New high-definition heat transfer graphics from Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions appear woven but are in fact digitally printed

New high-definition heat transfer graphics from Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions appear woven but are in fact digitally printed

For most apparel retailers and brands, choosing the labels, packaging, price tickets and even RFID tags for the garments they sell is most likely to be a decision made at the end of the design cycle. But Avery Dennison believes elevating it to the beginning of the process not only saves time and money, but can ultimately make products stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

And it has a very compelling way of demonstrating its case.

At the German town of Sprockhövel, around 34km from Düsseldorf, the company on Monday opened the doors of its first Europe-based Customer Design and Innovation Center. Here it hopes apparel and footwear firms from both the EU and further afield will spend time trying out new ways to boost the efficiency of their supply chains.

At their disposal are everything from a design studio where new labelling ideas can be created, through to a simulated global supply chain where brand protection and RFID-enabled inventory solutions can be tried out.

The aim is to help companies come up with new design and packaging solutions to enhance the appeal of their products, and to use the latest advances in tagging and information technology to improve their performance at all points through manufacturing to the retail sales floor.

"This is an important step in the way Avery Dennison serves its retail customers," Shawn Neville, group vice president of the firm's Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) group, told visitors to the centre on Monday.

"Europe is a trendsetter and the brands and retailers who come here will be setting the trends worldwide."

Avery Dennison is also keen to stress its own evolving role as a "branding partner," moving from its traditional place providing labels that sit inside the garment to a wider role outside, where it can help retailers boost their brands.

Its new high-speed digital printing technology is a case in point, offering an exciting alternative to traditional screen printing as a way of embellishing garments.

Making use of the company's expertise in adhesives, it has developed high-definition transfers that are heat-applied to the garment. Using digital technology enables designs to be produced consistently, and in an almost unlimited number of colours, with the prints having a soft handle and high stretch. Special effects like embroidery can also be created.

"The process opens up a whole new field for designers," Deon Stander, vice president and general manager of global commercial RBIS, told just-style. "Traditional screen printing is limited by cost constraints, the number of colours that can be used, it's messy, inconsistent, slow and labour-intensive. We offer an alternative to this."

Another benefit is that unlike screen printing, which is usually outsourced, the new graphic process can be carried out in-house by garment manufacturers anywhere in the world - the bonding machine is provided by Avery Dennison - which helps speed up the supply chain.

More sustainable packaging
Another just-launched innovation is Greenprint, a diagnostic tool that taps into the apparel industry's concerns about sustainability by helping firms better understand the environmental consequences of their choice of branding and packaging materials.

For example, an assessment of socks and hosiery packaging revealed that converting from traditional polybags to a sustainable belly band solution uses materials that create 99% less solid waste and use 56% less energy and 23% less water.

The aim is to help retailers and designers think about the consequences of their actions and make the right sustainability choice at the design stage.

RFID-enabled solutions
Retailers and brands can also put ideas into practice across a simulated global supply chain at the centre, where Avery Dennison's RFID-enabled inventory productivity and loss-prevention solutions can be tried out in mock manufacturing, distribution and retail set-ups.

Using these tools, the company claims, can make a garment's passage from source to store around five to seven times faster.

For example, RFID hangtags and care tags can be encoded by in-plant printers and service bureau, and printed at manufacturing facilities all over the world, which gives global consistency and speed of movement through the supply chain.

And a centralised database links retailers and contractors, eliminating duplication and ensuring the right number of tickets are produced - which in turn gives control over counterfeits and boosts traceability.
At the distribution centre, boxes are automatically scanned and the store alerted to the arrival of that shipment. The retailer can also make decisions at this stage with regards to product pricing.

"We already know that with RFID, inventory accuracy improves from the 65-85% range to more than 95% and in some cases as high as 99%," Stander says.

"Just as compelling is the fact that RFID speeds the cycle time of a store-level inventory by over 20 times. These two benefits are driving improved inventory productivity by an average of more than five percent, improving store labour productivity and the overall customer experience."

As well as speed, accuracy and item level visibility, RFID also has an important role to play in reducing the impact of lost and stolen items.

"It's a problem to have an item stolen, but it is even worse to lose a sale the next day to a disappointed consumer looking for the same item when you could have replenished it with the help of RFID," Stander explains.

"The value for retailers is providing good information to run their business."