To some degree, today’s fashion leaders are only as great as the technology providers standing beside them. In the race to catch up to consumer expectations, apparel brands and retailers look to their trusted partners to enable the future-leaning capabilities that offer a competitive edge.
Since 1968, Tolland, Conn.-based Gerber Technology has developed the hardware and software that industries from fashion to automotive depend on to execute at the highest levels. Recently, the company has been ramping up its slate of solutions, which span product lifecycle management through product development. The company has also made a series of strategic acquisitions and partnerships, designed to position it as a leader in speed to market, on-demand manufacturing and personalization.
Sourcing Journal caught up with CMO Bill Grindle, fresh off Gerber’s fashion software ideation conference, where the company debuted its FashionTech Platform 1.0 solution, a comprehensive package that combines Gerber’s software suite with the equipment and consulting needed to create factories that move at the speed of e-commerce.
Sourcing Journal: Gerber has announced a flurry of acquisitions, partnerships and investments in the past couple months. What’s driving this sudden surge of activity across the company’s solutions?
Bill Grindle: The acquisitions are not a sudden surge, it’s the result of a systematic plan Gerber has been working on over the last couple of years. We have been and continue to be on an aggressive yet thoughtful transformation. We are a customer-centric company, and are continually evaluating new technologies and looking for opportunities to expand the way we support our customers as we advance our solutions.
Our shareholder, AIP [a New York-based, global private equity firm specializing in the technology sector], is interested in investing in our growth, and the investment plan is aggressive. We were very fortunate to have two great opportunities arise that are aligned with key needs in the industry segments we support and our overall business strategy. There is a great energy at Gerber as we celebrate our 50th year. We see ourselves as the change agent and thought leader for the future of fashion technology in an on-demand world. We have a three-pronged approach to investing: First, we are investing in R&D and advancing our own technologies, second, we are investing in collaborations and partnerships, and third, we are acquiring technology to enhance our abilities to support our customers. You will see more of this energy from Gerber in the future.
SJ: Gerber acquired Avametric, a software development company that’s a leader in AR fit technology, last month. How does Gerber think about 3-D’s future role in fashion? And how will the acquisition affect operations at Avametric?
BG: Gerber believes 3-D will play a major role in the fashion industry, and we have been focused on achieving our vision of offering a 3-D platform that supports an entire end-to-end workflow and e-commerce fit technology tools—helping our customers compete in an on-demand world. 3-D can drive greater creativity and agility in the design process as it enables early validation of a concept. It reduces time and cost in development and sampling, which is not only good for the industry, but also good for the environment, and helps make a dent in the $8 billion our industry spends producing and shipping physical samples across the globe.
Ultimately, 3-D can help to drive greater conversions and consumer loyalty by enabling consumers to have confidence in the virtual try-on experiences both in-store and online. More than 60 percent of our customers have indicated they plan to adopt 3-D technology, and the business case for doing so is obvious. Our team and many of our customers recognized that Avametric has the best fabric simulation engine in the industry. After a 12-month collaboration period with Avametric, it made natural sense to add Avametric to our tool box of innovative offerings. Avametric’s San Francisco-based world-class physics engineering team will join our forces as drivers of advancement, helping us with planning for our innovation lab in New York opening in 2019. The San Francisco office will drive product development as our global 3-D innovation center.
SJ: Gerber is also known for product lifecycle management software solutions, and Citizens of Humanity is one of the latest clients to sign up with YuniquePLM Cloud. When prospects approach Gerber, what are the biggest pain points they’re seeking to address?
BG: Our customers are looking to reduce friction in their product design and development processes. They want to increase their overall efficiency and agility so they can get the right products to market at the right time to stay on trend and enhance loyalty with their consumers. When customers adopt YuniquePLM they are often using old tools like Excel spreadsheets or internally created tools to share data and track activities in their development process.
Our YuniquePLM software allows them to operate with a single version of the truth, centralizing all their data in one place, allowing teams to collaborate and track changes in real-time. This eliminates versioning and data inconsistency issues associated with older approaches and thus improves their quality and efficiency. Additionally, by having all product data in one place they are able to increase their agility to respond to what is selling, or modify an existing style more quickly to address trends. Finally, we are seeing that companies are also looking to move away from massive technology infrastructure investments, so we have moved to a cloud-based model that allows us to continually deploy new features giving access to the latest version of the software every few weeks.
PLM is also becoming the cloud-based collaboration hub for our integrated FashionTech Platform. There are many more exciting opportunities for leveraging data and information for our customers, and you’ll see us continue to lead the way in this area. We have been and are continuing to transform ourselves to an agile, data-driven technology provider.
SJ: Gerber’s partnership with OnPoint Manufacturing seems like a major step forward for on-demand garment production. How big of a factor do you think purchase-activated manufacturing will play in the apparel industry going forward?
BG: Purchase-activated fashion is a major trend that we believe is coming quickly. The business case for adoption is compelling as it addresses many other challenges the fashion industry is facing, such as personalization, speed in addressing consumer trends, greater inventory management and increased profitability. While individual garment costs may be higher, we have found that an integrated solution can be competitive, and the overall financial and consumer loyalty benefits a company can achieve are undeniable.
SJ: What kind of interest are you seeing from existing clients?
BG: We are continuing to see interest accelerate in the market and have several partners we are talking to about potential projects. We saw this trend coming and it drove investment at Gerber and also led to some patented technology that is part of the FashionTech Platform 1.0 that we are deploying with OnPoint. They are a great partner for the project as they already understood how to operate under a purchase-activated model, so change management won’t be an obstacle to implementation, and in fact we believe both companies will benefit from our continued collaboration.
SJ: During the ideation conference, Gerber used virtual reality to give attendees a glimpse into the digitally connected micro-factory of the future. How is Gerber thinking about where virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR) can enhance back-end operations and customer-facing experiences?
BG: We are not limiting ourselves to AR & VR; we believe these and other technologies like AI and robotics ultimately will shape the future of the way garments are designed, developed and produced. At ideation we showcased Avametric’s AR capability and, as you mentioned, we also use VR to help demonstrate the microfactory of the future. We are expanding our investment by advancing innovation in our San Francisco office, and we will also be opening an innovation center in the heart of the fashion district in New York City in 2019. In both of these offices, we plan to develop on our own, test and collaborate with other technology partners and our customers. We will showcase our FashionTech Platform in our innovation center, and we will continue to work with existing and new partners to explore and identify ways to leverage analytics and automation to create digital connectivity across our customers’ supply chains.