Posts Tagged ‘waterbase inks’

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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On Being Responsive to Customer Demands

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Not much time today, but I wanted to get this short post out before I’m off for the day. Right now I’m in Tirupur, India doing a one week consult at a large apparel company. During the peak of their season they produce 50,000 units a day. The company is very, very modern with about 10 MHM presses and a couple of M&R pressses including an 18c Challenger II. They have automatic coating, soon direct to screen and an up-to-date imaging and prepress department. I have seen this situation many times in the past. Basically a 3rd World location but facilities anyone in the States would drool over. This is not what I want to write about today.

One of the biggest challenges on the horizon in the U.S. and abroad for that matter is the PVC free, Phthalate free issue. Big companies like Nike and Marks and Spencer in the UK are demanding that garments screen printed be free of these chemicals. They are abundant in traditional plastisols. The contaminent levels are ridiculously low as in 0.1% or less. It is a major, major pain to make the switch to become compliant. I know I will probably catch some flack for saying that, but it is the truth.

The point of all this is, my Indian client has made the commitment to switch entirely to waterbase inks, scrub everything inside and out, completely strip all their frames, squeegees, and flood bars, and generally go to extreme lengths to eliminate ANY possibility of contamination. They are not required to do this, it is entirely a voluntary effort on their part. It is an extreme effort and very, very expensive. Why are they doing it?

The answer is very simply. The owners of the company are visionary. They see the pressures worldwide within the Green Movement and the rising consumer demand for accountability. They also listen very closely to their customers and what they are saying. This is their proactive response to position themselves as responsible and progressive for the mostly EU markets they serve. They should be commended for their efforts and we should all use them as an example of responsiveness.

What are your customers trying to tell you? What are they saying about you? Do you really know or it is a best guess on your part? A great exercise, and one that will add credibility and value to your relationship is to ask them what’s important to them. Don’t let them off the hook. Formulate 5-8 questions that will really get them thinking about why they use you and what you could do better. After you’ve asked 20 or 30 of your customers the SAME set of questions, and had a conversation with them about the answers, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the pulse of your market is. This will give you the fuel, and starting point to proactively take a leadership position in delivering goods and services that go beyond just a printed garment.

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