It’s that time of year again where Marshall Atkinson gazes into his crystal ball and shares with us what’s going to happen over the next 12 months in the world of garment decoration

Well, 2018 is over; on to the new year! And now comes the fun part, predicting what might happen in the industry over the next 12 months. What trends are emerging? Will any products or ideas take over? And, for the cynical amongst you, what might it mean for your bottom line? Here’s how I see it panning out, in no particular order…

Plenty of business out there

First, and probably the most important, is the fact that there is plenty of work available. Business is booming, and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon, even with the uncertainty over Brexit. Just about every shop that I’ve spoken to in the last few months is reporting at least double-digit growth for 2018. Everyone is anticipating a strong market for 2019, and is making plans to capitalise on that strength. For most, their biggest challenge seems to be finding employees to help expand their business.

Experiential customer focus

For shops that are still hung up on simply selling the price of ‘ink on cotton’, there is a wave of entrepreneurs who are keen on creating better experiences for their customers and turning them into fans. This, of course, creates a huge swell of momentum. The paradigm-shifting trend is to position the company or product as part of a bigger holistic picture. A customer community is created. People want to get involved. They want to belong to a tribe. A team. Something with a culture. More merchandise can then be offered to the community or during a created event. It’s the experience that drives more sales. The more unique and fun the experience, the better sales can become.

Stahls‘ and YR Store have collaborated to create an onsite fulfilment centre

To me, proof of this idea is the recent collaboration between Stahls’ and Tim Williams with YR Store to create an enhanced onsite fulfilment centre. This approach makes it easier for companies to sell personalised or customisable merchandise by modernising the experience with interactive kiosks. The kiosks are similar to large tablets or cell phone interfaces, where the user swipes or clicks through choices to customise their apparel purchase.

Buyers can click, swipe and choose garments and mix and match designs, patterns and other choices to instantly create their own concept for on-the-spot production. Using heat transfers, heat-applied cut vinyl, direct-to-garment printing or even dye sublimation, the customer’s design can then be applied to a garment. Their choice queues up the production, and when ready the shop can text message them for pick up. It’s a fully customisable experience that will excite and drive more business for the shop. Tim has done an amazing job with YR Stores, which he co- founded, with pop-up retail stores in major worldwide markets for years. 

It’s telling that YR stores have partnered and launched that concept for other shops to capitalise on too. I can imagine plenty of possibilities and uses for this technology and see it dominating in any market where it is utilised, especially in high traffic areas like a shopping mall, sporting event, concert or anywhere where people want to create a memory and capture it on a shirt. Shoppers come away with something unique to them, not unique to the destination.

Data is still king

Run any social media ads lately? Chances are you watch your response rate to a post as closely as you watch the returns on your stock investments or your favourite sports team’s statistics. We all compete with the noise online. How many ads do you think the average person is exposed to daily? Thousands, probably. Yet, there you go again buying another round of Facebook ads because the software company told you too. It’s as addictive as buying a lottery ticket.

It has become so complicated to understand what works and what doesn’t. Where should you spend your marketing budget? The only way you are going to know is by digging into your own stats. Here’s a future trend: it’s not going to get any easier. So, be sure you have your Google analytics set up correctly and your Facebook pixels on the payroll, so to speak. The canary in the coal mine is the data, but most shops don’t do a good enough job hooking up their online presence or finding ways to interpret the data. I don’t see this trend changing any time soon.

The new Authentic Tee Pure Organic from Russell

Sustainability is on the rise

I predict you are going to see a bigger wave of sustainable products or ideas this year. People are on board with linking what’s good for the planet with what might be good for business too.

The decorated apparel industry is no exception. Garments will continue to have more organic, recycled or repurposed content.

Proof of this is how Adidas is continuing to sell shoes made from recycled ocean plastic. With over a million shoes constructed with this material source, it’s setting trends for other companies to follow. 

Shirt companies are adding more sustainable fabric content to their blends. (Tri-blends are here to stay it would seem.) Personally, I’d like to see them start using hemp. Ink and chemical companies will continue to push out better products that have fewer ingredients that are harmful to the environment or us.

More universal equipment add-ons or products

When equipment manufacturers consider designing and marketing a new product, there are some ideas that are othe table. Their goal, after all, is to release a product that will sell to the most people in their market. Will it have everything upon launch? Of course not, but that’s okay as we have other smart people in the industry designing and marketing products that you can use to retrofit your own equipment.

A case in point from the SGIA Expo showfloor is Lawson’s Lock-N-Go registration system, which won the Screen Printing – Pre-Press (Exposure/Imaging) category in the SGIA Product of the Year Awards for 2018. What makes this system great is that it is compatible with all major automatic screen printing press systems. This air-driven system allows for the simultaneous registration of multiple screens. The Lock-N-Go system mounts on each print head and will allow you to register any multi-colour screen printing job in about a minute.

The Lawson Lock-N-Go system allows for the simultaneous registration of multiple screens

Here’s how it works: with the Lock-N- Go system mounted on the print heads, the operator slides in the screens for each colour. Once the ‘activate‘ button is pushed, the Lock-N-Go system registers each screen to the same ‘X,Y‘ location on press instantly. Voila! Your job is now registered. All that’s left to do is run the production. It’s just as effective during the middle of a run too. Let’s say that something happened and a screen popped and you had to replace it. When the new screen is ready, put it in. Click the button and the air-driven clamps re-activate and the screen is locked back down with the image registered. Action Engineering does a good job of this too, as its entire business is built around creating better working after-market items for a host of manufacturers‘ products. I believe that more companies will get into a business catering to the needs of these young entrepreneurs.

Creation of mastermind or buying groups

These are not new concepts, but they might be new to this industry. How a mastermind group works is that a small slice of the industry gets together for informal, and often fairly wild, discussions. They lean on each other to help solve their problems or provide answers when something pops up that needs resolution. Think of it as a mentoring programme. The decorated apparel industry is moving and shifting at such a rapid pace that it is extremely difficult for one person to keep up significantly. Mastermind groups help spread out that problem in a group discussion and get it handled quickly. Deep down inside, I believe that most people want to belong to something. Collaboration helps people achieve more. Mastermind groups help the industry by bringing people in and sharing working ideas. Check your social media groups to find one that interests you.

Digital printing continues to grow

How can it not? Order quantities and turn times are shrinking in a lot of areas in the industry. Why print 500 shirts of a design for a warehouse when you can print each order on demand? That blank garment stock could be kept and spread out amongst hundreds of designs online. Not to mention that the equipment is continually evolving too. I’ve seen DTG printers that have speeds of over 400 pieces per hour myself. Think of the possibilities for your shop if you could have the speed of an auto, but without messing around with the screen side of things! I think proof of this concept is simply by looking at the vast number of digital print solutions that are being offered and supported in the industry.

Lastly, let’s talk people

They are your biggest asset. And liability. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a big wave these days with training workshops, webinars, seminars, ebooks and, of course, trade shows. Want to get on board with a trend that will make an enormous impact on your shop? Invest in your people. Send them to a class. Have them take a webinar or seminar. Bring in an expert from your supply chain to address your staff on a topic. Finding skilled and trained employees will still be difficult this year, so acquiring resources and tools for training people with raw talents will continue.

Good in 2019!

For shops that I’m speaking with on a regular basis, everyone is excited about this year and has set some good goals to attain. Vendors and the supply chain feel the same way. Here’s to you, my friend! Have a safe and very prosperous new year!

Marshall Atkinson is a leading production and efficiency expert for the decorated apparel industry, and the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC. Marshall focuses on operational efficiency, continuous improvement and workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management and sustainability. He is a frequent trade show speaker, article and blog author, and is the host of InkSoft’s The Big Idea podcast.