Growth Opportunities Abound for Digitally Printed Swimwear and Performance Wear
After months of staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, American consumers are ready — or soon will be — to get back in the gym and hit the beach. And for consumers today, suiting up for summer fun requires a closet full of swimwear and performance wear.
In fact, the market for both apparel categories is growing quickly. According to research compiled by Brandon Gaille, “when all athletic apparel is considered, the performance apparel industry is forecast to reach total sales of over $230 billion by 2024. This would create a CAGR of 7%, with some segments seeing growth rates in double digits.”
Technavio projects that the global swimwear market is, “poised to grow by $6.74 billion during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of about 6% during the forecast period.”
All of which presents growth opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) looking to expand their product line and market reach.
The Advantage of Printing Digitally
“Wide-format technologies can help get finished goods to the market faster while also making customizations possible,” says Lily Hunter, product manager of textiles, e-commerce, and supplies for Roland DGA. “Wide-format custom orders can also help cut down inventory overstock for retailers.”
According to Victoria Nelson Harris, textile specialist for Mimaki USA, “Companies printing overseas can have a six-month production timeline and large minimums, up to 1,000 to 3,000 pieces. The ability of PSPs within the U.S. to print multiple design styles and deliver fabrics in any quantity almost immediately gives them one of the biggest advantages in the swimwear market.”
For PSPs serving this market, dye-sublimation and direct-to-print platforms are optimal.
“Dye-sublimation printing is very popular in the performance wear and swimwear markets since most of these fabrics are made with polyester,” says Hunter, adding that dye-sublimation printers have significantly shortened the turnaround time from design, to proofing and approval for brands.
“PSPs creating higher-end textile products made out of nylon or polyester where the ink saturation through the fiber is of utmost importance would utilize direct-to-fabric printing technologies,” Harris says. “Direct-to-fabric printing systems require the fabrics to be coated first and then either steamed or dry heat fixated with a calendar press to set the inks. And though fabrics can be ordered precoated at an additional cost, PSPs can save a great deal of money by investing in their own coating machine.”
New, Advanced Fabrics
Fabrics for these market niches continue to advance as well. “Most performance wear and swimwear are made out of synthetic manmade fibers, such as polyester and nylon, and offer designers options with advanced performance properties and special finishing techniques,” says Harris. “Examples of this would be polyesters with wicking properties for activewear, and polyesters with suede finishes for fashion swimwear.”
In addition to advancements in the fabric fibers, Hunter says, smart technology may begin playing a role in fabric production going forward.
With all the new fabric options emerging for these markets, PSPs need to decide which type of print platform is best suited to their own swimwear and performance wear clientele.
“One of the challenges of this market is being able to provide printing capabilities for the different textiles used in performance wear and swimwear,” says Harris. “Many higher-end bathing suits utilize polyamide fiber nylon, which is printed direct-to-fabric with acid or reactive inks. On the other hand, a large percentage of swimwear utilizes polyester fabric, which is commonly printed with dye-sublimation transfer inks. So, the PSP has some limitations depending upon which technology they are utilizing.”
And color management can be tricky with fabric printing, which is why Hunter recommends partnering with a reliable, experienced integrator or dealer for equipment, supplies, and support.
“Know that there is a learning curve in dye-sublimation,” she says. “Be wise with your capital investment, and yes – the initial investment is high. This is not the time to cut corners on quality. Be aware of what the warranties are for each piece of equipment.”
For best results, Hunter also advises PSPs to keep the textile printing environment both clean and humidity controlled. “Additionally, no matter how good and efficient you are, there will always be a lot of scrap,” she says. “Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options for getting rid of this scrap other than throwing it out.”
Which is one reason, Harris notes, why brands and the PSPs that serve them are embracing more sustainable substrates and production processes.
“There is a huge shift to sustainable synthetic textiles for the swimwear and performance wear categories,” she says. “Many of the U.S. textile suppliers have adapted and are promoting recycled polyester fabrics in their product lines.”
Sustainability is particularly important to millennials, she adds, a key consumer demographic for both swimwear and performance wear. “The millennial consumer values the story behind the product, and selects brands that comply with their own personal values,” says Harris. “Brands and businesses that comply with the needs of this generation have a greater opportunity to increase sales and profits.”
Hunter sees sustainability as increasingly important to swimwear and performance wear brands as well. “Dye-sublimation uses heat to set the inks, reducing the need to use water,” she says. “More fabric manufacturers are beginning to realize this, and as a result are now creating polyester fabrics that mimic cotton, silk, and linen so they can be sublimated.”
As for the future, Harris sees e-commerce driving market opportunities, as well as a growing trend away from a traditional “produce, sell, deliver” business model, to a “sell, produce, deliver” business model instead.
“Digital printing technologies allow for faster speed to market which is adaptable to the shortening of fashion cycles we are seeing currently,” she says. “Businesses that have the capability to o er a unique product in any quantity with fast speed to market have an advantage.”
And for PSPs looking to expand their service offerings, and those that are willing to make the investment of time and money into the equipment and expertise this segment requires, it could be a very lucrative vertical as we move into the next decade.