Retail

Centric Software Makes Fashion Designers The Real VIPs

Fashion design needs an artist’s touch, so Centric Software made a platform that lets designers create and collaborate on apparel collections, even when they’re on different continents — by touchscreen.

At its core, Centric Visual Innovation Platform, or Centric VIP, is a platform for teamwork in the fashion industry and beyond. It allows all team members to be “present” for important decisions, even if they can’t be physically present.

The centerpiece of a Centric VIP system may be the 96-inch VIP board, but the real beauty of it is that anyone on the team can interact with that board from their own iPad (and, soon, from their iPhone). When someone makes a change, it gets pushed out to everyone, saving time and miscommunications.

Because in fashion, it’s never just a sole mastermind creating a single piece. It’s always a team, and they’re always creating a collection that can be sold together.

In a department store, there’s the sense of a “store within a store” as shoppers browse from one brand to the next. But even in a dedicated clothing store — say Nike, for example — products are divided up by collection: basketball, running, outdoor, et cetera.

Creating that collection takes a material development team asking which fabrics to carry over from last year and which new ones to introduce; a body development team doing the same thing for shapes and cuts; a color team doing the same thing for colors.

Then someone has to think about how to combine and recombine those fabrics, bodies and colors, matching shirts with pants, or creating different colors of the same coat. Another group has to figure out how to make all those things happen: the supply chain team. And, of course, another team has to figure out how to sell it.

On the other end of the process, Centric VIP also aggregates reports so companies can see how the collection fared in stores. Which products failed? What were the bestsellers, and how can the company carry that momentum through into the next collection? How much product were they actually able to sell? What was a product’s life cycle management (PLM)? That’s an important factor when committing inventory to other stores. Who’s shopping and buying, and where?

“This information is available in different ways to companies, but not in a way that they can digest it quickly,” said Centric’s Vice President of Innovation, Humberto Roa. “It just doesn’t match the way people want to think about the problem. People have to re-learn how to think in order to use the software. Centric changed the software to match the way people think about the problem.”

The problem is, all these things are business decisions. It’s not what fashion designers want or like to think about, and it’s not what they’re good at. In many cases, they turn back to paper and pencil rather than embrace the technology their IT departments so desperately wish they’d use.

“These collections might drive $500 million or $1 billion in revenue, but the key decisions around what that collection is and its structure are being made with post-it notes and pieces of paper that are being thumb-tacked to foam boards,” said Roa.

Apparel creators “want to be fashion designers, and they’re spending all their time in Excel,” Roa added. “That’s not what they went to school for.”

Centric VIP frees fashion designers from the constraints of spreadsheets and lets them focus on what they do best: design fashion. At the same time, it keeps IT folks happy because it eliminates the sticky note infrastructure that’s been holding the industry together as artists resist technology.

Roa said the idea for the VIP boards was pitched three years ago by Centric’s customer advisory board — a structure that he said keeps the company honest by keeping its focus customer centric, so to speak.

Centric prides itself on its relationships with its customers, even taking the unprecedented approach of setting up offices for some of its project managers at the customer’s location. That way management grows to understand the problems by living and breathing them.

Two years ago, Centric launched its 18-month research phase, during which it gathered information from some of those product managers stationed in the field. Centric learned who does what in each company, who makes decisions and what information they need to make them.

The biggest discovery? “They’re guessing half the time,” said Stacey Charbin, Centric’s CMO. There’s no single source where people can get all the information they need, so they fudge it.

“The alternatives are there, but they force them to think like an automotive engineer or an aerospace engineer, and the users refuse to adopt those kinds of solutions,” said Roa.

“It’s very easy to go off and build stuff,” he said. “It’s easy to build software that’s complicated. It’s really hard to make software that’s easy to use.” Luckily for Centric, it has engineers who “love to build software that people love to use.”

After six months in development, Centric Software VIP launched in January of 2017 to a group of early adopters, and Roa said the response has already been overwhelming.

Centric’s key IT customers said they usually have to push technology on employees, but this time, the employees are trying to pull it in themselves. Fifty companies have signed up for VIP board seminars that Centric is offering in June and July.

Roa has no problem explaining the VIP board’s success. “This is something that makes people’s lives easier,” he said. “A process that took weeks can now take hours.”

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