PI Apparel’s L.A. Conference Dispels Tech Fears and Promotes Innovation Collaboration


Lectra’s Alisa Schrieber (left) leads a panel covering “The Product Development Comeback: How Taking Control of Fit & Quality Can Help You Increase Brand Loyalty” during a discussion with her colleague, Carlos Jimenez, and Alvanon’s Tracy Rickert.

Bringing its Apparel World Series brand conference to Los Angeles for the second year, event-and-conference producer Market Key invited apparel-and-footwear industry leaders to its Product Innovation Apparel (PI Apparel) event to discuss how the future of the business will be shaped by technology.

Held at The L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown Feb. 19 and 20, the event challenged industry insiders to examine whether they are adopting the major technologies available to their companies. As the fashion and apparel presales manager for French technology firm Lectra, Alisa Schreiber was happy to see the camaraderie among other fashion professionals in this fashion city, which doesn’t always receive its appropriate recognition.

“It’s not just a trade show where people show up, go to the booths and leave,” she explained. “There is a collaboration between providers and the brands and retailers, which comes out of the workshops. Everyone thinks of New York, but there is so much that goes on in Los Angeles that doesn’t get as much publicity as it should.”

While many professionals in the fashion industry are excited about how new and future technologies can create a more efficient supply chain, others are far behind adoption of these tools. A familiar face at PI Apparel conferences since the event’s July 2013 conception in London, Pam Buckingham exhibited at the event with Boston–based PTC, where she works as the director of product management, retail.

“I look at the 3-D digital disruption and it’s the same as it was in 1989 when we had the digital transformation from flat patternmaking with paper and scissors to CAD systems,” she said. “3-D, AR, VR—all those acronyms that people are hearing—are not the future, they are now. You need to get on the bus or your brand is going to be in the wasteland.”

Whether they feel overwhelmed regarding the array of new tools or view these technologies as fads that will not gain traction, industry veterans must begin falling in line with the technology-heavy fashion industry.

Seeing greater collaboration between industry veterans who can overcome their fear of working with the tech-savvy younger generation is important to Demetrius Chisholm, Old Navy’s director of men’s, kids’ and performance-tech design.

“This is going to happen. This is the direction the industry is going, and it’s not going to stop,” he said. “You might as well start thinking about how this will affect you in the future and how can you get to a place where this becomes useful for your brand.”

Touching upon artificial intelligence replacing human workers, Chisholm encouraged brands to investigate how they can help employees work more efficiently by using new tools.

“It’s not about eliminating jobs. It’s about fine-tuning jobs and finding better efficiencies for ways to work and taking the knowledge you have now and having tools to make you better,” he explained.

Tracy Rickert, a senior consultant for Alvanon, Inc., was in support of greater employee education throughout the industry. With the launch of its Motif initiative in the fall of 2018, New York–headquartered Alvanon is working with apparel-industry leaders to create courses that will help workers learn how to use new tools.

“We need to do a better job of looking at ways to train the industry,” Rickert explained. “We don’t do a lot for continuing education. What about those people who have five to 20 years of experience and they don’t know any of the new stuff? We don’t have a lot of venues for that to take place.”

By bringing together the apparel industry as one community, the conference melted the ice that divides competing brands and provided opportunities for them to learn from one another.

On the tech horizon

A big takeaway from the event was that apparel brands can start small when adopting new technologies. This was relayed by Shaul Cohen, executive vice president at New York’s Jordache, during his presentation covering the adoption of artificial intelligence to evolve the apparel industry.

“We’re using AI to start trend forecasting through looking at pictures from the street, runway and social media to understand what is good and what is not,” he said. “With trend tracking, we see what is selling with the competition, what is not selling, and expand what is important and avoid trends that we see dying slowly.”

One facet of incorporating AI into fashion has been the adoption of 3D technology. From 3-D design to samples and printing, adopting these tools to enhance speed to market was a major topic of conversation.

“3-D has been the main theme that we’ve noticed here,” said Alicia Hart, global marketing and public relations manager for apparel solutions, retail branding and information solutions for Los Angeles–headquartered Avery Dennison. “Also, people are thinking about speed to market and how do we speed up the supply chain to get customers what they need and how technology is changing how customers are requesting things.”

While businesses can decide whether or not to adopt new technologies, the real indicator of success is consumers’ engagement with these innovations. Chief Product Officer David Macy of Tolland, Conn.–based Gerber Technology revealed that 80 percent of the profit in this industry is created by only 20 percent of the businesses. He also found that consumers spend 40 percent more when shopping experiences are personalized.

“Most businesses are really struggling, but the ones that are doing well and making all the profit are the ones that are adapting to new technologies and answering consumer needs of shorter time from design to production, high quality and low cost,” he said.

Lucy Liu, vice president of product at Los Angeles–based FabFitFun, supported this idea by citing the personalized service the company’s consumers have enjoyed.

“The personalization that we see today is trying to represent what would happen if you had a relationship with your customer so long that you have enough data to make educated decisions on what that customer would like,” she said. “We’re making investments in our data-science team to understand the types of data that we want to personalize.”