LOS ANGELES, Calif. — August 18, 2014 — When Voler, the custom-cycling-clothing company, hired Aaron Barker as its eCommerce director seven years ago, the then-21-year-old company was at a turning point. Known for its custom designs, often for teams or cycling groups, Voler increasingly was focusing on a broader semicustom retail market, providing all cyclists with the same superior cycling gear available in its full custom line.
“They knew they had to shift their business to do online ordering for direct-to-client — everything from individual cyclists to bike shops to someone ordering thousands of units,” Barker says. “Everything was moving online in general, and they brought me in to build up the order-management side.”
For Barker, making sure that Voler’s jerseys and shorts, which are hand-cut and entirely made in the USA, could be produced quickly was key. “We have a high number of SKUs, but we don’t carry the inventory on all of those,” he explains. “Our process is produce on demand. We take the order one day and have it delivered in less than seven days.”
At the time, Barker noted that for its garment production Voler was using software from Tukatech, the apparel industry’s leading provider of fashion software and hardware technology solutions. Voler’s designers worked with TUKAcad software for their patternmaking, marking, and grading, and with a Tukatech plotter to print the markers. Tukatech’s innovative founder and CEO, Ram Sareen, continued to work with Voler’s president, Michelle Costanzo, as new capabilities developed. Two years ago, he introduced Costanzo to SmartMark, Tukatech’s software module that maximizes marker placement with near-surgical precision.
“It sounded a little too good to be true at first,” Barker admits. “Our guy had been doing it by hand for 20 years. They showed us how it worked, they let us use it for 30 days, and the lightbulb went on. It was a no-brainer. Once we saw it in action, it became clear that their software would do a better job no matter how much experience someone had.”
SmartMark “was able to save us a ton of money on fabric utilization by smartly nesting the pieces,” Barker notes. “It increased our efficiencies and raw materials costs. It definitely paid for itself pretty quickly.”
Recently, Voler worked with Tukatech on another major project, this time a custom software program to better communicate and collaborate with clients online in the design process. Called TUKA3D, the software is “a virtual product development tool,” as Sareen explains it. The artwork is developed on CAD, patterns for the jerseys are done on 2D TUKAcad, the artwork is imported on 2D patterns, the fit model is virtual, and the garment is sewn on TUKA3D virtually. The result is a 3D sample of a client’s order, with exact measurements per size, that can quickly be converted into an actual garment.
“They are not some sketches or Photoshop output,” Sareen says. “They are based on real CAD data for that exact size. With the motion simulator you can see the actual drape of the fabric in motion, such as on a runway or, in Voler’s case, on a bicycle. See video here. This enables the final garment to be approved digitally and made on demand.”
Once one garment is completed and approved, hundreds of virtual samples can be made using different combinations of artwork and colors.
“This software turns a design into something 3D that someone can make sense of,” Barker says, “allowing us to share the design online without having to stitch up a sample. Previously we didn’t have a way to do this. We would create some kind of 2D sketch of a jersey. Now we can actually have graphic representation of every garment we are going to sell to that person before they place their order. It’s huge that they can be part of it this way.”
And that, Barker says, is a big competitive advantage. “If you know what you are buying, you will buy more, right? It allows us to sell more and provide a better service all around.”
“While most eCommerce retailers take six to eight months from concept to consumer, with TUKA3D, they can go live with a new collection in less than 30 days,” says Sareen. “New styles are developed, corrected, and approved digitally. Once approved, the digital image is transferred to the eCommerce site and offered for sale. No samples, no photo shoot, no inventory in this business model.”
“What we make,” says Voler President Michelle Costanzo, “is a product that fits the body like a glove, leaving very little tolerance for mistakes. Besides fit, the process of development is complex, and Tukatech customized our system to simplify our manufacturing process.”
What impressed Barker the most was the Tukatech staff’s willingness to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in Voler’s process to achieve a common goal. “The 3D imaging was a very specific thing that we needed for our business,” Barker says. “There was no off-the-shelf program that could do it. They saw that and thought they had the capability to help us out. The responsiveness, the customer service, the desire to see their customers succeed at what they are doing are what I think makes them stand apart from others.”
Posted August 19, 2014