Images talks to six decorators about their hopes and expectations for the coming year

It‘s inevitable when talking to anyone in business at the moment that the conversation will eventually come round to Brexit, so it‘s little surprise that the uncertainty over the UK‘s future role in the EU dominated people‘s outlook and predictions for 2019. Other hot topics were the rise in demand for sustainable goods and improvements in the DTG sector. The best wish for 2019, however, has to be from Kerri Jamieson of Warrah Workshop in the Falkland Islands: “Better roads. Any road.”

Shabbir Maimoon, director of Snuggle
Kerry Flanagan, co-founder of Tshirtify
Zsolt Petrik, managing director at Fifth Column
Simon Banister, owner of Then Print
Rod Sessions, sales manager at Hampshire Flags
Kerri Jamieson, owner of Warrah Workshop

Increasing prices and growth

Brexit looms large in Shabbir Maimoon‘s thoughts for 2019. A director at Peterborough-based Snuggle, which bought two Kornit Avalanche HD6 DTG printers in 2018, he believes Brexit will bring a multitude of advantages and disadvantages to the industry. “Many print shops, warehouses and fulfilment partners, including ourselves, have great teams of people who work for and with us, and a large majority of them are from Europe,” he says. “Since the announcement of Brexit, that workpool for the time being has narrowed down quite significantly, which makes it tough for companies at least in the interim to find the additional resources they need.”

It‘s a difficult period, he reports, with the volatility in the currency markets having an impact on the sector. “Prices have slowly and surely been creeping up and in an industry where everyone wants things ever cheaper, it‘s a difficult cost to account for. Eventually it will lead to price increases in the industry as a whole as companies struggle under the weight of the increased cost of supplies as well as ever increasing employee wages.”

Despite concerns over what the final deal will look like and what effect it will have, he is still upbeat. “There are also many opportunities for growth, expansion and increased revenues. Our substantial use of DTG enables us to weather these changes easily, to adapt and be flexible to market needs and changes, and also to be quick to respond to market seasonality and trends.” He reveals that Snuggle has a new location on the horizon, as well as additional investment in equipment planned for 2019, and hopes for “another exciting year of growth, not only for all of us here at Snuggle, but also hopefully for you all.”

Fast fashion and traceability

Kerry Flanagan, co-founder of Tshirtify, reports that the company has had a big focus on waste reduction and efficiency in production over the past 12 months, which she says has resulted “in full predictability of print runs – especially for peak season”. She adds: “Armed with this knowledge, we should be able to start 2019 with better efficiency of ink, better quality prints and be able to really test DTG to the limit!”

According to Kerry, the threat of Brexit and an unstable economy has led the team to expect the creation of even more start-ups in 2019. “Print-on-demand will play a big part in this as the viable option for those wanting to keep in control of their brand and costs,” she notes. With personalisation in print now quicker and easier than ever, and with clients being “so exposed“ to their customers, she reveals that Tshirtify will be introducing more customised elements to their prints. She also reports clients and customers are already asking more questions about traceability of products, a trend that she expects to grow in 2019.

“With blockchain – which is essentially a digital ledger that documents the supply chain of everything – looming, there will be even more of a demand for fully traceable and ethical products,” she says. “There’s an expectation from the consumer to know exactly where garments come from and blockchain gives full transparency of the supply chain at every step of the way: from where cotton is grown, to who picks it, how it gets transported and who manufactures it into clothing.”

People opting for ethically sourced, organic cotton garments is Zsolt Petrik‘s wish for 2019. Zsolt, who is managing director at Fifth Column, says, “Fast fashion is all over the media nowadays. More people realise what the real cost of a cheap T-shirt is when it comes to using cheaper materials, forced and/or underpaid labour and non-sustainable processes.” Choosing more ethical, sustainable garments would, he believes, “be beneficial for all of us living on this planet”.

2019 will be a challenging year, he says, mainly because of Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding it. “What will the future relationship between the UK and the EU look like? The UK‘s access to the single market and free movement of labour are key parts. If the pound sterling drops (further), businesses will struggle because of higher costs of garments, inks, machinery etc. Small businesses are likely to be hit the hardest.”

Despite not knowing what Brexit will bring, he is looking forward to industry developments in 2019. “I believe DTG technology will improve further in speed, more economical ink and pre-treatment usage, and lower maintenance costs and downtimes. Hybrid machines [where DTG is added onto screen printing machines] may become more popular, which would make this method more competitive on larger runs too.”

Cautiously optimistic

“Dealing in retail merchandise means that next year will be a very tough year because of the uncertainty of Brexit,” says Simon Banister, owner of Then Print. “Just-in-time delivery is going to be more crucial and the ability to adapt to an ever-changing scenario will be critical in meeting customer requirements. However, I see this as a great opportunity for small and medium businesses who have the ability to adapt more quickly than a larger outfit.”

He reports that transfer papers such as T.One and RST have led to more high- end products becoming available at price points more attractive to retailers, and believes this will continue to grow throughout 2019. “On the whole I am positive about 2019, tinged with a wee bit of caution and will tread carefully in the first quarter of the year,” he comments.

Rod Sessions, sales manager at Hampshire Flags, also has a positive outlook that is tempered by the political situation. “The coming year brings lots of hope and promise for us, tinged with a little uncertainty around Brexit and the economy,” he says. “We are focusing on what we can affect ourselves in the short to medium term, and hoping that the government can sort a suitable Brexit compromise.” The company is planning to launch several new product ranges in 2019.

Expansion hopes

The last decorator, Kerri Jamieson from Warrah Workshop in South Harbour in the Falkland Islands, is understandably the only one who doesn‘t mention Brexit. Based in an incredibly remote spot with no roads or services, her needs and hopes are always going to be a little different to those of decorators based in the UK.

“Our wishes are basic,” she confirms. Top of her wish list would be an all singing, all dancing, robust, low power, small footprint, minimal chemical, no-weeding colour print system, but until someone designs that, she would like a bigger workshop and stockroom with more Barudan embroidery machines – she won‘t consider another manufacturer, she says. “We‘re running at over 120% of maximum capacity at the moment and desperately need more space. In the rest of the world this would seem a relatively simple thing; here it involves months of planning and complicated logistics, physical hard work (you can’t just call a builder), neighbours with diggers, a hundred setbacks and a long, slow supply chain.”

She‘d also like a job management system that is suitable for a small business that runs without the internet, as their internet is too unreliable and expensive to run online applications. Compostable embroidery backing and more solar panels also make the list, as does a trip to the UK to visit suppliers. A single half hour chat with Wilcom reseller and trainer Dean Roscoe opened up opportunities that Kerri had no idea existed, making her wonder what else is out there that she has yet to discover. Her final, and most important, entry on her wish list is “happy customers”.

Like Kerry of Tshirtify and Fifth Column‘s Zsolt, her prediction for the future, if not 2019, is about sustainability and the environment. “My feeling is we are going to see a response to the micro- plastic crisis in the form of customers demanding natural fibres or at least more eco-friendly man-made fibres.” As for what she expects over the next 12 months, her answer is simple. “The sun always shines on South Harbour, everything else is subject to change.”