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RFID Helps Women Dress for Success

A Pennsylvania nonprofit organization has begun applying EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to apparel and accessories, in order to improve its ability to provide business suits to job-seeking women.
By Claire Swedberg
To make it easier for her organization to know which garments and accessories it maintains in stock, Koup says she began looking for an automated inventory system. She spoke of the matter with Deborah Pekala, VP of Dress for Success' regional board, and DVP of inventory control and retail stock ledger for Bon-Ton Stores. Pekala was acquainted with Stephanie Brush, Motorola's director of RFID business development for the retail fashion market. Following a conversation between Pekala and Brush, Motorola began seeking a solution. "Ruth is very forward-thinking," Brush says, "and I think Dress for Success looks upon what she is doing as a technology incubator." If the system is successfully implemented by the south-central Pennsylvania operation, other Dress for Success affiliates could install the system as well.

The solution Motorola helped devise uses the company's handheld reader, Concept2 Solution's software and Avery Dennison EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags, incorporated into hangtags printed with Dress for Success logos. Once the tags are attached to garments, the organization's staff can utilize the Motorola MC9090 handheld interrogator to scan each tag and input data about the corresponding garment—its size, style and color, as well as to which of the four outlets (the three boutiques and the truck) it will be assigned. When this is completed, the reader is placed in a cradle, and the tag and garment information is uploaded into the standalone software system, provided by Concept2. Volunteers or staff members can then use the standalone software at any time on the store's PC, in order to determine which items are available in which location.

The DFS mobile boutique

Koup says she is now seeking a grant to purchase several more handheld readers. Until then, the deployment will be limited to one store. Once expanded to all boutiques, she expects the system will yield a number of benefits. For one thing, her organization will always know exactly which items are on the truck and which are in a boutique. When a garment is offered to a client, the staff can read, remove and discard its tag, as well as input data indicating that item has been taken. In addition, employees at one boutique can read the tags of items as they arrive from another location, updating the system to indicate the item has been moved. The software will also be used to track how many items remain of any size or style—size-nine shoes, for instance. If the boutiques are running short of that size shoe, volunteers can get to work soliciting donations for that particular item.

"In this way, before we are desperately in need of something, we know it," Koup explains. "We can be proactive so that when, for example, someone calls and says they want to do a shoe drive, what do we want? We can be very accurate in our needs."

Dress for Success' volunteers have begun tagging scrubs worn by health-care workers. The organization purchased the scrubs as the first phase of the system's deployment. In the future, it intends to tag all of its 25,000 items, including jewelry, scarves and clothing. "We anticipate that the Harrisburg boutique will take eight hours to complete tagging all items," Koup says, "with four people working—totaling a 24-hour process for the inventory at that location." The other two sites, she notes, will take less time due to their smaller size.

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