Archive for April, 2010

Earth Day, Waterbase Ink, Organic Shirts, Eco Friendly Business

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Today is Earth Day and every year we get inquiries about eco-friendly inks and t-shirts. There has been more and more interest in waterbase inks and organic cotton shirts, so let’s talk about them.

Waterbase inks have been around for a very long time. They are the original inks used to decorate apparel. Plastisols were invented in 1959 and became very popular in the ’70s. I started printing with waterbase inks originally in 1970, way back in the day, because I had no way to dry the plastisols. I needed an air dry ink with good washability. Waterbase provided that.

The early inks we used were not actually pure waterbase. They were actually water-in-oil. They were an emulsion of water and solvent and could be cleaned from the screen with mineral spirits. These inks had better wash characteristics than pure waterbase inks which needed to be heat set as well.

A lot has changed with waterbase inks. The original formulas were very difficult to work with. They dried in the screen quickly and were very aggressive on the stencils. Since our production runs were short, this was not too much of a problem. Ironically, some of the very first designs I printed with waterbase were halftone images that were highly prone to drying in. Modern waterbase inks don’t have nearly the problems the older ones did.

The primary question is whether waterbase inks are ecologically more friendly than plastisols. Here the question is not so clear. Just because the inks can be dissolved or mixed with water doesn’t mean they are inherently safer or more eco-friendly. They are still resin based. They still have inorganic and organic pigments. There contain water miscible solvents that may not be so drain safe. The bottomline is, don’t be fooled into thinking that waterbase means you can do anything with the waste. These inks still need to be treated as industrial compounds, and handled accordingly.

Now, for organic cotton. This is a big area of interest. It’s no secret that cotton is one of the most pesticide and chemically dependent products. I have heard that it takes as much as 1/3 of a pound of pesticides and fertilizers to produce a pound of cotton. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s a figure you see in a lot of places. Regardless, the trend is toward less chemically and water intensive processing of the cotton. There are many, many brands on the market that claim to be organic.

According to the fourth annual Organic Exchange Farm and Fiber Report 2009, organic cotton production grew an impressive 20 percent over 2007/08 to 175,113 metric tons (802,599 bales) grown on 625,000 acres (253,000 hectares). Organic cotton now represents 0.76 percent of global cotton production.

Organic cotton was grown in 22 countries worldwide with the Top Ten producer countries being led by India, and including (in order of rank) Turkey, Syria, Tanzania, China, United States, Uganda, Peru, Egypt and Burkina Faso. Approximately 220,000 farmers grew the fiber.

Here’s the rub. LESS THAN 1% of all cotton produced is organic! There are far more t-shirts produced claiming to be organic cotton than there is cotton being produced. Unless you have a clear knowledge about who is certifying a garment as organic, chances are it isn’t. You also need to know how much of the fiber in the garment is actually organic. It’s common to blend inorganic with organic and then claim the garment is organic.

Like most marketing driven campaigns, it pays to ask questions and dig deeper. There is usually more to the story than meets the eye. In the case of both waterbase ink and organic cotton t-shirts, this is clearly so.

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Launching Your Clothing Line

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of shirts for boutique clothing lines. These are usually designers who’ve come up with a few clever t-shirt designs and want to market them. The questions are almost all the same and I’m surprised no one has really set out to provide meaningful answers. So this month I thought I would share some observations and answers to a couple of the more common questions.

The most basic one is: Where should I market my shirts?

I don’t mean to be obvious here, but the root of the answer is, to outlets that are thinking like you. Where do you shop? Where would you go to buy the designs you’ve just done? Start locally and work your way up. This is important for two really good reasons.

The first is that almost all the businesses or individuals that come in wanting to get shirts printed lack seed capital. This is the money you need to actually print the shirts to fill orders. Start with a sample run first. Get something physical in your hands. Buyers want to see, touch, and feel the merchandise. Your first objective is to get some market reaction. If you can’t afford to get shirts screen printed, have the samples done digitally (direct to garment.) This is a good idea anyway so you can see what DTG looks like compared to screen print.

If you find there’s a positive reception to your work, expand within your region. This would be a 50 mile radius of where you’re located, or the nearest larger city. I’m always careful about recommending rapid expansion. With too little capital, I’ve seen too many promising companies literally burn up trying to fund their growth. Take it a step at a time. Make sure you get paid right away for your product. Running out of cash is the single biggest reason new companies don’t make it.

2. Should I exhibit in tradeshows to get bigger exposure?

Beware of large tradeshows. I’ve seen this happen over and over. Young, inexperienced, innovative companies bring fresh ideas to the market. They have no way to capitalize on potential success if it really hits. Calculate in advance how much business you can handle. It’s one thing to get orders for 1,000 shirts. What would happen if you got orders for 10,000? How much business can you afford to book? If you can’t answer that, you need accounting help to get the answer.

The most common situation I see at tradeshows is getting ripped off by much bigger companies that already have deep distribution and lots of financing. Make no mistake, you are being watched. If there’s lots of buzz about your graphics and you’re actually writing orders, you run the risk of a very quick knockoff of your concepts.

While they may not copy your work exactly, the imitations will capture the look and flavor of your offerings.

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