PRINTING United’s Direct-to-Garment/Direct-to-Substrate Day Explores Technology’s Benefits
On Nov. 9 — following 10 power-packed days of educational sessions and product showcases for different segments of the printing industry — the PRINTING United Digital Experience started its final week with the second day devoted to apparel decorating. Sponsored by OmniPrint International, the “Direct-to-Garment (DTG)/Direct-to-Substrate (DTS)” Insight Day featured presentations and demonstrations with leading decorators and OEMs and suppliers.
Setting the stage for the day was Andy Paparozzi, chief economist, PRINTING United Alliance, sharing an economic outlook and research insights. According to the Alliance’s COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research, 16.7% of surveyed apparel decorators indicated an average sales increase of 26.5% in the first half of 2020 by swiftly moving into PPE, COVID-related signage, and having robust e-commerce capabilities. Quoting one participant’s feedback, Paparozzi said, “E-commerce will be bigger than ever. If your company isn’t prepared to compete in [the] e-commerce space, you will get left behind.”
The economy is growing again, he also noted. Gross domestic product grew at a 23.9% annual rate last quarter, and will grow at a 4.9% annual rate this quarter, according to the consensus of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. While Paparozzi noted the American economy will be strong enough to pull the industry out of recession next year, there is still too much uncertainty to determine when that recovery will start and its expected growth.
The Value of E-Commerce and Print-on-Demand
Following Paparozzi’s presentation and touching on a global and industry-wide concern, Debbie McKeegan, CEO, TexIntel, delivered the day’s keynote, “How Sustainability is Driving the Next Generation of Fashion.”
With the current global population of seven billion expected to increase to nine billion by 2023, McKeegan said this means more consumers for the industry and growing affluence, thus increasing fashion production. “It’s never been more important that we rationalize our industry to make sure we produce these products sustainably,” she said, sharing that 62% of consumers prefer to buy sustainable products.
To become more sustainable, she noted, is a matter of realigning and restructuring a supply chain that has long been fragmented as fashion houses offshore large product volumes that can take three to four months to reach stores. By this time, consumers have likely changed their minds and are onto the next trend, resulting in product sold at discount or ultimately ending up in landfills.
One key for brands bringing their production closer to the consumer McKeegan said is analyzing the amount of consumer data from e-commerce, merchandising, and automated workflows within the retail sector, “to make sure we design create, print, and manufacture the products we need in store.” This is especially important as consumers increasingly want personalization and as e-commerce has rapidly accelerated amid the pandemic.
Also integral for sustainability and print-on-demand models is digital printing, which McKeegan said saved 40 billion liters of water in 2018 alone, despite accounting for only 6% of the global marketplace.
Touching further on the prominence of e-commerce was the panel, “The Rise of E-Commerce in Apparel Printing,” in which Chris Bernat, CRO and partner, Vapor Apparel, sat down with Jack Kilian, VP, Sharprint; Ted Pidcock, owner, Chillybears; and Mario Tovar, creative director, Marsuno Creative.
Chillybears has three revenue streams to which Pidcock credited its profitability in the pandemic: original custom that has morphed into supporting e-commerce for organizations, its Beantown resort/souvenir apparel line, and its Teddy the Dog line.
With the latter’s sales off the charts, he said it has helped balance out the potential losses in the other two streams. He also credits how the business has positioned itself as a full-service partner for organizations. “We pushed hard to not just be a decorator, but to be a full solution or partners with them. And that has paid off in spades,” he said. “We’re not up much, but our bottom line is extremely healthy because it’s now much more driven by our retail of apparel online.”
Sharprint specializes in screen print embroidery and DTG, with the majority of its business in the promotional products space, followed by contract music, and streetwear e-commerce. As with all the panelists, Sharprint pivoted into mask production at the start of the pandemic, but as that market started dying down, Kilian said its e-commerce business started to pick back up.
The company’s biggest priority is continuing to focus on its DTG business, which Kilian refers to as Sharprint’s “third child.” Offering advice from his own experience learning DTG and expressing its many opportunities as a result of COVID, he said, “Make sure you have the infrastructure together and you understand exactly what you’re doing before you start going headfirst into an online store. Understand how your printers work, make sure you have the right people around you, and make sure you have a good system being as efficient as possible and getting it down.”
Starting in graphic design, Marsuno Creative ultimately entered the booming DTG industry and started its own clothing brand. In addition to managing $10 million in e-commerce sales for various clothing brands, it focuses on B2B and B2C and is located in 300-400 retailers in the U.S.
Tovar said the company is currently building its enterprise resource planning solution for its warehouse, helping to replace its manual processes. “Once I dial the software in, the sky’s the limit,” he said, noting he’ll purchase more DTG equipment once it’s in place.
With its significant bounceback from the onset of COVID, Tovar, and the fellow panelists agreed the challenge is how to carry that momentum into 2021
“If I could start maybe 5-10 more [e-comm] sites in different niches and different segments of the industry, I think I can continue this growth that I’ve been having the last four years,” said Tovar.
Vapor Apparel started as a blanks manufacturer for sublimation printing and began selling on Amazon five years ago. Touted by consumers as a sun protection brand, it also does full package business for major brands using its own garments and owns several vertical brands. During COVID, Bernat said he’s watched its e-commerce partners go through the roof, in addition to its tremendous activity on Amazon.
While there is more complication as a blanks brand, Bernat said his biggest challenge in terms of e-commerce and software has been “making sure your inventory is accurate on all these marketplaces at the same time. That when you sell a shirt on Amazon, it’s in real time deducted from your inventory, so that when somebody else goes to order it, it’s already allocated.”
Echoing McKeegan’s statements about the acceleration of e-commerce, he said, “If you don’t have the ability to take the same product and stick it in three or four marketplaces simultaneously, your models not as strong as it could be.”
Promo Products Pivot
Sean Norris, editor-in-chief, Promo Marketing, rounded out the day’s sessions with the panel, “How Great Promotional Products Decoration Can Give Businesses an Edge in the COVID Economy,” featuring Tom Davenport, co-founder, Ink Kitchen and decoration specialist, Bella + Canvas; RJ Hagel, manager of global marketing, Goldstar; and Mike Wilson, VP, operations, Overture Promotions.
The promotional products industry is one that has been continually evolving, as Davenport noted it is no longer about the tchotchkes or throwaway items, which is especially evident in apparel decoration that has transitioned from white T-shirts with left-chest corporate logos to fashion-forward blanks and high-end decoration techniques.
But as with other industries, it is one that has undoubtedly been affected by COVID-19. “There is still a demand out there, but the lack of events really has impacted our industry,” said Hagel, whose business primarily focuses on writing instruments, and has a line of protection and wellness products, that has been in the highest demand between masks, hand sanitizers, antimicrobial pens, and stylus.
As a distributor, Wilson said Overture’s mission is working with customers to elevate their brands and get their messages across. While it initially pivoted to address immediate PPE needs, Wilson said people are looking at COVID as more of a long-term effect. “Instead of supplying disposable masks, they want reusable masks, and they want them branded and dye sublimated, screen printed or transferred,” he said. “We are even seeing regular promo products come back but kind of in a different way.” This has meant coming up with unique ways to create experiences for virtual events, such as sending a custom kitted box to participants’ homes.
Speaking on what’s trending with apparel, Davenport said, “Special effects printing is making a big comeback with high-density inks, puff inks, and all the different techniques you can do with those. Transfers are huge right now [as are] oversized embroidery and applique.”
From Hagel’s perspective, a big trend is full color. “It has to do with not just the type of decoration, but the method it’s actually put down on the material, speed, and the ability to go over curves and around corners,” he said. “That’s kind of where some of the changes are happening with the industry.”
Throughout the day’s programming were product demonstrations from OEMs and suppliers in the DTG/DTS space. Day-sponsor OmniPrint demonstrated its FREEJET 330TX PLUS and Cheetah DTG printers while Epson showcased its latest in the SureColor series — the F3070 DTG featuring the Epson Precision Core printheads. Also among the innovative DTG product lineup were Ricoh’s RICOH RI 2000, Kornit’s Atlas system, and Brother’s GTXpro Series.
While only three days remain of the PRINTING United Digital Experience, all of the 14-day programming and on-demand sessions will be accessible through Jan. 31 at digital.printingunited.com. The DTG/DTS Day Guide is also available online.