By Olivia Cahoon
As digital print advances, brand owners consider the technology for manufacturing. Large corporations and designers approach fabric manufacturers to turn their designs into custom printed products for short run specialty substrates.
In the textile printing market, custom fabrics are increasingly popular.
Designers and large brands see the opportunity to evolve their business models with digital print as they produce customized applications at a reasonable turnaround and price point.
Industrial Custom Printing
In 2014, FabFad began as a digital industrial fabric manufacturer in Los Angeles, CA. The custom fabric manufacturer offers several services including digital sublimation printing, direct to fabric, fabric cutting, sewing, and textile supply. With their digital sublimation printing, FabFad offers customized polyester, nylon, and blend fabrics with any artwork or photo that is provided.
The company’s direct to fabric capabilities deliver customized printing with cotton, rayon, and silk fabric. Its textile supply has more than 100 different fabrics in stock, ranging from quality domestic to imported.
The process begins with customers uploading their designs. FadFab then prints the designs at a rate where designers can use it to produce products and make money.
In 2011, Sean Saberi, founder/CEO, FabFad, bought the company’s first piece of digital printing equipment from DigiFab, solution distributor of Mimaki printers. FabFad runs four Mimaki JV33 series printers and one JV300 printer. The Mimaki JV300 is a high-speed, wide format inkjet printer available in 54- and 64-inch widths. Featuring quick-dry SS21 inks, it offers nine colors and eight ink channels. The JV33 series has a compact design and a maximum width of 103.6 inches and a resolution of 1,440 dpi.
The company prides itself in its ability to handle a range of fabrics and customizable designs. “This could be the future, you have no limits, you can basically build anything at any minute,” says Saberi.
FabFad works with DigiFab to upgrade and add printers as production rates increase.
When Saberi first began digital printing, it wasn’t always a smooth process. He says the technology was limited and it was expensive, explaining that it cost $35 per yard to digitally print fabric while regular production rates were $5 a yard. 500 yards of digital printing wasn’t possible for most customers who needed large quantities of fabric.
By 2014 FabFad was in full swing with four Mimaki printers. But the company still had difficulty with managing its designs in terms of workflow and color management. For workflow, they used CDs to send files and often ran into issues. Saberi says there was also a huge void in the industry regarding the understanding of color.
To help address these challenges, the company soon developed its own internal software suited to its specific needs. Saberi says the software handled half a million yards of digital print last year.
“There are no limits to color, design, or anything,” says Saberi. The company’s pricing is now as low as $2.50 a yard which includes transfer. “With that kind of a pricing, we now offer the same prices as traditional manufacturers, but we have no limits. Our motto is any print, any fabric.”
FabFad has a seven-day turnaround for 1,000 yards of fabric.
The company serves large brand names including Fruit of the Loom, Harley Davidson, NBC, Petco, Sabra, Under Armour, and Yamaha. They offer digital printing overseas and handle 2,000 to 3,000 digital customers a week.
Months after opening, the company had seen nearly 3,000 jobs. “We are on our way to possibly tripling that by 2017 because of the demand, and we haven’t done any advertising yet,” says Saberi.
FabFad anticipates customer growth as they begin investing in marketing campaigns for 2017.
Sew Much Fabric
FadFab offers hundreds of fabrics for customers to choose from. “Fabric is an important part of the process, it’s more important than the printing—it’s what’s going to touch the skin,” explains Saberi.
Since the company began, they have created a network of fabric suppliers, knitters, and importers to offer diverse fabric options. FabFad doesn’t purchase any of its fabric from fabric stores. Instead, the company has direct lines to knitter houses either directly or indirectly to maintain the same fabric quality.
Since beginning in 2014, the shop has run millions of yards of fabric, predominantly activewear made from poly spandex.
They have more than 200 different types of fabric including fabric for home furnishing accessories, apparel, banners, and advertising. “As long as you have a fabric, we can print it. No vinyl customers provide their own fabric,” says Saberi.
FabFad has domestic and international partnerships. Two of its knit houses are based in Los Angeles and one is on the east coast. They also work with mills in Brazil, China, Vietnam, and two in Korea.
Its fabric is knitted and printed in Los Angeles and then shipped to El Salvador where it is cut and sewn.
Digital textile printing is a steady market that keeps FabFad busy. With recent advancements in media and print technology, the equipment to handle these textiles are improving. Saberi notices digital printers evolving to better serve industrial needs through faster speeds and lower costs. Ink and paper costs are getting lower. “Paper has dropped 35 percent while ink has gone down 15 percent. It looks like the technology is becoming more reliable and industrial,” he offers.
Customer demands are forcing this change. Consumers want faster and lower priced custom engineered printing. “They want a pair of leggings with a certain placement on the legging. With our software and equipment, we can do that,” says Saberi.
The company uses a 3D model system to digitalize patterns on its website. With it, customers are able to see their prints in 3D. Using a drag and drop feature, pictures and images are dropped onto the fabric for manufacturing. Saberi says it turns the customer’s vision into an actual product.
The 3D design model 4.0 will be released by FabFad in March. Currently they use the 3.0 version which allows customers to pick from a large selection of united fabric collections from the U.S. and Germany. The software has an advanced search tool to find fabric and prints from over thousands of options. “Customers basically think about the fabric they want to have, whether it’s based on weight, cotton, or country, and the website will search the database and give them that exact fabric,” says Saberi.
Making a Splash
Designers are looking for custom prints to create unique products. FabFad caters to several designers, ranging from big brands like Under Armour, to smaller companies with specific needs.
Linden Wolbert, owner, Mermaids in Motion, is a PADI master scuba diver, free-diver, professional mermaid, and the designer of the Mermaid Linden designs. In 2005, Wolbert quit her “real job” and became known as Mermaid Linden. “This is when I designed and created my first silicone prosthetic mermaid tail and began ‘merforming’ around the world for kids and adults,” says Wolbert.
She travels the world for different types of performances that she calls “merformances,” like ocean shoots, commercials, and aquarium swims. She also films YouTube videos.
“I love the unpredictable nature of my work. One day, I could be granting a wish for a child, the next diving 50 feet below the ocean with sharks, and the next day be on a Hollywood film set,” she exclaims.
Wolbert has traveled worldwide, generating news coverage in more than 50 countries and 15 languages around the globe. She says Mermaids in Motion is mainly comprised of her, plus some occasional contractors, assistants, and mermaid wranglers. Through her company, Wolbert educates children about ocean conservation through live performance and school presentations.
In 2013 Wolbert collaborated with Body Glove International, a provider of water sports apparel and accessories, to co-create a line of mermaid inspired children’s swim products including monofins, mermaid tails, float suits, towels, goggles, rash guards, bikinis, and bathing suits.
In November 2016, the company introduced Mix and Match Mermaid Tails that work in tandem with children’s monofins to turn a child into a mermaid or merman. “They are made to mix and match like a swatch watch. The monofins and lycra tail skins can be interchanged to make countless fun looks and color combinations,” says Wolbert. Lycra is an elastic polyurethane fabric for swimsuits and sports clothing.
During the development of the monofins and tail skins, the company made the decision to go the digital print route. Wolbert explains that there are many advantages with the digital printing process like the speed of order processing, photographic quality, and fade resistance of the sublimation process, and bright colors. “This is especially important when, like us, your product will be used in chlorinated pools, salt water, and all manners of sunshine. We also love that this method features a zero-waste printing process,” she explains.
Mermaids in Motion was referred to FabFad. Wolbert was immediately impressed with the print provider’s capabilities as a one-stop shop, offering expertise in the design process as well as production capabilities including printing, cutting, sewing, and packaging.
At the start of their relationship, Wolbert approached FabFad with a patent-pending mermaid tail design, which she says they aided in digitalizing and perfecting with sample and sizing runs during product testing. “They produce large quantity, high-quality products with big name clients and offer wonderful customer services,” she adds.
Using the FabFad website, a digital file of the design is uploaded and FabFad’s design team members review the file, edit it within the design template, and produce a sample. Once the clients approve the sample, it is printed, cut, and sewn. Before the product is sent to stores, the designer is sent a sample of the product in each size, which is visually inspected, tested, and approved. After approval it is sent to manufacturing and then shipped to retailers.
Wolbert says she is really pleased with FabFad’s work and the decision to go digital. “For expediency and quality-control purposes, it is tremendous. For building a good relationship with our manufacturer, it is amazing. For boosting the local economy and supporting local business, it is wonderful. Everybody wins,” she says.
Wolbert explains that the nature of digital printing helps keep costs down so that the company produces large and small quantities of mermaid tails domestically at a competitive price and speed compared with overseas manufacturers. For Wolbert, this was her first experience with digital printing. So far, she hasn’t come across any challenges and says it has been a fun and easy procedure. “Being able to sign online and immediately see what steps our printing orders have gone through in our account is perfect. It seems that the sky is truly the limit with what we are able to dream up, materialize, and produce with this method of printing,” she boasts.
Boutique designers like Mermaid Linden utilize digital industrial fabric manufacturers for custom printed designs, as well as manufacturing and packaging needs.
FabFad is an example of one company that takes advantage of the opportunity digital print technology brings to the apparel market. With it, the company produces thousands of yards of custom-printed fabric at reasonably low prices to suit emerging needs from designers.
As customer demands become increasingly specific in regards to both design and cost, the ability to offer custom printing capabilities at industrial levels is certainly making waves in the industry.
Jan2017, Industrial Print Magazine