New Zealand brand AS Colour has launched in the UK, introducing a collection of retail-styled garments that are fresh, fashionable and designed for decoration

Once they print on it, they love it. It’s like printing on a fine quality piece of paper instead of a piece of cardboard,” says Lawrence Railton, founder of New Zealand brand AS Colour. It’s a bold claim, but the evidence stacks up: since launching 12 years ago, the company has supplied countless printers and retailers, opened eight retail stores in New Zealand and seven in Australia, successfully launched in the US two years ago and is now looking to break into the UK market – both wholesale and retail.

Lawrence had been working as a sales rep in the surf and skate clothing industry for 10 years when a friend said he was struggling to find a good quality, blank T-shirt for his band. Lawrence did some research, came across Alstyle Apparel in the US and became the New Zealand distributor.

“I realised that the woman’s T-shirt wasn’t very good, however, so I designed my own one, and that’s how AS Colour started,” he explains. “I made different samples and spent three months getting the shape right, getting lots of people to try it on to see how it fitted on different people. When we finally released that T-shirt it did extremely well, and everything evolved from there. We only dropped it from our line last year.”

Initially Lawrence targeted screen printers, clothing brands and the music industry. “When we started though, the industry was very price-driven. Everyone just saw the T-shirt as a commodity. The industry that I had been in was very competitive and more about branding, marketing and design, and so I applied that methodology to the way we made our T-shirts. Every product has got its own name and personality. “Also, we pay attention to things that we think our competitors don’t, which is the fit, the finish and the fabric: the three Fs. A lot of the big guys haven’t really changed their blocks in a long time. We’ve applied a more modern, more youth-orientated take onto the design, fit and look of the brand.”

The AS Colour retail stores are a big part of the brand’s point of difference

Retail stores

The range now encompasses more than 100 products across a wide range of categories. “We were originally just T-shirts and sweatshirts, but now we’ve developed jackets, pants, headwear and bags, and we’re just moving into socks and accessories as well,” says Lawrence. The approach to developing new products is simple: make clothes that the staff at AS Colour want to wear. “We’re a pretty youthful company, so when new samples come in we all try them on. Everyone gives feedback and we make slight adjustments. We spend up to five months getting the fit right. We’re not in a rush to release new products, we want to make sure we get the three Fs right. That’s what we focus on.”

The bestselling product is the Staple Tee (5001/5001B), a 180gsm combed cotton tee available in 24 colours. “I think we were the first to really hone in on the 180gsm T-shirt,” says Lawrence. “Everyone was doing 150s or 200s, but no one was doing a 180gsm combed cotton. We’ve had that tee for about ten years. It fits 80-90% of the population, whereas if you’re a big guy, a lightweight T-shirt doesn’t look very flattering, and if you’re a little guy, a big tee just looks like a baggy tent on you. This T-shirt has mass appeal, and people love printing on it.”

The company’s production is Child Labor Free-accredited, and it is currently undertaking a supply chain mapping to get that side accredited as well. Fifty percent of the company’s products are made in Bangladesh, and the other 50% in China; AS Colour has a strict code of conduct that all factories it works with must abide by, as well as undergoing regular audits.

The Staple Tee (5001) is AS Colour’s bestseller

The Mali Tee (4008) is a fashionable style with a feminine fit

Lawrence reports that the company is also looking at using more organic fabrics in its range, with seven of its bestselling products coming out in organic fabric this year. “We’ve had really good success with our current organic products, and the demand is getting higher and higher for them. In the next five or 10 years I want to convert 50- 70% of the range into organic fabrics. We see it as a good point of difference between us and other suppliers.”

Alongside the product and fabric development has been the establishment of a retail base. “The shops are a big part of our strength in that they act as a very strong marketing tool for the brand by building awareness,” he explains. The shops all sell blanks and, unlike many retail businesses at the moment, AS Colour’s bricks and mortar shops are performing very well. “I think it comes down to providing a really good product at a really good price. People want something a bit different to the mass market; we stand for something a bit more independent.”

AS Colour supplies a number of Australasian retailers with colour blanks to sell, which, along with its own retail shops, has boosted the wholesale side. “People ask printers for AS Colour because they know the brand and they want a high quality product to put their logo on.”

The aim is to open a store in London’s Shoreditch early next year, as well as another also in London. As Lawrence points out: “We’re very different from the rest of the T-shirt industry, which is predominantly just wholesale. We’re probably 25% retail, 75% wholesale. The stores are a big part of our point of difference, and are the most successful part of our business.”

Lawrence in the new warehouse in Marlow, UK

Next day delivery

Its approach seems to be working both at home and overseas, with the business doubling in size over the past two years as demand grows. AS Colour has been shipping its garments direct to Westbury-based printing giants T- Shirt and Sons for the past six months – “They really like the print face for digital printing,” comments Lawrence – and have been getting an increasing number of requests for its garments from other businesses in the UK and Europe. “It’s just not economical to ship from New Zealand so we wanted to get a footprint here so we can supply the European market,” explains Lawrence.

AS Colour will be supplying 80% of the line currently available in New Zealand and Australia direct to UK and European garment decorators from its 1,700sqm warehouse in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, from mid-June 2018, with next day delivery promised. “We’ve invested heavily in a lot of technology to run our warehouses,” he adds.

The UK market is similar to the New Zealand market, believes Lawrence, with his research suggesting that there is increasing demand for “more premium-type products”. Pricing for the products is expected to be similar to Continental, he reports, and reflects the use of “the highest quality yarn, combed cotton and a really good, tight print face”. For those UK businesses considering adding AS Colour to their product lists, Lawrence suggests trying the garments on themselves. “That generally converts most people. Once they wear it, print on it and wash it, they love it.”