Hard to put your dreams into reality - who knew?
Posted on September 14 2017
Okay, so the title is full of sarcasm, but quite honestly I didn't think that it was going to be as difficult as it was to put ideas into reality.
The initial concept was to put cool tattoo style prints onto athletic clothing - something that would wrap around the side (from front to back) or a style that would be on the top shoulder by the seam and then repeat on the bottom opposite hip by the seam. The troublesome word in that concept turned out to be seam.
The first stop was the Magic show in Las Vegas. A whole tradeshow of clothing manufacturers, designers, and resellers. The first day was only open to people sourcing manufacturers - just like me! I met many people who didn't speak English, many people who said their minimum was 1000 pieces, and the rest didn't even want to give me or my homemade business cards a second look (to my dismay that was mostly the US manufacturers). Finally I met a company from Portugal. They seemed perfect! They were polite, appreciated all my questions and said they could do what I wanted in a design (I had photoshop mock ups in my phone). They were a seamless company. I thought that was great - at that time I thought seamless was what all those high end athletic clothing companies used. I kept all the business cards that I had collected throughout the day as a back up, but at that point I thought I had found the company I wanted to do business with - they even had tops made from recycled plastics that were so soft!
I came back and emailed them the designs so they could make up samples. 2 months later the samples showed up at my doorstep - it was like Christmas. Well, if anyone has ever bought a seamless garment you'll know what I'm talking about. It looks wonderful on you....if you're a size 2 or less. Turns out another word for seamless is "stretchy tube". Sadly it's not even the type of stretchy fabric that will suck in any imperfections (ie rolls) that you might have - nope...not in the least. I think only my 13 year old niece who weighs 90 pounds wet could pull off these clothes. I did email them to see if it could be done in a different type of fabric and she said she would get back to me, but she never did. I think it was for the best - I really just wanted to give them some business because they actually did these samples for free which is pretty unheard of - normally samples run $100-$200 each and she did 6 of them for me. I believe I just became a little too high maintenance for them (there must have been over 40 emails back and forth full of questions).
As I started reaching out to other companies I found that you can't go across the side seam like I wanted. They all told me that wouldn't work and I should try a seamless company. Umm, no, I didn't want to try another seamless company. I found one company in California that assured me they could do exactly what I wanted and it would cost about $30 per shirt. Well, that doesn't give me much profit, but I was willing to give it a try. They mailed me samples of their products and boy, they were not good. You know what puffy paint is? Yep, that's how they get the designs to go across the seams. I don't think they literally use puffy paint, but it did have that raised feel to it. I mailed their samples back to them, thanked them for their time, and was back to square one.
I continued to research tattoo artists and I purchased more designs so I was ready when I found the perfect manufacturer - I wasn't ready to give up yet. In doing more research on fabrics I also learned that it was flat seams - not seamless - that I was looking for.
Screen printing...maybe that's what I had to do. I really didn't want to do screen printing. To me, screen printing was what they used on those concert T-shirts in the 1970's that cracked after you washed them a few times. I called a local screen printer and asked if I could come down and ask some questions. I brought along some of my favorite Hawaiian shirts and some of my favorite athletic tops with me and wrote down all the questions I wanted to ask (like how do you combine these 2 things). I learned a lot from them and will be forever grateful to Orchard Street Press. Turns out screen printing has come a long way in the last 40 years - who knew? She did say seams were tough because the ink would tend pool in the seams but they could try to do a side seam. They couldn't do close to the top and bottom seam, though because of the way the screen has to lay. She taught me a lot about the different fabrics and how they would work with different techniques. I was so impressed with her knowledge that I ended up using them for the T-shirts, men's collection, and some of the tanks and racerback tanks that are on the site and I have to say they did a wonderful job - no pooling along the seam at all. They use a special technique that works well with stretchy fabric and I was really happy with the results. I just hired them to do a few more designs that should be ready in a couple of weeks.
Since I didn't really want to be a T-shirt company I had to keep looking for suppliers of yoga tops. My initial designs were all strappy yoga tops with built in bras - the type of top I like to wear when I work out (even at home). The woman at Orchard Street Press said that what I probably was looking for was sublimation printing and that they didn't do that type of printing. She could work on clothing with some spandex in it, but nothing with nylon (that magical fabric that sucks in all your rolls) because nylon might melt when it goes through the dryer. So, I finally had a good start, but still had to find a main supplier.
My quest for sublimation printing is coming up next...