Images talks to Victoria Wedd of relabeling specialists Rowheath about the growing trend for tear-away labels and how clever thinking can lift a hitherto functional item to an added-value design feature
The explosion of micro fashion brands in recent years has changed the way that the humble garment neck label is viewed and used. It has also coincided with – if not prompted – the advent of cut-away, tear-away and even no brand-tag labelling on imprintable garments and accessories, from tees to caps and jackets. Indeed, when Images visits print and embroidery shops an increasingly common request from decorators is for more companies to offer tear-aways on their stock styles.
The appeal of these simple-to-remove labels is obvious: whereas traditional sewn-in labels require the unpicking of the neck tape and remaking of the seam, with a tear-away a slight tug is all that’s required to remove the garment supplier’s label and branding, leaving a blank canvas that is ready to be turned into a bespoke item complete with its own-branded labelling. It’s quick, there’s no extra expense and no requirement for a specialist in-house or outsourced relabeling service.
This doesn’t mean, however, that relabellers are going out of business – far from it. For a start, there can be a lack of consistency across garment companies’ product offerings: some may offer tear-away labels on certain styles, but still have older stock in circulation with non tear-away labels that need unpicking. Victoria Wedd, production manager at Rowheath, which offers relabelling services along with embroidery and printing, reports that even on garments with tear-aways, some customers still prefer to take the traditional relabeling route. “Tear-away is fine if you’re then putting your new label on top of the stitching, but a lot of customers, if they want the nicest quality insertion and it’s physically possible, still want you to unpick the neck tape and slide their label up under it and remake the seam so it looks like their label was put in as part of the original production.”
According to Victoria, a lot of people are moving away from stitching a new label into the neck tape altogether, and instead are going with a printed transfer or printed size label on the inside of the back of the garment. “Quite often, what we’re doing for people is removing an existing cloth label and size tag, remaking the seam and then applying either a heat transfer or screen print into the back of the T-shirt, because then there’s no scratchy label to rub against your neck.
“Also, people are going for more interesting labels; a lot of people go for four-sided, locker patch-type labels rather than satin. There is quite a lot of thought that goes into the design of labels from certain quarters.”
While all garments can have labels added, there are some types of label that don’t lend themselves to certain fabric types. “The heavier duty, locker patch-type label where it’s stitched round all four sides – obviously if that’s stitched on the inside of the garment, there will be four lines of stitching on the outside of the garment as the back of the stitching comes through. It’s not really suitable, in my view, for very lightweight T-shirts, but do it on a sweatshirt and it almost disappears because of the weight of the garment.” Victoria also points to the creative positioning of labels and reports that on lightweight T-shirts, in particular, applying the label to the cuff or hem is a trend that is becoming ever more popular.
There is, she explains, a split between people who want their label in a garment simply as a way of identifying the brand, and those at the upper end of the market who want a label to be as much a part of the garment and its design as any other element. “I really enjoy seeing the more imaginative use of labels. It’s another little detail that can be given some thought and I personally, as a designer, like seeing that somebody has put some thought into something.
“One of our clients, for example, has a label that can be used one way up on one side, and one way up on the other side. So it will work one way round on the cuff of a sleeve, but the other way up on the top of a tote bag. If you had something that was printed only one way, you’d have to have two runs of labels made. I really appreciate when I see somebody that has really put a lot of thought and effort not only into the aesthetics of it, but also the practicality.”
Nevertheless, such creative labelling is still limited to a relatively few customers – the majority of the jobs still involve a standard label with “Joe Bloggs Clothing, Size Medium, Don’t Boil,” Victoria says.
Customers local to Rowheath in Twickenham, London, will sometimes come in with the first few pieces to see how the labels look when they are in place, as it can be difficult for people to visualise the difference between sewing them on top of the neck tape and inserting the labels into the neck tape. For those unable to come in, Rowheath will take pictures of each version and send them to customers to see which they prefer.
The size of runs for relabelling can be from small, 15-piece runs for someone just starting out to 1,500-2,000 pieces. The turnaround Rowheath offers is generally 7 to 10 days, although there is flexibility. “It may well be that they sent in 1,500 pieces and of those only 500 are urgent, or even only 60, and they need those for a show that weekend and the rest are just going to sit on a shelf until the online orders kick off,” explains Victoria. “We have everything from clients that say, ‘I’m going to drop off 20 boxes to you, any time next month is fine’, through to people that pretty much run through the door saying ‘I’m on a flight to Hong Kong at 3.45 this afternoon, what can you do?!’”
Luke Hodson, co-founder of Awesome Merchandise in Leeds, reports that his company is removing on average around 1,000 labels each week. “I’d say that is up around 35% on last year,” he says. “I am expecting this to increase this year as we expand it from T-shirts into hoodies and sweatshirts.”
He has noticed more brands offering tear-away labels, commenting: “It is great to see the main brands like Gildan, Bella+Canvas and AWDis move towards this, amongst others. It doesn’t stop us offering a brand, but we would certainly favour a tear-away garment over a woven label. It’s a neater end result, minimises risk to the garment and is operationally a lot quicker and easier.”
To those brands that don’t offer tear-away labels, he’d encourage them to consider it. “We’ve done product comparisons with some customers and the garment choice has come down to how neat we can get the removal and relabel. This is likely to go in one direction as more and more end customers request it.”
The T-shirt brand
According to Jeffrey Cooper, VP of marketing at Anvil, tear-away labels are becoming more important in the printwear channels as retailers like the flexibility of relabelling product with their own brand name. “The trend initially was more so requested in fashion product, but we’ve seen the demand grow in the basic and performance categories.” All of Anvil’s garments apart from the polos and French terry/fleece garments feature tear-away labels.
Tear-away labels can be more expensive, although only minimally, says Jeffrey, and Anvil never passes the cost on to the decorator. While it might seem sensible to use tear-away labels on all garments just in case the customer wants them removed, there is still a need for non-tear-aways, comments Jeffrey. “Non-tear-away labels are usually satin, woven or double satin, and they tend to maintain a nicer appearance after the garment has been decorated and put through the heat of a screen-print oven. The label usually doesn’t curl or flip up. There is still a market that doesn’t want to relabel, and in that case, satin or woven labels are recommended as they are designed to last and keep a good appearance after the printing and washing processes.”
The jackets brand
At the end of last year, Result Clothing launched its ‘Ready to Brand’ brochure. All the garments in this brochure are ideal for neutral or self-branding as they either have removable labelling or are tag-free.
David Sanders-Smith, managing director at Result, says the team has been aware of the need for tear-away labels since early in 2015: “Being a highly responsive brand, we made running changes to all our brand labelling throughout 2015 to cut- or tear-away labelling on all current styles. All new garments for 2016/17, with the exception of EN20471: 2013 certifications, are completely brand tag-free. Our new products now feature either tear-away, cut-away or brand-free labelling.
“Response has been very positive as it opens up many more avenues of sales interest for decorators and e-sellers alike.”