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Posted Date: 5/8/2012

Get Your Spark On

By Susan S. Nichols
It’s said it only takes a spark to create an innovation. Just how those sparks are brought to fruition is certainly not an easy concept or “process” to define. Many companies seek to establish and live by a culture that fosters innovation and even have official formulas for quickly channeling and evaluating many ideas. Others may look to outside sources the world over (including think tanks, consultants and just plain successful companies) for inspirations big and small which can be replicated in some form.

Having covered this industry for 25 years, I’ve had the privilege to attend an untold number of conferences and visit with a multitude of leading brands, manufacturers and retailers and the technology partners with whom they work. As we celebrate the 30-plus Apparel Innovators in this annual issue, I find myself reflecting on some of the leaders driving innovation in the apparel arena. And while there are no doubt many, one such consistent leader is [TC]2, the Textile/Clothing Technology Corp., based in the research triangle area in Cary, NC.

First, full disclosure: I sit on the board of directors and executive committee of [TC]2.  (There is no compensation; I am a volunteer.)

Why am I involved?  Because I believe in the mission of this not-for-profit research and educational organization, which seeks in its simplest form to drive innovative technology ideas to improve the competitiveness of the apparel and textile industries. [TC]2 is a steward, if you will, of innovative thinking. The organization is involved in researching and promoting everything from lean manufacturing to 3D body scanning to digital printing to waterless dyeing to RFID.
   
At last month’s annual meeting for example, there were, as always, many innovative presentations and ideas discussed. Here are just a few:

• Dr. Marie-Eve Faust, Philadelphia University, presented her ideas for an international size label.  She has established the International Sizing Consortium (internationalsizelabel.com) in hopes of developing a standard way of communicating size and shape that bears a definite relationship to a garment’s key measurements and conveys adequate information to a target market.
• [TC]2’s president and CEO, Dr. Mike Fralix, offered an overview on additive manufacturing (wherein you produce a product by adding layers in a relatively efficient way, with little waste or reduction of materials) and pointed to the N12 bikini. Designed by Continuum Fashion, the N12 is the first completely 3D-printed, ready-to-wear item of clothing, made of nylon. Cool! This first affordable design could lead the way for more items fabricated using 3D printing technologies.  Learn more at shapeways.com/n12_bikini.
• Dr. David Bruner, [TC]2’s vice president of technology development, gave an update on its KX-16 3D body scanner, the first $10,000 body scanner on the market. While [TC]2 has sold body scanners to prominent retailers, including Brooks Brothers and Hartmarx/Costco, which is making custom men’s suits, and NOMO Jeans, which is making made-to-measure jeans, the end goal is not to be in the business of commercial selling — it’s to push technologies forward into the market.
 
For years, [TC]2’s research has been predominantly funded through the Department of Commerce through annual grants, which were appropriated as earmarks. That was the way of Congress then; it’s not the way now. So [TC]2 will continue to innovate its model and seek new funding partners. It’s a vitally important resource and thought leader for our industry with so much to contribute in the way of innovations.

So whether you seek out [TC]2, or your employees, or peer companies, or industry associations, do seek out all the sparks of innovation you can find. You never know which one might light a bonfire.

Susan S. Nichols is publisher of Apparel.
She can be reached at snichols@apparelmag.com.

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