Will On-Demand Manufacturing Be the New Normal Post-Pandemic for Textiles and Apparel?

On-demand manufacturers are seeing increased demand, due to the pandemic along with a shift in the industry to manufacture more efficiency with sustainability.

Author: Cary Sherburne, WhatTheyThink

How much of the post-pandemic “new normal” will involve on-demand manufacturing for textile-based products? Already we are hearing from on-demand manufacturers that their businesses are seeing increased demand, both due to the pandemic-related supply chain disruption and a general move in the industry to more efficiency, less waste, and more sustainability. In this story, we provide examples of how an on-demand manufacturer is helping both startups and brands achieve these goals.

HerExpressions features personalized products that play on words to make visual statements.

A friend of mine and two of his friends are creating a new brand focused on celebrating women and girls for who they are. The brand provides personalized products that combine wordplay and a logo to make a statement with a feminine flair.  One of the founders of Her Expressions, Darrell Morales, told me, “Our products feature powerful words combined with our logo, which is pronounced ‘Her’ including Lead(Her), Achieve(Her), Dream(Her), Heal(Her), Teach(Her) and many more. We give a minimum of 10% of our proceeds to six charities that support the advancement of equality, education, economic opportunity, and wellbeing for women and girls everywhere. People can choose one or more of these charities during checkout.

Another driver for the founding of Her Expressions, according to Morales, was to found a business in which he could work with his daughters—one an athlete and the other an activist—something that would appeal to both of them. “We had the idea of a dynamic brand built around words that communicate confidence, achievement, and independence. We call these power-words ‘Her-Words,’” he says. “The challenge was in the execution.”

Like any start-up business, Her Expressions faced a number of challenges. They needed to be able to produce high-quality products quickly and without the need to invest huge amounts in inventory; offer a wide variety of products for each Her-word; and quickly add new products as new concepts and trends arise. For example, in the image above, the Protest(Her) product line was added in response to the global protests taking place following the recent social unrest and #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Morales also cites a customer that purchased a zip-up Survive(Her) hoodie featuring the pink breast cancer ribbon as a gift to show support to a cousin recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “She says her cousinLIVESin the hoodie because it is light, comfortable, and the Survive(Her) message brings hope and strength. She also said her cousin’s surgeon commented on how empowering that message was.”

 

October 2, 2018 Donna Strickland, a Canadian professor at Waterloo HerExpressions Hero - University, became only the third woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Morales, a software executive, adds, “Her Expressions is a 21st-century digital company and a customizable brand. Every product we sell has a message that is chosen by, and personal to, the wearer. Each is manufactured to order, negating a traditional bulk manufacturing/fulfillment model. As we sought out a manufacturing and fulfillment partner, we found that there were a very limited number of manufacturers that support producing quantity-of-one orders across a wide variety of products and at the same time provide high quality white label drop shipment services. In today’s world, we also need the ability to pivot, adjust, and respond quickly to current trends.”

The Her Expressions team also needed to manage its own ecommerce storefront, integrating with several production partners over time rather than having their storefront structure tied to a single manufacturing partner. “We had decided to use Woo Commerce as the integration platform for our storefront,” Morales explains. “It is easy to use, integrates with a wide variety of other applications, and gives us the flexibility we need.”

Printful Charlotte North Carolina Manufacturing Plant.

“As our volumes grow,” he notes, “we may have to look for some other manufacturing solutions, but we like the digital printing approach both from and quality and sustainability perspective.”

Her Expressions chose Printful to be its first partner. Morales explains, “Printful’s Woo Commerce ecommerce plugin and integration APIs enable us to define, publish, and manage our product catalog with ease. Printful also has a good range of high-quality products that we are using to build our brand, and the company has several manufacturing plants in Europe and North America for redundancy and the ability to manufacture as close as possible to the point of need. And adding a new product to our catalog can be done in 10 minutes or less, giving us the ability to respond quickly to current trends.”

Printful's direct to garment printing with Kornit Digital Printers

“As our volumes grow,” he notes, “we may have to look for some other manufacturing solutions, but we like the digital printing approach both from and quality and sustainability perspective.”

Who Is Printful?

We reached out to Printful to learn a little more about the company and its offerings. Printful was launched in 2013 by Lauris Liberts, a Latvian entrepreneur who lived in Los Angeles at the time. The idea behind Printful emerged from Startup Vitamins, Lauris’ online business that sold posters and other products with inspirational quotes. As his business grew, Lauris wanted a partner that could print and ship the orders directly to his customers. But at the time, there weren’t many companies that could meet the quality and speed expectations, so Lauris realized that this could be a valuable business opportunity. And that’s how Printful started its journey. At that point, Agris Tamanis and Davis Siksnans, the current CEO of Printful, also joined. Their plan for the company was straightforward—to help anyone start their own online business by providing printing and fulfillment services. Products include clothing, accessories, and home and lifestyle items for online businesses.

Printful was voted one of the top-ten on demand drop-ship companies for 2020

According to Dairis Zarins, Director of Operations and Business Development at Printful, “What started out as a team of six people in the U.S. and Latvia that offered only three types of products—posters, canvases, and T-shirts—has now grown to more than 800 employees offering more than 230 products. We started with one fulfillment center in Los Angeles, but now we’ve spread out across six locations in Charlotte (NC), Mexico, Latvia, Spain, and very soon, Canada, as well. In less than seven years, we have printed almost 20 million products.” The company generated $116 million in revenue in 2019, a 50% year-over-year increase. Some of the newest products that have been added include blankets, stickers, jackets, vintage hats, all-over print fanny packs, hoodies, and joggers.

Zarins states that what sets Printful apart, in his opinion, is its product variety and print quality, as well as its operational flexibility. “We have invested more than $30 million in printing equipment, and every product we ship goes through a thorough three-step quality check to ensure our customers get the best quality designs. Plus, customers can sell their products on more than 20 ecommerce platforms and marketplaces. We also offer the possibility to connect an online store to Printful using our API. It’s a very useful IT solution that automates sending orders from the customer’s online store to our system. It saves a lot of time for our customers because they don’t have to manually submit each order to Printful.” The company has recently added a Kornit Avalanche Poly Pro DTG printer to its fleet of Kornit printers and also offers other services such as embroidery.

Printful Team

Zarins points out that Printful’s services are not limited to manufacturing and fulfillment, saying, “Printful doesn’t just stop at print-on-demand drop shipping. We also offer a variety of services and tools to help grow our customers’ online businesses. We provide graphic design services where our in-house designers, photographers, and videographers can make designs and videos for our customers, adjust design files, and so much more. We regularly publish blogs, webinars, and other marketing content with tips on increasing sales. Our built-in design tool, the Mockup Generator, is popular among our customers because they can create product designs, print files, and mockups for their storefront in one go. The Mockup Generator is perfect for beginners as well because it features a large collection of sample graphics, texts, fonts, emojis, illustrations, clipart, and symbols that our customers can use to create designs.”

Zarins states that what sets Printful apart, in his opinion, is its product variety and print quality, as well as its operational flexibility. “We have invested more than $30 million in printing equipment, and every product we ship goes through a thorough three-step quality check to ensure our customers get the best quality designs. Plus, customers can sell their products on more than 20 ecommerce platforms and marketplaces. We also offer the possibility to connect an online store to Printful using our API. It’s a very useful IT solution that automates sending orders from the customer’s online store to our system. It saves a lot of time for our customers because they don’t have to manually submit each order to Printful.” The company has recently added a Kornit Avalanche Poly Pro DTG printer to its fleet of Kornit printers and also offers other services such as embroidery.

Looking Ahead

Manufacturing on demand and eCommerce in the textiles and apparel industry are increasingly looking like key elements of the industry’s successful future, including the ability to re-shore some level of manufacturing to reduce waste, improve cycle time, and create a more sustainable business. Clearly, the pandemic has laid bare the fragility of the global supply chain as it exists today. Not only does the model described here address those issues, but it also is an important enabler for people like Darrell Morales and the Her Expressions team to bring their ideas to fruition without needing to make a huge infrastructure investment. Advances in both the software required to efficiently manage an on-demand, often quantity-of-one environment, as well as advances in digital printing and inks for on-demand printing of textiles, are making this opportunity a reality and allowing folks like the founders of Her Expressions to follow their dreams, while giving brands and retailers a way to capitalize on the demand for more customized products manufactured using a re-imagined supply chain in a cost-efficient and sustainable manner.

But it should also be noted that an on-demand business model is not immune to stresses during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. In speaking with Printful customers and reviewing the company’s website, it is clear that the company has experienced a large increase in demand as more consumers turn to eCommerce during the pandemic, as well as some reduction in capacity as it deals with issues around keeping employees safe. That has caused longer lead times and the temporary disabling of options for customers to add new products to their stores. This does not affect products that are already live on a brand’s store. The company reports that it is now beginning to ramp back up in order to be able to reestablish these services and reduce lead times once again.

Editor’s Note: Printful declined to be interviewed but provided input via answers to email questions. Responses are lightly edited for better flow.

This article originally appeared on WhatTheyThink.com. WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry’s leading source for unbiased market intelligence. Copyright © 2020 WhatTheyThink. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more like this, please consider becoming a member by visiting: whattheythink.com/join/

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