Digital Textile Printing: Fashion’s Next Foray
Digital print could be the answer to the market's demands.
The age where big-box stores like JCPenney ruled the fashion supply chain, dividing up the year into four distinct seasons, is over. Now, it’s known as the Zara model, where trends shift far faster than the weather, and the year is divvied up into 52 micro-seasons. This new paradigm is a perfect recipe for digital production, and it’s likely to stick around a bit longer than man buns or fidget spinners.
So, why aren’t fashion designers flocking to digital print providers yet?
“I think the technology is exactly where it should be,” says Celeste Lilore, former marketing and community director at the Pratt Institute's Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA). (Editor’s note: Lilore held this post at the time of her interview with Big Picture.) “Some designers are already using it, but it’s a question of greater awareness and education as to what the existing services are, who the existing providers are, and being able to connect those.”
BF+DA hosted the Simple + Sustainable Textile Printing Seminar in conjunction with Mimaki in August of 2017. The event welcomed a total of 45 attendees across five small-group sessions led by Mimaki’s Ryosuke Nakayama, manager of textile and apparel business development and marketing, and David Lopez, specialist textile and apparel, business development and marketing. Mimaki also demonstrated its TX300P-1800 direct-to-textile printer with direct dye sub and textile pigment inks. Lilore says the attendees ran the gamut, including large fashion designers, textile sourcing professionals, emerging design talent, students, and large-format textile printers.
Close to Home
Lilore says designers “are looking for greater access to proprietary prints, because it’s a point of differentiation for them.” We all know that bespoke goods are the name of the game these days, but it’s that question of access that’s currently troubling the fashion world. It’s not easy to go out and buy a piece of high-tech equipment like a wide-format printer – especially in cities like New York where real estate is a luxury.
Jacob Smith attended the BF+DA event and had a realization: “Wow. We can be such a resource for these people.”
The Smith family business has traditionally served the hospitality and soft signage industries, and includes Something Different Linens, its digital production subsidiary Dye Into Print, and an e-commerce platform, doodle n’ designs. Jacob Smith and his brother Sam serve as sales and production managers for Dye Into Print and head of operations and marketing, respectively, for doodle n’ designs.
Jacob Smith says, “As doors close and doors open, we’ve been moving into the apparel world more and more.” They’ve produced projects from polyester jacket liners to material for the winning entry in New York’s Designow competition (pictured left). Dye Into Print runs four high-speed dye sub printers ranging from 60 to 120 inches wide.
The issue of access stems from a long industry trend of outsourcing textile production overseas, which, as a rule, means long runs and long lead times. Sam Smith says their operation is unique because not only are they delivering products from nearby Clifton, New Jersey, as opposed to China; they also don’t require a minimum run. Designers can easily have a few samples printed, and the Smiths are just a 15-minute drive away.
Luke Harris, VP of manufacturing, Solid Stone Fabrics, was present at the Brooklyn event, as well. Solid Stone Fabrics serves a different clientele than Dye Into Print, producing about 500,000 yards each year in stretch fabrics for the activewear and swimwear markets, but Harris echoes Smith’s thoughts on the value of producing domestically. The company pulled its operations out of Asia in 2007 and began producing in Martinsville, Virginia. “That’s changed our process from an 8- to 12-week lead time into a 48-hour lead time,” he says – and that’s just the printing part. “I don’t understand how clients who are doing all of their development and manufacturing in China can work with a 12-month lead time from concept to goods on shelf. You’re just missing trends if it’s taking that long to manufacture.”
Is outsourcing to Asia a little cheaper? Perhaps; Harris says they lose clients to Asia all the time, but, “They tend to come back next season or the same season in a mad rush.”
The Long Haul
Concern for the environment is another driver toward digitally, domestically produced textiles. BF+DA is a self-described “hub for ethical fashion and design”; its three main tenets are zero waste, transparency, and humanity. Lilore says digital printing “checks all of those boxes for us. It doesn’t require any water, and it’s so precise that there just really isn’t waste.”
Harris says it was helpful at the BF+DA event to sit down with designers and walk them through the production process and share Solid Stone’s priorities. “We don’t use any sort of product if we can’t see how it’s being manufactured and whether it’s environmentally sound,” he adds. The company, which runs transfer dye sub and direct-to-fabric acid dye printers, recycles all of the water from its washing system to the printroom for washing sticky belts on the direct-to-textile printers. “People are wanting to be able to see a transparent process.”
The Beginning of Something
“People no longer want to buy stock items,” says Jacob Smith. “They want everything customized.” The ever-puzzling question of how to make one-of-a-kind, customized goods profitable on a large scale certainly persists, but it’s clear that speed, proximity, and respect for the planet will be components of the answer. And while inkjet machines are the tool in a shop owner’s belt, it’s the people wielding the tools that have the potential to truly make an impact on a market that’s looking for change.