Reunited, and it Feels so Good
Apparel decoration is a foundational element of the printing industry, and PRINTING United Alliance has worked hard to reunite this community at PRINTING United Expo 2022 and beyond. Through extensive research, asking the right questions, and significant investment, The Alliance has not only built a dedicated media brand for the decorated apparel community and provided membership support and benefits, but united all of the printing facets under one roof at The Expo.
The Alliance serves every level of the printing industry, and apparel decorators are no exception. “We speak the same language when it comes to process, color, etc. — just a different dialect if you will,” Josh Carruth, managing director — decorated apparel for The Alliance, says. He notes that The Alliance has made significant investments into bringing this community together this year.
“[It] starts with understanding the needs of the community,” Carruth states. “That was accomplished through an extensive period of listening and asking questions to determine what folks need and want — really letting the data (internal and external) drive direction and ideas. [That was] followed by significant investments back into both the community and in our own offerings. Those investments include supporting other industry events, building a team focused on this community, launching a dedicated media brand, evaluating member benefits, and cornerstone activations at our own events designed to provide access and education to visitors.”
To break that down: In January, The Alliance launched Apparelist, a media brand that addresses the changes experienced in the decorated apparel community on a regular basis, as well as offering trusted and reliable resources and information. Apparelist gives decorators a voice, allowing them to express business pain points, network, and have real discussions about what the future holds.
“We will listen and use multiple committees comprised of fellow decorators to evaluate and guide our decisions,” Carruth says. But that extends beyond Apparelist and into the support The Alliance offers. “In the coming years, you will also see more advocacy directly related to this segment as well as more relevant member benefits for all,” Carruth adds.
Reunited Under One Roof
The Expo is bringing together the year-long support and media coverage of the entire printing industry, so manufacturers, suppliers, and attendees can see all of the latest technology and network with each other. This year, The Expo has everything from the Apparel Zone to a podcast area, as well as a café, Future State Theater, and more, specifically geared toward apparel decorators.
Carruth notes that there are so many great events dedicated to decorators, but The Expo is a unique experience. “We want to give apparel decoration its rightful home among other print service providers,” he states. “We want to bring together the best and brightest, the forward thinkers focused on growing and adapting to what lies ahead regardless of who you are today. It’s who you want to be that matters.”
The Future State Theater and podcast areas are just two ways The Expo brings the forward thinkers and experts together. In partnership with MADE Lab, Future State Theater is all about conversations from industry leaders that fully address the apparel community — from more sustainable ways to run your business to what to expect in the future from an economic standpoint. “We have worked with our partners at MADE Lab to develop a platform for thought leaders in our industry to share their thoughts on the next three to five years and what they may bring,” Carruth says.
All topics discussed at Future State Theater are largely geared toward supporting decorators beyond The Expo. One goal is to equip attendees with tools and techniques to take on the future of the printing industry, which is essential. “These are the ‘what’s next’ things everyone needs to be thinking about,” Carruth points out. “Whether you are a printer, designer, brand, etc., it’s aimed to speak to everyone in the community.”
But it doesn’t stop there. The Alliance, together with Apparelist, is also working hard to provide support through connections. Many of the industry’s top influencers, including Aaron Montgomery and Terry Combs of the 2 Regular Guys Podcast, are also at The Expo this year. They work hard to provide educational content year-round to other apparel decorators, and The Expo has been a great place to create those personal connections. “It is always great to have everyone in one place,” Montgomery says.
He adds that seeing the apparel space integrated with other technologies across the scope of The Alliance is nothing short of exciting when it comes to growth opportunities. It’s an experience he feels is invaluable. “It’s one thing to be in the comfort of my studio and get great information from our guests, but another to be in the thick of the action and feel the energy that comes along with The Expo,” Montgomery says.
The podcast area is just one part of the Apparel Zone, a spot on The Expo floor that Carruth describes as a macro-factory. “You get up close and personal with everything from heat presses to wide-format, dye-sublimation solutions working together in a macro-factory designed for education (and serving a good cause), not sales pitches,” he says.
Working with various companies like US Vets is just one way The Alliance serves to unite the decorated apparel community and printing industry. “One cool thing we did this year is partner with another nonprofit organization called US Vets,” Carruth says. “They are a phenomenal organization [that has] worked with the US government for years with a primary mission of getting our veterans off the streets and back into the workforce. It just so happens that decorated apparel is its No. 1 revenue generator, so this was such a perfect match.”
The Alliance, together with Apparelist, has also worked hard on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, many of which are integrated into The Expo. Companies — like Stakes Manufacturing, Kornit (Booth C7507), ROQ (Booth C9707), and more — have come together to shed light on how printers can be more inclusive and work together to better the community through such initiatives.
As if that isn’t enough, there are even more reasons attendees have come to this year’s Expo to represent the decorated apparel community. For Amber Massey, Tshirts for Hope owner and Apparelist advisory board member, the unique chance to see all of these technologies and network with fellow apparel industry people is second to none. “It’s marketing for us as screen printers and apparel decorators,” she says. “I believe knowledge is power, and people will gain knowledge and insight at The Expo.”
She has personal plans to specifically increase her knowledge. “I hope to learn more about others in the industry and what else is out there beyond what I have on my shop,” she states.
That one-roof approach is why The Expo and The Alliance serve as a great support system to the apparel community. “We [are looking] at who makes up the community to start with,” Carruth says. “We, like our partners, believe it’s much larger than most have traditionally thought. So being as inclusive as possible or cognizant of just how many people make up this community is step one. PRINTING United Expo’s big-tent approach is already well-suited for this given the prominence of multitechnology operations in today’s market.”
An Experience for All
The Expo might already be underway, but the apparel community can expect support from The Alliance well after the show winds down for 2022. That means ensuring apparel decorators continue to have a strong identity within the print industry.
The Alliance, together with Apparelist, is continuing to make that a top priority. “We are making way for this segment to have an identity within a much larger industry,” Carruth states. “As traditional printing shifted to digital processes over the past 20 years, this community has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. Not by intention, but simply because screen printing remains the dominant application method (for good reason) where it has faded somewhat in the wide-format space. This — paired with the merging of multiple associations and a media brand — left a void [but] we’re here to fill that void.”