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Apparel Decorating Trends & Techniques for Digital and Sublimation Transfers
By Christopher Bernat, Partner, Source Substrates, LLC
Total revenues from apparel are flat. Per capita spending on clothing is down over the last three years as well. A recent Wall Street Journal article offered multiple reasons for the non-growth of revenue in apparel. All the reasons had one thing in common: they really scare most major players in the apparel business.
There are a number of trends in society and in fashion that have combined to reduce the market’s appetite for consuming clothing and fashion accessories in the traditional sense. For starters, in most American households, there is more and more competition for discretionary dollars. Technology gadgets in particular have lured many of those dollars away. An iPod, a new digital camera and a feature rich PDA have replaced clothes on many Christmas and birthday wish lists. Technology has become in many ways its own form of fashion. For example, iPods are available in a number of colors, styles and sizes. This “digital wearable” delivers music and brand equity. Even the finest custom tailored pinpoint Oxford can’t say that.
But technology alone can’t be blamed. What started out as Casual Friday in many US and Canadian companies has turned into Casual Everyday. This has put a damper on the amount of business apparel sold. Brooks Brothers survived for over a century focused on the business person, but in recent years the brand has been rapidly growing its casual and lifestyle apparel options. In many segments of today’s economy, a suit and tie are simply out of place. Other trends have affected sales as well. Starting in the 1980s some school districts reintroduced the concept of school uniforms for elementary and high schools. Many districts still have this policy. No one trend is 100 percent to blame but combined, they have had a significant impact.
Oasis in the Desert
Performance Apparel Growth
The performance market has embraced polyester as its new fabric of choice. Polyester can be engineered to wick moisture away from the body. This keeps athletes cooler in the heat and warmer in the cold. This new love affair with polyester bodes well for apparel minded specialty graphics professionals.
Short and Micro Run Growth
At the same time, the general trend of mass customization has continued to grow. People have always appreciated something that is one of a kind. Today, in part due to digital technologies replacing analog technologies, people can get a one of a kind item. Cars, computers, cruises and Christmas cards are all customized.
What is scary to some is embraced by others. A small group of nimble companies have strategically positioned themselves to introduce the world to the short run and, more importantly, the micro run.
The Micro Run A production run of one to seven decorated garments.
The micro run is perhaps the fastest growing part of the digital decorating apparel industry. Micro run specialists have a tendency to be technology driven, always looking for the cleanest, quickest, most profitable way to give one person exactly what they want.
Digital solutions that offer unlimited colors and are nimble enough to efficiently deliver mass customized products with variable art files and data create opportunity for large profit margins. The key is not only to find the right equipment and software for production. You also need to focus on your work flow and make it very easy to eliminate errors while at the same time engaging customers in the design process.
Overview of New Technologies
Direct Textile Printers
The Kornit 930 and 931 is capable of 630 x 630 dpi resolution. It offers a “standard” printable area of 16" x 20" and a “variable” printable area of 20" x 28". In addition to cotton, the Kornit boasts that it is also ideal for general textile, cotton-polyester blends, Lycra, viscose and rigid materials as well. The 930 claims output between 109 and 178 shirts per hour. The 931 offers a range between 178 and 295 shirts per hour.
Sawgrass Technologies’ NaturaLink ink platform was launched and will be at most major trade shows in the fourth quarter 2006. The NaturaLink inks are available for use on the MS-One printing platform via a partnership with MS Italy, a leading printer technology firm. Sawgrass offers a 16.5" X 22" printable area and offers print resolution up to 1440 DPI.
Sawgrass Technologies has introduced a C, M, Y, K, Red, Blue color set as well as a new Jet Black for sublimation. This will help the majority of the market looking to improve the vibrancy of textile output and represents a logical upgrade path for their installed base of customers.
Manoukian has long been a supplier to the textile industry on a number of different platforms. They now boast over 15 different sublimation ink colors from which to choose. This gives a sophisticated production team the ability to develop extremely precise color pallets for production. Organizations with in-house color profiling capabilities can leverage that skill with this suite of ink products to deliver truly unique digital output.
A great example of a customization engine is Zazzle.com. The primary Web interface for Zazzle is an online marketplace where you can browse, buy and sell made-to-order custom products. In minutes, you can design a product (a shirt, poster, print, card and more coming soon) online in the “Create a Product” section. If you order it, they will manufacture and ship it to you in 24 hours. You can also contribute it to the public galleries, in which case you will make money every time it sells.
Zazzle handles all of its own production and uses a number of digital decorating technologies to accomplish it.
Variable Data Applications
Wasatch, a leading manufacturer of RIP software, is offering a variable data solution that integrates with their SoftRIP application. The application gives short run apparel decorators the ability to preview and check your output on screen prior to committing processing time and consumables. This is a powerful application and adds tremendous value to current and ongoing Wasatch users.
ErgoSoft, who received three awards at SGIA in 2004 for output on the Mimaki platform, is taking a slightly different approach. ErgoSoft is delivering a RIP-independent software application to manage variable data needs for almost any installed RIP application. The software will work with any font resident on the system. It will also work on virtually any platform. The application will be available in 2005 and holds great promise.
Personalization and customization are very powerful. Licensors are recognizing the ability to further enhance brand loyalty. Companies that effectively build markets and implement a competitive solution for licensors and a vast array of other target customers will be built to last.
People want customized goods today simply because it is possible. This is not a new need, rather the renaissance of the ability to satisfy a longstanding demand. Yet 2005 is a critical year for companies who want to win in this short-run and the micro-run world. People are establishing themselves as reliable brands for customized products. Delaying entry into this growth area will lessen the ability to acquire enough of it to be profitable in the years ahead. There are multiple vertical markets in need of the same solutions. So pick your targets, make your investments, find outside assistance (if needed) and run!
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