“Season’s GREENings”: On-Demand Apparel Production Means Efficiency, Sustainability, and Growth During Your Busiest Season

All images courtesy of Kornit Digital

By Don Whaley

The “Busy Season.”

No matter what you’re producing, or for whom, that phrase likely conjures up a specific time of year in your mind. Producing licensed gear for schools means the “busy season” could be late summer — stocking shelves and fulfilling rush orders to coincide with the beginning of a new year. If most business comes from outdoor sports or concert festivals, early spring might be the “busy season.”

For a great many businesses, however — perhaps most commonly of all — the “busy season” comes between Halloween and Christmas. The holiday rush. Black Friday. The gift-giving peak. Your last chance to make a prosperous year even more profitable, or to at least break even when times are tougher.

Unfortunately, more traditional fashion, apparel and textile production/fulfillment mechanisms are limited in terms of efficiency. If your operational strategy isn’t built with peak periods in mind, you may be frantically working overtime at the last minute to meet demand — a predictable yet hellish “crunch time” leaving you especially vulnerable should something go wrong such as technology malfunctions, supply chain disruptions, natural disasters, or other unforeseen possibilities. If the operational strategy is geared towards meeting demands of a peak period, production may take place months and months ahead of time in anticipation of demand that may never come to fruition or might be delayed by significant periods of downtime — or both.

Answering the unique market dynamics of the “busy season” is a key virtue of sustainable, on-demand digital production. What’s going to be the popular item when the holidays come? How many garments will we need to produce?

With versatile, single-step digital textile print capabilities, the need to forecast such critical figures disappears.

What sells today, we make today. If something different sells tomorrow, we’ll make that tomorrow. And if there’s an opportunity to fulfill new demand throughout the next year — a virtual certainty in the age of social media monetization, micro moments, the proliferation of online design tools, the explosion of apps giving creators outlets for monetizing inspirations and building personal brands, NFTs, the Metaverse — agile digital production capabilities empower producers to meet those opportunities and grow, regardless of broader economic conditions. What sells on any given day, we make that day.

Take Trevco — an on-demand fulfiller of custom and licensed apparel with production facilities in Michigan and Utah. While it uses multiple production mechanisms to answer demand for various products in a timely manner, single-step, pigment-based digital Direct-to-Garment (DTG) production means meeting the heaviest seasonal volumes while supporting a consistent growth trajectory.

Describing these systems as a “game-changer” for on-demand fulfillment, vice president of Operations James Drake notes quick, digital production means “we don’t have to worry about pre-buying shirts and then pre-printing them to sell. We can grab a blank, print it after the order’s placed, and then ship it. The labor savings that you get and the savings in speed of production, because you don’t have to worry about pretreating, because you can print on demand, as long as you feel that you can capitalize on those savings, labor, being able to print on demand — getting shirts out your door faster; you know, a lot of times we work off of a one-day turnaround and a two-day turnaround — and being able to do that really saves a good amount of money.”

At minimum, the benefits of on-demand production are twofold. While ending the need for forecast-based production models reduces overstock and optimizes profit margins, the model also supplies an environmental benefit. By producing only what’s sold, you’re creating less landfill and using less energy. You’re producing less greenhouse gas emissions — all while offering consumers and brands more graphic and color possibilities, spanning a broader range of fabrics and applications, faster than ever before, without compromising quality or durability.

We believe the perfection of sustainable, on-demand digital textile production capabilities are the key to making apparel production less wasteful, more eco-friendly, and more responsive to the needs of a wildly creative and increasingly web-centric global marketplace.

As expressed in our 2021 Impact Report for Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance, the ultimate goal is “to boldly transform the world of fashion and textiles for a better, more sustainable planet.” While this may sound lofty in the context of answering challenges of a busy holiday season, we believe digital on-demand production has matured to the point of empowering producers to meet any operational challenge — including seasonal ebb and flow, unforeseen disruptions (as experienced during COVID-19), the sudden popularity of new product applications, and localizing production to eliminate logistical complications and time to market. Producers who’ve shifted operations to on-demand digital production increasingly view sustainability as a core component of a growth strategy, rather than a compromise than must be accounted for.

“I think all companies should be doing absolutely everything they can do within their power to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as they possibly can,” says Axel Jones, director of Welsh apparel fulfiller My Needs Are Simple. While the business prioritizes responsible production practices in their technology investments, he noted the Kornit on-demand solution was “really head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to cost per print. It really is, you know, the most cost-effective direct-to-garment machine.”

The sentiment was echoed by Sherri Barry of Arizona-based fashion incubator The Fashioneer, which uses sustainable on-demand production to eliminate barriers to fulfillment for private and aspiring fashion designers: “I want fashion to be fun to create, to make people feel wonderful, so they have a unique piece they wear forever, which is the most sustainable garment available,” Barry said. “Technology like this allows all of these creators to have their creations printed, automated, cut, packaged, and shipped to their consumer.”

Digital on-demand production results in creating only what you sell, meaning higher margins and less waste. That generates the highest possible yield from your “busy season” while delivering an experience that is eco-conscious and elevates the apparel industry to something that makes producers, creators, and consumers feel good, in more ways than one.

May this holiday season see your business greener and stronger than ever.

Editor’s Note: Don Whaley is an industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in leadership roles across sales, marketing, and the channel. He currently serves as vice president at Kornit Digital

Posted December 13, 2022