By: Chetan Sharma, Student, Master of Fashion Technology (Apparel Production),
NIFT, New Delhi
Krishna Raj.G, Assistant Professor, Deptt. Of Fashion Technology,
NIFT, New Delhi

Abstract

The swatch card that dominates the textile and apparel industry is an example of a manual process utilized today. Swatches are stapled to cards and notes are written and then communicated via express deliveries, faxes, e-mails or phone calls. Auditing and control is difficult and usually requires an excessive amount of administrative intervention to find, update and report on current status. Today's leading edge technologies address the need to speed up the color approval cycle in a real-time solution, while minimizing manual processes.

The paper tries to depict the importance of Electronic Color Management Solution for the Textile and Garment Industry. A comparative analysis of Modern Digital Sampling technique has been carried out as against Traditional Sample Development and Approval Process to highlight the significance for the new technology. A Cost and Time Benefit Analysis based on the data collected from the textile and garment firms has also been done to substantiate the said argument.

Keywords: Color Measurement, Color Management, Digital Imaging,

Introduction - The Challenges

The colour of an object is one of the most important entities when a consumer purchases an item. Colour is often the hardest to manage as its appearance is subjective. The colour of an object varies with the observer and the quality of light. Between 7 and 10 million colours can be seen but we have very few names to describe them [3]. The human being also has a poor colour memory so there has to be a mechanism to help to communicate colour. Colour order systems have been used extensively, where the specifier and the supplier each have a book of colours and each shade has a unique reference. Unfortunately the shades are often non-colour constant, that is they change drastically in colour under different lights, and vary from book to book.

The practice of sending spectral data electronically to suppliers is well established within the textile industry. A season's palette created as solid shades on specific fabrics, such as cotton or polyester, works well and presents few problems provided that established practices are followed. The real challenge is to set electronic standards for yarns, lace, knitwear, carpets, marls and prints. It is just as important for suppliers to produce objective Quality Control (QC) results on the finished product so that the goods are accepted first time. The second challenge is to measure accessories such as jewellery, buttons, bows, trims, bags and shoes. The final challenge is to objectively grade colour fastness with respect to staining and change of shade.

Color Communication - Its Importance

More than in virtually any other field, color matching in the apparels demand great attention to the problem of metameric matching: two different surfaces may appear identical in color in one type of light, and very different in another.

As part of the overall process of developing a new model, color development, broken down into color selection, feasibility analysis, recipe calculation and color approval, is almost always subject to extreme time pressures. "Time to Market" is a decisive factor when launching a new product in the competitive apparel market.

Overall it can be said that colour communication management solution is about [1]:
. Becoming more efficient
. Improving colour communication
. Reducing lead times
. Increasing speed-to-market


Supply Chain Model

The Internet continues to create hype, controversy and, for those with the right focus, tremendous value [2]. A primary impact on business models is being felt in supply chains. Businesses with mission critical color needs, shared throughout their supply chain, find that the color approval process remains the most significant bottleneck to achieve peak production cycle goals. Today's Internet-technologies can reduce this bottleneck and drive unlimited value from optimizing the speed and efficiency of supply chain partners. To understand how, let us first establish a model of the roles in the supply chain that must communicate color. Figure below shows these roles:

The Designer begins the flow of color data by defining a color. The Approver must convert the Designer's color request into a color that can be produced within a specified tolerance. The Maker works with the Approver to formulate the color and apply it to the substrate. The Assembler receives the materials with the approved colors and assembles into the final product, checking and verifying color accuracy on all the produced materials. The Provider acts to support the Designers, Approvers and Makers by supplying colorants and expertise on how to formulate and apply the color to achieve the Designer's defined color. Internet-based technologies exist to support the accurate, real-time flow of color data between these five actors.

Conventional Color Communication - Slow and Expensive

Traditional communication [1] in the color development process between garment manufacturers and their suppliers/ garment manufacturers and their buyers is based on physical samples. Based on the designer's color specifications, manufacturers produce color standards in the form of swatches. In some cases, the surfaces of these swatches simulate the various surface textures of the materials concerned. Using these color standards, the suppliers must create physical samples of the products they are to supply. Experience has shown that it is rarely possible to reproduce the color standards exactly.

It may be that a supplier of fabric swatches cannot produce the precise shade specified using the dyes/chemicals available. That supplier will therefore make a physical sample of the material to be supplied which is as close as possible in color to the standard. The same might also apply, for example, to leather and automobile suppliers [6]. It is not uncommon for suppliers to provide the garment manufacturer with a selection of different physical samples. Making these adjusted samples is time-consuming and very expensive.

Modern Digital Sampling Concept

Digital sampling [1] is the state-of-the-art solution which makes it possible to predict production colors exactly on the screen. Digital color samples form the basis of a new, quick and economic form of communication in the color development process. A central requirement for this is technology to calibrate monitors precisely. This calibration, as carried out using specialized softwares of color communication system, allows colors to be displayed on screen precisely and faithfully using digital color data [7]. Exact color reproduction on every calibrated monitor creates a more uniform environment for color assessment than is possible with physical samples. Each member of the supply chain can assess the digital color samples on his PC under identical conditions. Even the behavior of colors under different types of light can be simulated.

This opens up completely new possibilities for matching the colors of different materials within the garment manufacturer's supply chain. In this process of devising a workable overall solution which meets the high aesthetic standards for color harmony, physical samples are not prepared until the final stage. By this time, experience shows that only minimal fine-tuning is required. But the earlier intensive communication between all the parties involved, with numerous modifications of color samples, now takes place using digitized color samples displayed on the screen [adapted from 5]. The most advanced color communication systems even allow the user to simulate on the screen how colors would look on different textures and surfaces.

Virtual Color Communication

Colour display and communication systems are used successfully to complement the spectrophotometer systems using input devices such as optical flat bed scanners and digital cameras. Images can be displayed on a calibrated monitor and coloured either using reflectance data from a spectrophotometer or by inputting colour values. The advantage of such systems is that it allows the specifier and the supplier to see the same appearance of the product as well as having the numeric information, thereby allowing quick and effective decisions to be made.

There are two types of imaging inputs: scanners and digital cameras [4]. Scanners can take images of flat and smooth samples; however, they cannot capture the true appearance of more textured surfaces such as knitwear, lace, towelling and carpets or 3D objects such as shoes, zips and buttons.

The use of digital cameras is an obvious solution as an image is produced without contact being made with the object. However, current imaging systems do not provide standard and even illumination meeting Commission Internationale de l'eclairage (CIE) specifications, or use characterised digital cameras.

Modern color communication systems mean that the communication of colors between the fabric manufacturer and its suppliers/ garment manufacturer and its buyer is quick and precise no matter how far the information has to travel.

Cost & Time Benefit Analysis

Two methods were used.
. Firstly a company or a laboratory which uses a colour management system or providing colour management solutions was visited to gain an overview of processes involved and problems encountered.
. Secondly a questionnaire (primary research) was sent out to Textile and Apparel companies.

The questionnaire consisted of one section only with questions covered as exhaustively as possible pertaining to:

� The general information about the firm
� The person in-charge for the Color Communication process
� Type of Spectrophotometer used for color measurement
� Problems faced before implementation of Electronic CMS
� Subsequent benefits arising from the software implementation in terms of reduction of Cost and Time for sample approval.

The aim was to gather information from companies involved in textile and apparel products.
A total of 12 Textile & Apparel companies were contacted, of which 5 replies were received (41.6%).

Based on the responses from Industry, comparative chart is drawn to highlight the reduction in number of days before & after CMS implementation. Also, variance analysis is done to bring out the significance in variability of days.


Results and Discussions

Following analysis of the Usage & Implementation of Color Management Communication can be listed below:

1) Business performance can be improved through the use of a colour managed communication system.
2) Data for cost and time benefit analysis collected from different Textile & Apparel factories in India shows (analyzed from questionnaires):
i. Approximately 50% reduction in the number of days in which they are able to obtain sample approval from the overseas buyer.
ii. Cost is also reduced which hitherto was involved in the despatch of samples.
3) Shorter lead times in time-to-market as sample is "urgently approved" and subsequent production can be immediately started.
4) The earlier problem of shade mis-matching of sample Vs standard is also reduced by the use of color management communication.
5) The Quality of the sample and in-turn the final merchandize also tends to be on the better side.

Variance Analysis

From above, it can be said that the variability in the number of days before CMS implementation is more than that after CMS implementation.

Other Highlights

During my survey of the Cost and Time benefit analysis of the Color Communication Management system, I also came across following views aired by Textile & Apparel industry professionals:
. The immense pressure or workload which was hitherto prevalent upon the operator involved in developing physical samples time & again, is reduced after color software system implementation.
. This communication system is implemented by Apparel houses (mostly garment/fabric processing houses) more than the textile processing houses.
. The chances of color mis-match is less as it used to be prior color management software implementation system.
. I also found that many in the Apparel Industry & other Home furnishing sector, are still unaware of the benefits of the color management communication clearly.
. Many believe that visual inspection and developing physical samples again and again does involve lot of time & effort, but they are reluctant to invent money in Color Management System software.
. The industry does feel that the effective color communication with the overseas buyer also helps the factories/organizations develop lost-lasting relationship. The trust of the buyer is extremely important for business to flourish.
. As regards any kind of problems arising out of the software, the respondents were unable to highlight any major trouble.

Conclusion

In today's competitive environment, there is a need to accelerate the development process from the product concept through to the market launch, and to reduce development costs. Traditional color development procedures are extremely time-consuming and expensive. Digital sampling on the other hand allows the specification of reproducible digital color values which can be exchanged quickly and easily via e-mail with any office which has compatible equipment, and displayed accurately on any computer screen. One major advantage of digital sampling is the fact that the amount of time and money spent on preparing samples is reduced considerably. Quality is also improved: the time pressure which builds up in the traditional color development process often forces those responsible to compromise. In contrast, quick and flexible communication between manufacturers and suppliers, based on digital sampling, means that the best can be achieved in less time and at lower cost.

The software is set to be a costly affair to invest in, feel most of the industry respondents. The time for sample approval is drastically reduced by about half (50%). There is scope for further reduction in the number of days from an average of 3-5 days to a few hours. This demands immense amount of trust-building with the buyer and effective use of the color profiles and understanding of software features to the fullest.



Recommendations & Suggestions

Quick fashion changes are required in-store and global supply chains have forced the market to use a digital means of communicating colour and appearance. With different textured fabrics, prints and accessories it is imperative to use digital imaging as a complementary product to existing spectrophotometric techniques.

Based on the above facts and subsequent discussions, it can be aptly stated that Electronic Color Management Communication is not only a practical solution for hitherto slow and expensive sample development technique but also helps in building strategic and cordial relationships with buyers and suppliers which is of paramount importance in today's razor-edge competitive market. Hence, it is recommended that the Color Communication software should be implemented by buyers, suppliers and vendors to manage color communication effectively and in turn, to remain at the acme in the textile and apparel business.

Acknowledgement

The authors are thankful to Mr. Prabir Jana, Chairperson, Department of Fashion Technology, NIFT, New Delhi, for allowing them to carry out research on the topic. They express their heartfelt gratitude to Dr. ML Gulrajani, Deptt. Of Textile Technology, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi for his constant guidance on the project. The authors also wish to acknowledge the help they received from the concerned department Heads and Staff of the various Textile & Apparel firms involved in the study.

References

[1] http//:www.datacolor.com/ as assessed on 14/09/06

[2] http//:www.techexchange.com/ as assessed on 15/10/06

[3] Susan Williams, Practical Colour Management, Global Color Solutions, August 2005, retrieved on 13/11/06 from www.elsevier.com/locate/optlastec

[4]http://www.developer.apple.com/documentation/mac/ACI/ACI-48.html as assessed on 22/11/06

[5] Brian P. Lawyer, Color Management: At last we're on the road to reliable color, 2002, retrieved 09/11/06 from www.thelawyers.com

[6] http//:www.gretagmacbeth.com/ as assessed on 17/09/06

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrophotometry as assessed on 15/10/06

About the Authors

Chetan Sharma is a final year student of PG-Fashion Technology, National Institute of Fashion Technology, (NIFT), New Delhi. He is a textile technologist by profession and also has three years of work experience in the spinning industry.

Email: callchetan2000@gmail.com

G. Krishnaraj is Asst.Professor, National Institute of Fashion Technology, (NIFT), NewDelhi, having two year experience in the spinning and weaving industry and four year experience in teaching. He holds an M.Tech in Textile Technology. Since December2005, he has been associated with NIFT,Delhi as a Assistant Professor.

Email: mg_krishnaraj@yahoo.com


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