Mr Snappy’s has come up with a profitable twist on the print-while-you-wait shops that are mushrooming across the UK, offering customers bang on-trend snapbacks personalised with 3D embroidery in the time it takes to catch a Pokémon

London’s Camden Market is known around the world and is London’s fourth most popular tourist attraction, attracting up to 100,000 people each weekend. The market is, in fact a series of street and indoor markets, comprising a warren of shops and outdoor stalls packed with clothes, food from every country, tourist tat and covetable accessories. It’s a good place to get lost in, and it took Images 20 minutes and the advice of five different stall holders to track down the Mr Snappy’s shop tucked away on the basement floor of the impressive Stables Market.

At first glance Mr Snappy’s looks like any other shop selling snapbacks. And then you notice the two Barudan embroidery single-head machines humming away. Unlike the other shops and stalls selling headwear in Camden Market, Mr Snappy’s is set up to allow customers to come in, choose a hat from the extensive collection on display, select a font from the shop’s font book and then have it embroidered while they wait. Normal embroidery takes around 15 minutes; 3D takes nearer 25 minutes. It’s a clever concept and, given the number of people coming in and out of the shop (some to buy, some just to gawp at the machines working away) and phoning up throughout our interview, it’s clearly a popular one.

One of the Barudan single-heads in action

“There isn’t a store like us in the UK”

The business’s owner, Simon Parchment, who has been customising garments and caps for more than 15 years, started off doing vinyl work on garments, landing a big job for JP Morgan in the year 2000. The profit from this allowed him to set up an office in Deptford, London, next door to urban magazine RWD. He customised a cap for the boyfriend of one of the journalists there, who was so impressed she introduced him to New Era, the international headwear company. Simon subsequently did two big events for New Era as well as creating five caps for actor Will Smith.

By now he was also customising garments for up and coming rap artists, collaborating in a fashion show in London as well as going to Jamaica to work on Caribbean Fashion Week. The owner of a boutique in the upmarket shopping area of Kings Road, London, then approached Simon about selling his customised products in his shop. Simon, however, had a better plan: “I said it would be good to have a set-up in his shop where people can come and get items done on the spot or come back later to pick them up.” The owner agreed, and Simon worked there for a couple of years before moving on to a boutique in the even more upmarket shopping area of New Bond Street, customising everything from trainers to jeans, and meeting many A-list celebs.

As he continued in his quest to expand his knowledge of design, Simon spent time at the record label EMI creating T-shirts for the likes of Queen and Pasha Nightclub and building up his graphic design skills. These skills allowed him to start working with a Turkish wholesaler, designing decorated T-shirts and other garments to sell in London. They already had a couple of clients in Camden when they decided to open their own T-shirt shop in the Stables Market.

Some of the celebs for whom Simon has made caps

A change of tack

The shop, which is in Simon’s name, was opened nearly four years ago, but after a few months it was clear there was an issue. “We could just about pay the rent and the staff but that was it, so I said I’d come in,” says Simon. “It would save a bit of money and I’d be able to see if I could get it working.” After two months he decided a change of tack was needed. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to change my strategy. I need to do what I’m good at, which is customising, but just pick one product.’ Before, I used to do jeans, trainers, jackets, hats, everything, but I didn’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none, so I thought I’d pick one product and put all my creative energy into it.”

He decided on hats: “Hats are very versatile, you can wear them any time, and the area of decoration is very small, which means less materials, which means speed, which means I can bang out more products. It was a no brainer. Snapbacks were coming out as well, and that was it really.” Customers can choose from snapbacks, beanies, fitted caps and baseball caps, but snapbacks are the stars of the show.

The name Mr Snappy’s comes from, unsurprisingly, snapbacks, and the company’s logo, which can be seen on its boxes, is ‘Make it Snappy’. Like everything else in Simon’s business, the name and logo have been carefully thought out and for good reason: since changing the business’s focus three years ago, the company has gone from strength to strength. As expected from its location and from Simon’s background, the shop has a big retail focus. “There isn’t a store like us in the UK,” he says. “There are a couple of stores you can go into and get your cap done, but the difference between us and them is we’re more fashion-focused. We don’t promote ourselves as a promotional company.” Despite this, he still counts a number of businesses among his customers, as well as retail customers and independent fashion brands, although his long term aim is to be working solely on the fashion side. He already offers a manufacturing service with runs starting from just 50 pieces, and eventually hopes to sell only his own caps in the shop.

Currently, Yupoong is the main headwear brand he sells – “They are the best blank caps you can buy on the market at the moment” – with 3D embroidery being the most popular decoration.

3D embroidery is the most popular type of decoration amongst Mr Snappy’s customers

While he does do some digitising himself, generally he uses two other companies so as to speed up the process. The font book that he has created allows for a speedy turnaround, with flags, symbols and ‘flat’ fonts for customers to pick from, as well as four 3D embroidery-ready fonts. He has regular customers from across the world, especially the Middle East. “Our Qatar customers all want Arabic in 3D on the front with Qatari flag on the side.”

The two single-head machines he has are Barudan. “I wanted to find out who was the best and when it came to caps I was more pushed towards Barudan than Tajima. It’s got a special arm for caps and I knew that
companies like New Era use Barudan. I got some samples and I looked at all the reviews and I didn’t see any negative responses.”

One of his heat presses is from TheMagicTouch with the other from China, which he uses for brim printing. Brim printing is not something many people are familiar with, he says, “but when they see it they want
it. We’re all about using new techniques to make ourselves stand out from the rest.”

Simon is clearly ambitious: “Our future goal is to have every hat we sell our own hat, a Mr Snappy’s hat. That will give the business more uniqueness, having products you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Ultimately, we want to have a Mr Snappy’s store in every major city around the world.”