'Through the Roof': How E-commerce Is Driving Demand for Custom Apparel
“We just watched all of our e-commerce partners go through the roof.”
That’s how Chris Bernat, president of Vapor Apparel, describes the unlikely success that he saw early in the pandemic, when so much was uncertain and things were looking bleak for businesses.
He was hardly alone in that.
“The online portion is driving everything,” Ted Pidcock, president of Chillybears, said. “Our bottom line is extremely healthy because it’s much more driven by our retail apparel online. So we’re in a much better spot than we were [at the beginning of the pandemic.]”
Even in the midst of a crisis that’s hamstrung businesses in every imaginable industry, custom apparel companies have found success.
In a panel discussion titled “The Rise of E-Commerce in Apparel Printing,” part of the PRINTING United Digital Experience that wrapped this week, Pidcock and Bernat spoke with Mario Tovar, creative director of Marsuno Creative, and Jack Kilian, vice president of Sharprint, about how online storefronts are driving business in custom apparel and what they see in store for the future.
The e-commerce wave was always coming. Amazon has been active in the on-demand and custom apparel market for years now. It’s no surprise to anyone. But, by uniquely forcing everyone to stay home and limiting business operations, the pandemic set off a broader shift.
“It accelerated a lot of trends,” Pidcock said. “It accelerated Amazon. It accelerated e-commerce in general. I think that if you don’t have the ability to take the same product and stick it into three or four marketplaces simultaneously, your model is not as strong as it could be.”
On the topic of marketplaces that were strong sales verticals for these decorated products, Kilian said that Sharprint's contract work actually increased this year thanks to a steady supply of uniform sales.
“Screen print is coming back and embroidery is coming back to both where they were [before the pandemic] with contract work,” he said.
He said his task now will be to add more direct-to-garment capabilities within his decorating business and to look for ways to maximize efficiency.
That’s also what Tovar plans to do, too. But he warned custom apparel businesses that want to increase their direct-to-garment capacity to make sure they know what they’re doing. If run efficiently, it can be a great opportunity for more business. But if you rush out to buy something, you might bite off more than you can chew.
He said you can mitigate that risk by having good software support to stay on track of jobs and keep organized. When that’s in place, it’s a less daunting task to cast wider nets.
“To continue the growth, I would say just start more e-commerce sites,” he said. “That’s really my bread and butter. If I can start five to ten more websites in different niches, different segments in the industry, I think that’s how I continue this growth that I’ve been having the last four years.”
“Once you get into direct-to-garment, make sure you have your infrastructure, and make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before you go head first into an online store,” Kilian added. “But, once you do it, there’s a lot of business out there. There’s massive opportunity in DTG and on-demand. I think that’s where a good portion of the apparel decoration industry is going.”
There’s always going to be the fear that Amazon will steamroll the industry, but there’s one thing that Pidcock says Amazon can never replicate, and he used Kilian’s Toronto Maple Leafs hat as an example.
“When I want that special Maple Leafs hat that you didn’t do yourself, but using that as an example, I can’t get that on Amazon,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it. You’re still special. They can’t take that away from us. They’re never going to take creative away. How are they going to get into our brains and take our creativity away?”
Click here to view the entire session (free registration required) or click here for more information on the PRINTING United Digital Experience, including recorded versions of each day's education sessions and product demos. The PRINTING United Digital Experience ran from Oct. 26 through Nov. 12, but you can stream all the great content for free and on-demand through Jan. 31, 2021.