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Designs on the future

Posted By Nicky Blackburn On August 17, 2003 @ 11:00 pm In | No Comments

Browzwear’s V-Stitcher is a computer simulation program that allows apparel designers, manufacturers and retailers to see their collections in an accurate and realistic way at an early stage in the design process.Designing clothes is possibly one of the few areas left today that relies heavily on traditional methods rather than high-technology. Garment makers design a pattern and make up sample outfits to see whether the pattern works, and what fabrics and prints should be used. It often takes between five to seven samples before the finished garment is approved.

Now a Tel Aviv company, Browzwear, seeks to revolutionize this process with a new software that allows fashion designers to create their garments and make virtual three-dimensional samples of them on the computer instead. Aside from shortening the design cycle by between 25-40 percent, the company says the new program also cuts costs dramatically.

Browzwear’s V-Stitcher is a computer simulation program that allows apparel designers, manufacturers and retailers to see their collections in an accurate and realistic way at an early stage in the design process. Designers can fit their collection to a number of lifelike models, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Using the program the designer can see what a garment looks like and how it fits the body. Virtual fabric swatches can be dragged and dropped onto the virtual garment, and stitch types, buttons and trims changed. The program shows fabric transparency and can also simulate layers of clothing.

The software enables designers to input two-dimensional patterns for men, women, and children, from virtually any CAD system, along with instructions as to which seams are sewn together and how. These virtual patterns are then put together as a 3D image on the model.

“Today all solid objects use computer aided design,” explains Yanir Farber, the president of Browzwear. “In the garment business, however, people still rely on traditional methods because designing a garment is so problematic. A shirt will look completely different if the fabric is different, or if the person is thin or fat.”

Garment manufacturing is a large industry. The worldwide market is worth about $200 billion annually and is growing by 4% a year. Today there are about 200,000 companies around the world designing clothes, and of these only about 40-50,000 use some form of computer software.

“The market for us is endless,” says Farber.

Browzwear was founded in 2000 with seed money of $600,000 from Israeli clothing manufacturer Delta Galil, Internet guru, Yossi Vardi (the founder of Mirabilis), and a group of private investors led by entrepreneur Menachem Einan. Initially the company began developing a product called C-Me – a virtual fitting room for people wishing to buy clothes online.

The application, which can be downloaded from participating online retailers, allows shoppers to create a 3D model with their exact personal measurements. The user can then take garments from the online shop and try them on the model to see how they fit. The user can also mix and match items from different stores, and even send them on by e-mail to a friend or family member to get a second opinion.

“The idea behind the application was to enable users to improve their shopping experience and make sure they get sent a garment that fits,” says Farber.

This could be a significant breakthrough for Internet stores. The sale of clothes online has been growing dramatically over the last few years and garments are now the third most popular item to buy from the Web after books and music. In 1999, US consumers spent $1.1b. on buying clothes online. In 2001, that figure leapt to $3.2b. The only problem with buying clothes on the Net is the high rate of return. Research and strategic consulting firm The Yankee Group, estimates that almost 40% of the women?s garments bought in online stores are returned because color, fit, and quality expectations are not met.This is more than double the return rate at brick-and-mortar stores.

“This figure is hurting the stores,” says Farber. “Often the returns come in at the end of the season and the shop has no choice but to sell off the clothes cheaply.”

The C-Me program is simple and self-explanatory. Though inputting personal measurements can be lengthy – up to 20 minutes in some cases – the company discovered in focus groups that users were happy to spend that time in order to create an accurate reflection of their body shape. It also discovered that users were not likely to cheat the system and try to create a perfect body. “If they do that they are only cheating themselves because they get something from the store that is too big or too small,” says Farber.

Browzwear launched C-Me in mid 2001 with XOXO.com, part of e-commerce company CyberRetail. Thought the initial response was encouraging and thousands of users downloaded the software, Browzwear decided after three months that the market was not yet large enough or mature enough for this application.

“It was too early,” says Farber. “The market was not responding positively and there was no point running our heads against the wall again and again. We have to wait for the market to be more mature, and to focus on applications the market does appreciate.”

Browzwear decided to let another company competing in this space, Canadian based firm My Virtual Model (MVM), create and educate the market. Once this happens, they plan to re-release a new, and improved version of the C-Me technology.

In the meantime, the company decided to focus on V-Stitcher, which was launched in April 2002. The company’s first customer was Italian clothing manufacturer, Benetton. Today the company sells to more than 10 companies including German sportwear firm Adidas; US companies Nike, and Russell Athletics; Desmonds – a UK company that supplies garments to Marks and Spencer, and Delta Galil in Israel.

Browzwear sells its software per seat, and each seat costs between $5-10,000. Companies usually start with one to three seats and gradually employ the system through the company. Farber is the first to admit that one of Browzwear’s main challenges today is the fact that the software is so innovative.

“If companies use our application they have to change their work processes completely. It’s not just putting in new software, it’s about revolutionizing the way a company works,” he explains. “This is the process of the future, but the apparel industry is very traditional and moves forward very slowly.”

It is no surprise then that Benetton is one of Browzwear’s most significant customers.

“Benetton is an extremely innovative company and likes to test many different technologies,” says Farber. “The company has a large influence on our development plan, giving feedback on what features to add and what elements to improve.”

Through 2001, Browzwear raised another $2.5m. from existing investors and from Dankner Investment. The following year was financially shaky, but in 2003 sales have started to pick up. The deals are still small, normally under $100,000, but sales are rising by 50% every quarter. The company is already breaking even, and expects profitability sometime before the end of this year.

Browzwear is now re-examining the potential of C-Me and will release it again in September as part of a project funded partially by the European Community and partially by four participating European garment manufacturers – Ridenco in Greece, Star in Spain, TRS from Italy, and Maconde in Portugal. The companies will use the V-Stitcher technology in the design process, and also offer customers the chance to download C-Me from their web sites.

Farber is still not convinced that the market is mature enough for this product. MVM, for example, is only acquiring new clients at a very slow pace. “We don’t intend to pursue this market aggressively just yet,” says Farber, adding that perhaps 2004 will be better.

Though Browzwear does face competition in the virtual fitting room arena, it still has a head start with the V-Stitcher. “We are the market leaders in this field right now,” boasts Farber. “We have a technical lead of 18-24 months.”

The downside of this, however, is that Browzwear must work hard to educate a very conservative market. Growth is slow. Farber expects this to improve in 2004, when the early adopters start to introduce the technology more widely, and new clients begin to purchase the technology. “Many chains have now started doing pilot tests,” says Farber.

Browzwear recently signed an agreement with Investronica, a Spanish distributor which has 6,700 clients. In May this year it signed another agreement with US company, Gerber, which has 12,000 clients and is the number two player in its field. Farber believes these companies will help push its application to the market more aggressively than ever before.

“We feel right now that we are just starting to fly,” he says. “I’m sure that in three to four years our applications will be very common among mid to large sized companies.”

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