for the company, as was maintaining the high quality of its garments, which are known for construction details such as selvage seams, tailored waistbands and for the use of a French fly on pants.

Whatever system they used had to work with a pattern production process involving these more complex designs. For example, the company wanted to be able to test simultaneously different possibilities of executing a pattern, such as varying dart or grainline directions.

Ultimately, the company selected OptiTex's Pattern Design System (PDS), which it found to be versatile and intuitive. Also, "the price was right," says Estrada.

With key individuals trained by OptiTex, the entire implementation went very smoothly, mainly because the learning curve was not too steep. Also, Rag & Bone didn't rush the process. "This industry doesn't wait for anything. You wish you had time to learn so many things and get your company onto the technology bandwagon. But the reality is, when do you find the time with constant deadlines? It's hard to find time for training. So we have been implementing the use of computer patternmaking one step at a time," says Estrada.

It helps that the system is very graphic, with "extremely obvious" icons, and that the OptiTex tech support team is just a phone call away, and is able to access the company's computers remotely. If OptiTex is unable to solve a problem remotely, the company sends over a file so that OptiTex can find a solution, says Estrada. Technical issues, such as dealing with seam allowance corners, and setting the piece's grading point of origin, have been quickly resolved in this fashion.

Old and new processes continue side by side
While some of Rag & Bone's patternmakers quickly adapted to the new technology, others haven't used it at all. Only about 15 percent to 25 percent of Rag & Bone's collection is currently designed by computer from the start, says Estrada. "We are a growing company, so in some instances we are doing things or adopting technologies for the first time, as is the case with patternmaking software," she says. Some, already familiar with computerized patternmaking, easily fell into using the new system, while others continue to create patterns manually.

In the latter case, the paper pattern is simply digitized at a later stage of development, using a device made by Algotex, which uses a sheet of translucent vellum-like paper with a grid embedded in it and a digitizing pen.  "We can digitize on any surface by just unrolling the sheet and placing pattern pieces underneath," says Estrada.
Regardless of the front-end process, 100 percent of styles are now on the computer system and available for plotting. "We can keep the original patterns intact, and send plot outs to the factories on-demand, without the stress associated with sending out originals," she says.

Thus, the overall patternmaking process has become much more efficient. If a new style is based on an existing one, the file can be retrieved and modified on the spot, either by computer or manually.

Another advantage of the solution over manual patternmaking is having the ability to plot multiple sizes of one style. "If we are looking to make a jacket similar to an existing one, but with a more relaxed fit, we can plot out a bigger size and play with the pattern, cut it out and make a sample quickly. The design team can play around with the garment, and make decisions on the new style on the spot," Estrada says.

Patternmakers also are able to apply different shrinkage percentages to the same style. "We can see a garment made out of different fabrics, with different washes applied, rather quickly," she says.

Of all the benefits, however, improved organization has been the biggest overall, says Estrada, noting that the solution saves time, resources and space.

Currently, Rag & Bone still relies on its trusted grading and marker-making bureaus, which have the company's grading rules, the know-how, the facilities and the people to do it, but Estrada says it's possible that will change. "The company is still young and growing. In the future we may even have a whole marker and grading department. But it's easier and faster, for now, to send those out as opposed to training somebody in-house to do it with OptiTex."

Another possible next step for the company involves use of OptiTex's 3D fabric simulation system as a garment pre-production tool. "We still haven't ventured into the 3D territory yet, mainly because we do all first samples in-house," says Estrada. "And we also like to touch and feel the finished garment and to fit it on a live model. But we are thinking that 3D will be the next natural step to take in this process of systematization of pattern production."

Stacey Kusterbeck is an Apparel contributing author based in New York.


fast facts

* Founded: 2002, in Kentucky
* Employees: 50
* Headquarters: New York City
* Target customer: Ranges from the young city dweller defining his or her own style, to a more mature customer with an eye for updated classics.
* Name origins: Historically, British "rag and bone" men travelled through neighborhoods by horse and cart, searching for scrap metal, wood or anything else they could sell or reuse.

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