Chico’s FAS, Inc (Chico’s) is a multi-brand company, catering to fashion-forward women aged 30 and older through a retail network of more than 1,400 boutiques and outlets, and direct-to-consumer online. Each of Chico’s brands – Chico’s, White House Black Market, and Soma – is also a speciality retailer in its own right, offering a targeted selection of women’s apparel and accessories. Managing the creation, sourcing, and distribution of such a complex range has led Chico’s to adopt new technology in many different areas of its business.
Chico’s has used PTC Flex PLM for almost a decade to optimize its design and development across its full brand portfolio.
And, in recent years, Chico’s has also emerged at the forefront of the industry in the adoption of 3D design and development. To understand the impact that 3D technology has had on their design and development processes, the PTC Retail team sat down with Maura Ross, Manager of Technical Design at Chico’s. In the conversation that followed, Maura also shared her first-hand experience of building a business case for adopting 3D, and how a single 3D asset can deliver value at multiple stages of the product lifecycle.
PTC: To start with, what were the major drivers for Chico’s looking to adopt 3D?
Maura Ross: As you can probably imagine, with three brands bringing new styles to market every season, Chico’s was subject to the same time pressures as other brands and retailers – multiplied by three. We had been long-time users of PLM, which had already helped to streamline our in-house design and development processes, but we still had a bottleneck in sampling. We were producing a lot of fit samples per style, and the time involved in fittings, approvals, and further sample rounds was cutting into both our speed to market and our product margins.
So we approached 3D with one objective in mind: reducing the number of fit samples we needed to get a style approved. And although things have obviously grown since then, and 3D has become a deeper part of our organization, that was one of the biggest sources of value that we identified early on.
PTC: Value is obviously a big part of adopting any new technology. How did you turn that big goal (fewer samples and quicker fitting processes) into a concrete business case, with an ongoing return on investment?
Maura Ross: At Chico’s, we have a culture that has always embraced new technologies. We were an early adopter of PLM, and over the years we, in partnership with PTC, have built on that initial implementation to realize value at almost every part of product journey. The same was true for 3D; our leadership was supportive of our vision to use a 3D tool to reduce the cost and time impact of our sampling and fitting, and even today they constantly encourage associates to look for other ways to leverage existing software.
To get into more detail, though, we proposed that we would start small with 3D, rather than being too ambitious, too quickly. We picked a group of styles that presented us with easy start points, and we used those as initial test cases to demonstrate the value of replacing physical samples with 3D assets. And at the same time, we reached out to our vendors – many of them already had one or more 3D solutions in place – and we worked closely with them, collaborating on 3D-generated samples, and sharing the knowledge that then allowed us to replace physical samples with digital ones in a much wider range of products.
PTC: Across the retail industry, 3D is reaching a real tipping point of adoption. What advice would you give to another retailer or brand who isn’t sure how to choose the right solution or get the most value from it?
Maura Ross: Research is always the most important stage when you’re selecting any kind of software. There’s no single 3D solution that will suit everyone, so you need to take the time to look at what’s available on the market from every angle.
At the same time, you also need to engage your team, gain their trust and understanding, and make sure all of your cross-functional partners recognize why you’re embarking on this journey, and how they can steer it. We selected a solution after carefully evaluating the market, based on our immediate and longer-term needs, and factoring in the input of all our key stakeholders.
Once you’ve decided on the right software, the next step is to make the most of your chosen vendor’s experience and best practices. A good 3D vendor will offer support across implementation, training, and beyond. And with support from your software provider, you should then be able to build a 3D avatar that represents your target customer, which will help to improve fit and reduce unnecessary sample rounds by giving your designers and garment technicians the right body shapes to build for.
And like I said earlier, start small. Moving to a digital workflow is not a simple undertaking, and your teams and vendors might need time to adjust. Once you’re satisfied that things are working as intended, though, you should try to set a timeline for extending your use of 3D, and also reserve a budget to increase your number of software licenses to keep pace with that growth.
PTC: What do you use 3D for today, and how does the solution you chose fit into your technology ecosystem?
Maura Ross: We started our 3D initiative with a very clear objective: to implement a fitting tool that would streamline our technical design, sample, and approval processes. Over time, we’ve also taken our existing patternmaking software and expanded on it, using its 3D capabilities, which has given us a more complete 3D environment. As we extend our use of 3D even further, Chico’s will be able to reduce costs, improve margins, and fight against the need to raise the retail price of products due to operational inefficiencies.
PTC: Beyond design and development, where else can 3D deliver value? Does Chico’s intend to use 3D for other purposes?
Maura Ross: There are many ways to use 3D. While it’s an essential design and development tool for us, many companies use it in design and merchandising – creating virtual samples, testing different colour runs, and even mocking up runway shows. Right now we feel as though we’ve only scratched the surface, but already 3D has helped us to take big strides into digital product creation, and I’m excited for the future.