Celebrating Its 50th Year, Lectra Continues to Build on a Legacy of Digitalization

    One of Lectra Vice President of Marketing Ketty Pillet’s most recent daunting tasks has been figuring out how to get the company’s 2,500 employees worldwide to celebrate together at the same time.

Fifty years is an eternity in fashion, and even more so in technology. Which is why Lectra’s success story is practically a tale of immortality. Once upon a time—in 1973, to be exact—twin brothers Jean and Bernard Etcheparre started Lectra Systems in Bordeaux, France, becoming pioneers in the process.

Half a century later, the California Apparel News caught up with Chicago-based French native Ketty Pillet, Lectra’s vice president of marketing, to congratulate her on the milestone and discover how Lectra’s esprit of innovation shows no signs of slowing.

CAN: What would you say is French about the company?

KP: We’re very international now, but the brothers who founded Lectra were engineers, and I think their contribution was to always make something right and make it work. The French DNA goes into the details that make not just innovative solutions but also robust ones that work over time.

CAN: What was the brothers’ vision for Lectra at the beginning?

KP: It was very futuristic at the time: to use CAD—computer-assisted design software—to digitalize the very manual artistic world of fashion and fabric. So their vision was really automation, and it has evolved to not only digitalize but optimize. We all know that the world of apparel is not the most sustainable, so now we’re optimizing and going more into what we call the Industry 4.0 world.

CAN: What did “digitalize” mean in 1973, since it certainly means something else now?

KP: At the time, digital simply meant having apparel patterns drawn on a computer screen so they could be easily changed. Of course we had no idea that “digital” would become what it is today, when it’s not enough to just have the pattern on a screen in order to make changes. Now it’s about managing all the data: the sizing, the flow, through the PLM system, and everything from design to production, including cost, margin and all the suppliers. So “digitalized” has evolved to mean the whole supply chain and how to make data useful for a business.

CAN: How would you characterize the improvements you continually make to your solutions?

KP: If I can pinpoint the one most important thing, I’d say it’s to have the right data at the right time in order to make the right decision. You have to anticipate and try to produce the right things so that things will be sold and not get stuck in inventory, and that’s a very complex equation today.

CAN: Lectra says it is leveraging AI, Big Data, the Cloud, the Internet of Things and other tech buzzwords to help advance Industry 4.0. What does all that mean?

KP: Industry 4.0 is the umbrella term, and I believe it originated in Germany. It’s like how the industry began with steam and coal and now we’re adding digital data, so we’re in the fourth era of the Industrial Revolution, and all those things are the next steps in modernization. For example, our solution’s competitive benchmarking feature uses AI to scrub websites all around the world to get data and put it nicely organized into dashboards to show what people are buying, with sizes and colors and so forth. You can see this is a long way from our beginnings in the 1970s digitalizing a pattern! And today it’s not just having the data but being able to integrate the data and optimize the process from one step to the next. If the right data doesn’t flow throughout the production process, then you’re going to make mistakes.

CAN: How does a growing company, or an established one needing an upgrade, begin to work with Lectra?

KP: First off, you don’t have to get everything all at once and so the price really depends. Our website shows how you can contact us, and our customer success teams help people understand their needs and then make a recommendation for the best solution for them.

CAN: How are your milestone celebrations going?

KP: We’ve been organizing to have a celebration this month, but with offices from Shanghai to Paris to the U.S., my day-to-day life has been figuring out how our 2,500 employees can all celebrate together at the same time!