There are encouraging signs of optimism among suppliers of production software to the global apparel industry as manufacturers, retailers and brands turn to new technology to prepare themselves for an eventual uptick in business.

Exhibitors at the triennial IMB - World of Textile Processing trade fair in Cologne, Germany last week were also unanimous that 2010 will be the year when trade starts to improve again.

"There are signs in the global economy that are very strong, and I believe the rebound will be first in the US, between the second and third quarters of this year," Daniel Harari, CEO at technology supplier Lectra, told just-style. 

Citing improvements at banking and financial companies (including better credit availability), measures taken by the Obama Administration to help consumption, and increasing orders from retailers who have cleared a backlog of inventory, he said: "I believe we have touched the bottom and that there are signs of recovery.

"At least people know where they are, even if business is down by 20-30%.

"Most of Lectra's customers have had time to assess the situation, and are realising they still need to manufacture and make money. They are becoming more rational, whereas before there was fear about the future. The sentiment is changing."

However, Harari cautions: "I don't think the next 18 months will be easy, but they won't be worse than before. 

"People are very cautious about cash, and a small percentage of companies are looking at return on investment, and the productivity trend is for fewer deals but larger ones."

Jérôme Bergeret, director of industry consumer goods at product lifecycle management (PLM) firm Dassault Systemes, is seeing evidence that: "European companies are making investments from this year to go ahead in 2010 and beyond.

"It was more difficult to talk to profitable companies about investment, but when times are tough they will look at new processes to renew their business models - and a lot of companies are now investigating PLM."

In particular, he said, the business pipeline is growing very fast so that companies will be in a better position to shift gear for recovery.

"In the last recession of the early 1990s a lot of companies invested in technology and processes and turned themselves around - so now is the time to be thinking about it again," added Andrew Dalziel, marketing director for fashion at Lawson Software.

"Companies that previously said they were too busy are now taking a breath and are investing and preparing for when the uptick comes."

Kathleen Mitford, VP of vertical market strategy at PTC, also noted: "You would think that what's happening in the economy would mean companies aren't investing in technology, but we have more activity now than in the last three years on a global basis.

"Retailers and brands realise they need to set themselves up for when the economy picks up, so are focusing on their business processes, organisational set-up and new technology to make sure they're successful in the future."