When it comes to technology, solutions are often better and more capable when they’re integrated. From bridging digital product creation with product lifecycle management (PLM) to integrating software and hardware, the benefits of having a consistent flow of data from the point of creative design to the point of eventual production can be transformative.

By that same logic, partnerships between companies that develop technology solutions are generally a positive thing.  And the coming together of different companies – and different technologies – doesn’t get much larger than last year’s combination of Gerber Technology and Lectra.  Two of the most prominent forces in software and connected manufacturing hardware for fashion, Lectra’s acquisition of Gerber in summer of 2021 was milestone industry news.

Now that the dust has settled, The Interline set out to explore what it might mean for two fashion technology giants to be “stronger together,” looking through the lens of the companies’ first joint Ideation event – which took place before Christmas – and providing our perspective on where the new, combined powerhouse intends to go from here.

First: some grounding. Lectra has been a primary force in both hardware and software for fashion since the 1970s, beginning with a focus on CAD/CAM (where the company became a global leader in 1985), before expanding into a unique combination of software (including PLM, PIM, and DAM) and manufacturing hardware that it brought together under the Industry 4.0 label. Gerber’s heritage is similarly strong: also founded in the mid-20th century, the company began to focus on building out both manufacturing hardware and software solutions (including PLM and a comprehensive suite of integrated 2D and 3D CAD solutions) targeted at pattern design and production.

To use Lectra CEO Daniel Harari’s words, taken from his introductory presentation at ideation 2021, the two companies had maintained a healthy competition for more than 40 years – a rivalry that was spurred on by the companies sharing “an innate desire to innovate, and to put the customer at the heart of everything they do”. And, as you might expect given the companies’ roots in manufacturing hardware, both shared an ethos that “factories reside at the centre of the value chain”.

Thematically, then, the joining of these two brands makes a huge amount of sense. Practically speaking? The statistics say a lot: operating together under the Lectra banner, the two companies combined are present in more than 100 countries, and have joint revenues just shy of $500 million. And with more than 500 combined staff active in research and development, working across 6 global technology centres, and upwards of 2,500 customer service and support professionals globally, the combined install base is likely to benefit from not only stability and support, but the fruits of a joint pursuit of innovation.

And the scale of the software, services, and hardware that now reside under the Lectra umbrella is similarly imposing. To quote Gerber Technology’s Lenny Marano, who provided the Gerber Technology perspective on the impact of the merger: “It’s incredible to think about how often you interact with products that are made on Lectra and Gerber systems”.

This is not an overstatement: by combining the two portfolios of software and hardware, and by pursuing integration and data interoperability between them, Lectra is now very likely the single largest cutting and manufacturing hardware provider for fashion (both companies also cater to the automotive and furniture industries).  It would not be an exaggeration to say that, upon walking into any apparel manufacturing facility, you would be very likely to bump into Gerber or Lectra hardware.

As Harari puts it, the acquisition has now given rise to a new entity that has rapidly become a much “stronger industrial partner for [fashion brands and their suppliers] during complicated times.” But while the first of these points is undeniably true, the latter might be something of an understatement; the transition period between late 2021 and early 2022 has been hard for many industries, fashion among them.  And for brands and retailers, technology investments have rapidly become more than just a tool for efficiency, collaboration and connectivity – they’ve become a lifeline.

Against a backdrop of continued supply chain disruption, increases in cost of goods sold, and marked shifts in consumer behaviour, tools like PLM, PIM, 3D, and more have allowed brands, retailers, and their suppliers to keep moving. Those solutions’ capabilities have enabled businesses – including many household names – to mitigate risk, target efficiency and profitability, and, when combined, realise compounded benefits from fully-integrated ecosystems of technology.

This link between technology innovation and business continuity was a cornerstone of ideation 2021 just as it was Gerber’s first virtual ideation event in 2020 – both of which The Interline was invited to help host. Under difficult circumstances, these two events successfully translated a longstanding, invite-only, in-person format to a remote event that was open for anyone to attend. The Interline’s full report on ideation 2020 goes into considerable detail about the composition of that event, but it’s important to remember that for many in the industry that event came at a time when a line was being drawn in the sand: a clear indication that the apparel industry – and the world – would not be returning to normal, but rather to a “new normal”. And this new normal demanded that businesses of all shapes and sizes pursue more aggressive digital transformation strategies, and that they embrace factory-level connectivity to weather fundamental shifts in the supply chain.

That remains the world we live in today. And in that heady rush from the earliest days of the pandemic to this not-quite-post-pandemic period, many brands, retailers, and suppliers did indeed embrace that technology-centric vision. From The Interline’s perspective, technology adoption has been accelerated in a notable way by COVID and the disruption that followed in its wake – from digital product creation to foundational enterprise solutions and tools for factory floor connectivity.  And many of the brands that either began new technology initiatives as a result, or scaled existing technology projects, would also have been in the 1,500-strong audience for ideation 2021, looking to the joint vendors for guidance, innovation, and stability.

From that point of view, Harari’s message was clear: stability is something Lectra takes seriously. All current Lectra and Gerber software will be supported in full for a minimum of five years, and all hardware will receive support for a minimum of seven years – timelines that should give customers confidence that their investments will be respected.  And the financial results of that respect speak for themselves: Lectra’s revenues exceeded €387 million in 2021 (a rise of 64% following the acquisition of Gerber and a small number of other technology companies) and an ongoing commitment to Industry 4.0, combined with sustainable, profitable business growth.

From the perspective of an outside observer, this level of long-term commitment to existing software and hardware, and the financial outlook of the combined entity, should give both current and prospective customers reassurance that the technology partnerships they have forged should last.

And ideation 2021 provided the same feeling of comfort across nearly 50 hybrid sessions, 4 different market tracks, and 40 speakers. It was, without putting too fine a point on it, another in a long line of outstanding events – at once familiar in its blend of live presentations, panel discussions, and demonstrations, and unexpected in how effectively it conveyed a unified “stronger together” message from two companies that, at the time, had only coexisted for a matter of months.

Alongside detailed briefings from CoreSight Research, updates from both Lectra and Gerber teams, solution showcases and much more, the organisers also found space in the calendar to bring in The Interline, with me chairing a panel discussion with representatives of Carhartt, Project DXM, Lectra, and AAPN that looked at the digitisation of the fashion supply chain and the potential of on-demand production.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the companies’ first joint ideation event also saw the unveiling of the Gerber Atria digital multi-ply fabric cutter, so named because it is intended to sit at the heart of the factory – and at the core of the connected supply chains and microfactories that were the subject of the panel discussion.

Showcased remotely from the Innovation Centre in New York City, the new cutting machine was emblematic of a philosophy that The Interline (and its sister publication WhichPLM) has previously observed being promoted by both Lectra and Gerber prior to their joining forces: the idea that a seamless flow of information from CAD/CAM software to manufacturing is the essence of any end-to-end, digital ecosystem. Atria was, in that sense, a statement piece. An example of what cutting-edge hardware innovation looks like, and an indication of how the two brands intend to go after the massive opportunity that resides in embedding Industry 4.0 capabilities into the next generation of factories – overseas or nearshore – that will power fashion’s industry recovery.

And while Industry 4.0 is unquestionably a major tool in the wheelhouse of the two combined companies, the building of an agile, connected supply chain is just one part of an overall demand-supply puzzle that is reshaping fashion today. Responding to market demands in near-time is an objective that brands and retailers recognise as essential for the future of fashion, and this is an area that the joint companies are now targeting with the AI benchmarking tool Retviews – a topic that The Interline hopes to cover in greater detail very soon.

So, several months on from their merger, what does the future hold for Lectra, and for Gerber Technology now that it lives under the Lectra name? The Interline fully expects to see new hardware and software innovations unveiled that make the most of the sheer depth of experience and the scale of the expertise that Lectra now has at its disposal this year and beyond. And based on prior form and their stated strategy for 2022, it’s likely that whatever Lectra has to show will be focused on consolidating the enviable position it now has as one of the most prominent keyholders of Industry 4.0. Realistically, it’s difficult to imagine Industry 4.0 without it.

To quote Lenny Marano again: “prior to this, there were only two companies that were pursuing truly integrated solutions across the entire value stream for fashion, bringing together software and hardware, and now those companies are one.” Based on those companies’ technology portfolios, their combined heritage, and their ability to keep on staging an industry conference like no other, I’m inclined to say that’s probably a very good thing.