A few days ago a documentary arrived in Romania, at the Pelicam Film Festival of Tulcea, a documentary about which the American media was writing last year that it should cause a revolution in the way we look at clothes. “The true cost” tells the ugly story behind the brilliant stories – the clothes we get on every shopping spree, that we wait to be on sales and then get rid of the following day or the latest craze in terms of design acclaimed during the parades with anemic models, these are all lined with pictures of sewers and peasants who can barely make both ends meet, intoxicated earth and mountains of fetid rags. It is estimated that global consumption of clothing today is five times higher than 20 years ago. The world can no longer keep that up, hunting one promotion after another, living with the illusion that a cool t-shirt or pair of jeans costs only pennies today. It only takes a simple calculation – and not a sophisticated algorithm – to see that if we keep this up the man-nature fabric will be harder to patch by the day.
“The true cost” movie and the campaign called “E timpul pentru o revolutie in moda“ (“It’s time for a revolution in fashion”) are signs that more and more emphasis is put on a responsible use of resources. Consumer awareness campaigns have their role indeed, but, in the end, the second / fifth revolution in this industry (depending on how we count, from steam onwards) will start with an algorithm.
But what do algorithms have to do with anything? And where does Iasi fit in this picture? you may ask yourselves. Let’s take it one step at a time and see if things come together.
If you have somehow had the occasion to watch an old tailor at work, you probably saw how, in that Singer sewing machine noise, piles of materials gathered up around him that ended up being used as kitchen rags at best. No matter how good a craftsman one is, the efficiency of the use of the customer’s material has its limits. Well, today, even if one can still find nesting specialists, the new limits of the efficient cutting of a material are something only a good algorithm knows.
And that’s how we ended up in Iasi. The one who got us to come here is Traian Luca, the person who 15 years ago founded Gemini Cad, which is currently one of the largest European suppliers of material cutting optimization algorithms in the textile and leather industry.
“Our algorithm is better even than the Germans’ from Fraunhofer Institute”, Luca says proudly from behind his office over which a Globe levitates and spins. And here come the arguments ... global ones even – the German institute, which is a benchmark in the field of applied sciences has a special division of algorithms and information technology (SCAI). And yet, having such a powerful competitor, the software made by these people of Iasi has a huge success. “Although in the movie we speak about 11.000 factories that we work with, do not forget that the movie was made two years ago. We are currently working with over 20.000 and distribute to 38 countries.”
Traian Luca refers to the presentation movie “2%”, where Gemini is sold primarily as a key instrument of a responsible approach to the management of the resource of a textile or leather factory. And if you take into account only this 2% of material savings in a factory by applying rational cutting - you get a total of about 35 million square meters of material for which up to 1 million cubic meters of water will be saved and the planet’s atmosphere would be spared from at least 200,000 tons of CO2. Because that would be the real cost of only 2%. Things do not seem so cheap anymore, do they?
This 2% of the textile industry becomes at least as responsible as the famous 2% of the tax redirected to a sponsorship / social cause or, why not, that 2% paid as literary stamp – since we are in the town famous for its writers.
But let’s get back to the business. Why Iasi? Because this is where they found good software developers. And they have a school for textile industry engineers here and, of course, there are many garments workshops in the area. Altogether, Gemini is a product of the minds of people from Iasi, both from a technical and a managerial point of view. Or vice versa. “I know how to operate a computer, as they say. But I have not written one line of code. My role was to put things together, to make the connection between the market and the specialists”, Luca says.
And this is the point where we started talking about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what the manager’s role is.
“I started doing business when I was still young (he is now 41). In the 90s I opened a printing shop with a friend of mine - prints were the thing back then ... But I have always said that the first impulse of an entrepreneur is to be hungry. Sure, you want a product that is your own, do what you like, but first and foremost you have to feel deep inside that you want more. It’s the best “drive” in the business”.
In the early 2000s, things began to move in the IT outsourcing field. Luca admits that this is the area that has perhaps the greatest merit in the revival of the economy of Iasi, but wanted to avoid this area because “it does not give you the freedom of having a product of your own that you can control, that can help your establish a connection with the market.”
Okay, fine, but on what market? And here comes the second step an entrepreneur has to make. Identify an active market with its needs and see if it can come up with something that meets those needs.
Me and my associates took a look around to see what else works. Textiles. What do they need? Computerization, first and foremost. Even though the vast majority outsource, they still need digitization systems that read the files with the templates received from the outside. Not to say that if they want to make their own collection, they need a design environment that is as good as possible, where they can build patterns with great accuracy. And the requirements continue, because what one wants from a system is to do the calibration, allow you to make change interventions, to plan cutting, but not just anyway, but with an optimization of the nesting, because nobody wants to waste material, do they? After you do the nesting, you want to be able to send the pattern to an automatic cutting / tailoring machine... so here is our market, here is a need that needs to be covered.
A need for a product that makes a difference, as they say. And the difference Gemini made consisted in an integrated product, software applications and specialized equipment, along the entire production line, from design to cutting. He hired a solid team of developers passionate about CAD (computer-aided design and drafting) and came up with innovative technical solutions, such as “reversible folds and plies, automatic seaming reserve and others as such.”
It was immediately obvious that the product suited the market. It caught well on the clothing factories in the country by bringing unbeatable advantages - in addition to the technology - price ratio that made it affordable to factories with fewer than 500 employees, it came together with an assistance and technical training package, it was user friendly and obviously in Romanian. Moreover, the factory engineers had studied on Gemini platforms in college.
But, as he always has a reserve of trust in his back pocket, Traian Luca also went after the foreign market. He started attending the big fairs in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Moscow etc. It was precisely for these foreign markets that he had given his products this vibrant name, that everyone would understand - Gemini, as the sign. And some may even associate this name to the NASA program that prepared the moon landing.
Gradually, sophisticated algorithms were added and the equipment reached the level of big machines, such as the “leather inspection machine - LS3000”, developed 100% in Iasi with partners of the horizontal mechanical industry. The business developed year after year. In 2015 the results were almost five times higher than in 2010. When you sell software the advantage is that once you convince the customer to buy it will later on but the upgrade packages. And when the product you sell is your own software, which is quite rare for Romanian companies – the profitability ratio, the money stays home.
Last year, from an income of RON 14.5 million, the profit was RON 3.9 million. And that was possible with an average number of less than 50 employees. This year we will get to 70 people, but we will not go over 80. We are interested in a healthy growth, we are fighting over the best people on the market, because our role is to bring added value, Traian Luca says, proud that his team includes CAD programmers, textile engineers, purebred mathematicians, theorists working on improving the already famous algorithm.
Maybe this continuous professional challenge has also helped in attracting and retaining top specialists, the struggle over brains from the local market being already notorious … and expensive. In time, the compensation packages brought along other distinguishing features - own office, surrounded by a forest on the outskirts of Iasi (the exit through Copou, opposite to the Pedagogical High School), with a pool and spa on the ground floor and an average work area of 20 sq.m. per employee. In addition to the office building, Gemini also has a production workshop of 1400 sq.m.
I found a section called What we are working on now on the company website. “3D simulator for the dynamic clothing of the dummy, full converter for the users of other CAD systems and, of course, continuous improvement of the nesting algorithm”. Gemini joined the select club of maybe less than 2% of Romanian industrialists with global reflexes who have an international brand which makes the country of origin less relevant. It is, at best, viewed as made in Europe. “We like to say that in our industry niche we are what Bitdefender is for the antivirus market, for example.”
May it was a lucky alignment of the planets for Gemini. Maybe they couldn’t have done it without it. But in order to get there the first step is to aim high with ambition and have vision where others do not.