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Posted Date: 6/1/2003

LF Brands; Growing Familiar with the System

By TRACY HAISLEY

Earlier this year, L.F. Brands Inc. (formerly The Leslie Fay Co.) opened its doors to Apparel, allowing us to chronicle the implementation of Lectra's Gallery PDM system for our annual Software Implementation Series. What follows is part two of that series.

L.F. Brands selected and began the implementation of Gallery in August 2002 and went live with the first stage of the rollout by the first of October 2002. With no less than eight labels requiring integration into the system, the project that sat before the company was a mammoth undertaking.

Indeed, the company's labels, which run the gamut of style, complexity and price range, each pose their own unique challenges to the implementation process. L.F.'s stable of brands includes high-end designer lines such as those produced under the Cynthia Steffe label, carried by Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Rimini evening wear line, available at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. LF Brands' other labels include its flagship Leslie Fay Dress, Sportswear and Haberdashery collections, Joan Leslie and David Warren New York lines, available in better department stores such as Dillard's, Federated, Saks and May Co., and d.w. studio by David Warren, available at mid-tier department stores.

To date, both the Leslie Fay Dress and David Warren divisions have fully implemented the system. Sportswear collections, including Leslie Fay, Haberdashery and Joan Leslie, have gone through the implementation process in the technical design department, and it is expected that the system will be up and running in the creative design department by July.

The implementation was planned in stages, beginning with the dress divisions, and followed by sportswear. The Leslie Fay Dress and David Warren brands were the first to go live, with the implementation completed in time for development of the Spring/Summer 2003 collection, while the Leslie Fay Sportswear, Leslie Fay Haberdashery and Joan Leslie brands began implementation with the development of their Holiday 2003 collections. Going forward on plan, Cynthia Steffe and Rimini are on target to begin their rollout in 2004.

"We are currently managing more than 1,700 styles in Gallery and continue on a daily basis to add to our style library data base. We will be able to use these libraries for future reference in fabric and design development," notes Paul Robinson, director, product information systems.

In terms of completion, all of L.F. Brands' labels will be live on Gallery and Graphic Spec by mid-2004. "We are still on plan, and have not had to adjust the timing so far and do not currently anticipate revising our implementation calendar," notes W. John Short, CEO.

That's not to say there haven't been challenges. The implementation overall has been successful, but it was certainly not smooth, Short notes. "Organizational change is hard and the learning curve is steep. It redefines processes and requires that roles and responsibilities be redrawn throughout the organization. We embarked upon this at the time that we were modifying other fundamental aspects of our business - processes, calendars, sourcing strategies - so our people had to adapt to multiple adjustments simultaneously. Introducing all of these changes at the same time was a shock to the system, but it was necessary."

According to Short, the strategy from the outset was to avoid rewriting the software. "We have not made any significant changes to the software. We have made some minor changes to technical design reporting features and customized our grading specifications," Short notes.

Leslie Fay Dress was the first brand to implement the software nine months ago. Today, Short notes, the designers, technical designers and factories have begun to find a rhythm. "With two seasons under our belts, we have worked out many of the kinks associated with the start-up. We anticipate that we will continue to gain speed and efficiency with each additional season."

Designers' Perspectives

Ann Lambert, associate designer for Leslie Fay Dresses, joined L.F. Brands in September 2001, and therefore had experience with the company's other systems. "Prior to the full implementation, we actually used the Lectra System general page as our adoption sheet, but we did not use any of the other pages." At that time, she was sketching all flats by hand and then scanning them into the system.

For Lambert, the PDM system has improved cooperative timing. "It has given us the ability to look at the garment as a whole, with each department entering information into the system. Previously, we were forced to do more leg-work in order to have the correct information," Lambert adds.

"It has become the well that everyone drinks from," remarks Susan Barber, vice president, director of technical services.

Leslie Fay Dress collection assistant designer, Theresa Sadd, who joined L.F. Brands after the implementation in October 2002, identifies time savings as one of its advantages.

"The system puts information right at our fingertips. It cuts down on some of the running around to gather information, but not all of it. In regards to Graphic Spec, the ability to manipulate sketches cuts down on time tremendously," notes Sadd.

Summing it up, Lee Polsky, senior vice president, global sourcing, production and quality assurance, notes: "The most significant asset of using a PDM is that it has allowed us to standardize and centralize the pre-production process. At the same time, it gives our designers, technical designers and manufacturing partners a transparent, shared, real-time collaborative tool that has visibility at the executive level."

The Learning Curve

The learning curve proved to be one of the most significant hurdles of the implementation process. Sadd notes that one of the challenges for her was the increased amount of time it took initially to input all the information into the system. "Once the shortcuts were apparent, it was no longer a problem," she notes. "Graphic Spec was only difficult at first because I was getting used to a new application. I actually started using Lectra about two months prior to my training. By the time I had been trained, I was already very comfortable with the system."

Likewise, Lambert struggled with the challenge of inputting information into a new system within a short period of time. However, she notes: "Every day I find new benefits to the system, and after we had completed inputting our first delivery, it was exciting to see how much time the Gallery Quick Lists saved compared to our prior adoption sheet process."

From her point of view, Lambert notes that the implementation was, at times, rocky. "It is hard to start with literally nothing and then determine who will be responsible for each [Gallery] tab. I do much less work on Gallery now than in the beginning. When it was first implemented I was doing the 'general tab,' the trim portion of the fabric/trim page and inputting the flats. Now, design is only responsible for the flats and small changes that occur through our department," Lambert notes.

In terms of the overall challenges of bringing the entire catalog into the system, Short notes that the difference in collections played a factor. "Certain kinds of product are better suited for this type of technology and others are more difficult to adapt. For example, we began our implementation with the Leslie Fay Dress division, because its products are more straightforward, and it lends itself to the application of this technology."

In other divisions - such as better dress brand David Warren and evening wear brand Rimini, in which the product is much more complex and three dimensional - the technical designers need to polish their use of the tools to allow the company to achieve the same efficiencies they have already attained in the Leslie Fay Dress divisions, Short notes.

For Short and his team, continued education is key, and in order to sustain the momentum, the company's employees will continue to receive training. "It is imperative to build upon their knowledge and further develop their skills," notes Short.

For designers such as Lambert and Sadd, switching to a new system was not difficult, but discovering all the nuances and shortcuts is a continuing process. "I would say it took about a week to be able to get around Gallery without any problems - but, I am still learning each time I use it," Sadd concludes.

TRACY HAISLEY is associate editor of Apparel. She may be reached at thaisley@apparelmag.com. 

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