By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Digital printing technologies like direct to garment (DTG) presses offer customized apparel for short runs. These devices are ideal for apparel manufacturers that offer made-to-order (MTO) manufacturing and produce garment samples in house.
Fanatics Branded, Inc., started in Jacksonville, FL in the early 2000’s out of a strip mall. The company focused on college licensed products and labels for colleges like the University of Georgia.
In 2009, Tim Brule, VP of disruptive technology, Fanatics Branded, sold his co-owned company—DemandMade, Inc.—to Fanatics. There, he implemented an MTO manufacturing process that helped reduce inventory and expand assortment. Within four months of the acquisition, Fanatics installed six DTG printers and integrated the MTO process into its ecommerce website. At this time it also started to decorate custom jerseys and embroider applique.
Shortly after, GSI acquired Fanatics, which brought in professional sports ecommerce sites like NASCAR, the NBA, NFL, and NHL. “Since that day we have seen explosive growth in all aspects of our business,” says Brule. For example, the company converted a manufacturing facility in Louisville, KY for custom jersey manufacturing.
Since then, Fanatics increased its licensing rights and its manufacturing space. Its facility in Easton, PA is one of the largest cut and sew centers in the U.S. “Every MLB on-field jersey is 100 percent made in the U.S. in that building,” comments Brule.
The company now has over one million square feet of manufacturing in the U.S. Its growth also allowed for acquisitions of several companies including Kitbag in Europe and Asia and Majestic Athletic, which also brought a large bulk/wholesale business with it. With this recent growth, Fanatics is looking to leverage its DTG machines to make digital printing its main manufacturing source.
“My team is researching innovative technologies to construct garments more efficiently as well as decorate. Dye-sublimation, direct to fabric, and laser bridges are all being explored,” explains Brule.
Fanatics sources a great deal of its products overseas, including jerseys, tees, fleece, and headwear. It also sources printing blanks overseas and decorates in the U.S. Blanks are available in most compositions and are decorated depending on fabric makeup.
For example, its NBA jerseys are made with polyester and screen printed with silicone inks. “Polyester is still a big challenge for MTO but we have numerous decorating techniques,” comments Brule.
In 2006, Fanatics started using digital print technology on garments and outsourced manufacturing to companies that printed on light garments. A year later the manufacturer started using Kornit Digital printers for dark garments.
50 percent of Fanatics’ MTO business is digital, but only one percent of its bulk/wholesale business utilizes the technology. However, Brule is tasked to change that. “My team set a big goal of converting 70 percent of the in-house bulk business to digital by 2020.”
Currently, its digital printers are all Kornit—including the Kornit Avalanche HD6—along with the M&R Companies‘ Digital Squeegee Hybrid Printing System.
Compared to traditional apparel manufacturing techniques, Brule says digital printing depends on the order’s size. Traditional screen printing dominates unit orders over 200 while the M&R Digital Squeegee is effective on designs from 100 to 200 runs. Below 100 units DTG is a cost-effective choice, for example for design samples.
With the digital presses, Fanatics mostly prints on men’s 100 percent cotton and tri-blend tees. Fleece is seasonal and women’s and youth apparel is currently a growing business. “Over 60 percent of our business is mostly men’s tees,” adds Brule. The manufacturer develops its own garments and sources its fleece from Central America and tees from Asia.
From a garment perspective, 100 percent polyester and performance wear is still a challenge with MTO. According to Brule, dye migration and low-cure temperatures are tough to solve digitally. Further, each garment manufacturer uses different chemicals in the dying process. “Getting consistent prints is very challenging with the variability of blanks between lots.”
Harley Davidson Tees
Fanatics was recently tasked with creating Harley Davidson 2019 Spring and Summer catalog samples. To do so, the manufacturer selected its Kornit Avalanche HD6 to run 50 designs for men’s and women’s basic cotton tees.
The Kornit Avalanche HD6 is an industrial DTG printing system based on NeoPigment Rapid ink technology. Using six colors plus white the press offers a 23.5×35-inch maximum printing area and handles a variety of substrates, including cotton, cotton-polyester blends, denim, leather, linen, lycra, polyester, silk, viscose, and wool.
Form job submittal to finished product, it took Fanatics six weeks to complete the sample runs, with the majority of time spent on approvals. According to Brule, the designs looked great and are expected to debut in Spring 2019.
Fanatics is one of many apparel manufacturers utilizing digital printing technology for short-run, on demand garments and samples.
Part two of this series features another custom sports apparel manufacturer that takes pride in its digital print technology.
Nov2018, Industrial Print Magazine