By Olivia Cahoon
Part 2 of 2
Producing custom apparel is a complicated manufacturing process, especially in short-runs. To handle a variety of patterns and functions, apparel manufacturers invest in digital printing technology. This allows manufacturers to compete with overseas factories in price, minimum order quantities, and design capabilities.
Founded in 2003, Podiumwear Custom Sports Apparel Co. started by working with local printers and seamstresses on a contract basis for ski products. The company produced four products and opened its production facility in 2011 with a 2,000 square foot workspace and five people operating cycling and running lines.
In 2017, it moved to a 14,000 square foot facility in Saint Paul, MN and fully integrated into the garment manufacturing process. “We’ve gone from a one man show to 12 full-time staff and over 20 contractors,” comments Reid Lutter, CEO, Podiumwear.
All of its products are made in the St. Paul, MN facility—allowing the company to maintain a low carbon footprint compared to overseas factory production. Being a U.S-based manufacturer also offers other benefits compared to overseas factories, including smaller minimum order quantities, shorter turnaround, upfront pricing, no design fees, and live customer service.
Today Podiumwear offers cut and sew capabilities and decorates over 100 different garments for a variety of sports activities, including cycling, Nordic skiing, running, ultimate frisbee, and soccer. Its garments include hats and headbands, jackets and vests, Nordic accessories, race suits, running tights, Summer training apparel, and warm-up pants.
In 2011, Podiumwear started digitally printing with a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV33 wide format printer and an AIT 7360 IJO Sport rotary heat press. “Mimaki was an excellent starting printer and the AIT allowed us to go roll to roll without stretching the fabric during transfer,” explains Lutter.
All of its apparel is now digitally printed, with the Mimaki printer used occasionally. Its current digital printing workhorse is the EFI Reggiani NEXT—chosen for its speed and reliability. “It’s been an excellent investment,” comments Lutter.
Podiumwear also uses a Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet 1626UH UV LED printer for its fluorescent profiles. The Mutoh ValueJet 1626UH prints on a variety of roll materials up to 64 inches wide. It also features a removable flatbed table to print rigid or roll media.
All of Podiumwear’s apparel is cut and sewn—its patterned pieces are printed onto paper rolls and transferred to fabric, followed by cutting on a Zünd S3 L-1600 digital cutter. It is then sent to the sewing department.
The manufacturer tries to source its fabrics as much as possible from the U.S. through Top Value Fabrics. However, Lutter admits that the majority of its high-end fabric comes from Schoeller Textile AG in Switzerland, Borgini Jersey in Italy, and Toray Group from Japan.
Compared to traditional apparel manufacturing techniques, digital print technology helps Podiumwear produce smaller runs with elaborate designs and higher customization, especially to sports teams. “Teams want the option to have a full custom uniform rather than the same uniform with just a different color,” shares Lutter.
Brewed for Cycling
In 2018, repeat customer Surly Brewing Company approached Podiumwear for customized cycling jerseys. Surly Brewing is a craft brewer based in Minneapolis, MN that services nine states and one province.
The craft brewer requested customized cycling jerseys to promote its Surly Furious beer. This project was especially important as graphic design is a big part of Surly Brewing’s brand. “The cycling jersey design reflects the design of its Furious beer can,” explains Lutter.
Podiumwear printed the garments with the EFI Reggiani NEXT press on lightweight 100 percent polyester fabric using ErgoSoft RIP software. “High-performance fabric is made to be breathable,” adds Lutter.
The EFI Reggiani NEXT is an industrial digital printer that prints on transfer paper with four double printheads. It manages up to 3,000 meter length paper rolls due to its mechanical structure, operating 24 hours per day. It handles a maximum width of 133.8 inches.
After printing the garments, the fabric was finished with the Zünd S3 L-1600 digital cutter.
In total, Podiumwear produced 50 jerseys—approximately 150 square feet of fabric. The order started in mid-July and shipped by early August. Surly Brewing is pleased with the completed jerseys and continues to be a Podiumwear repeat client.
With the EFI Reggiani NEXT printer, Podiumwear offers fully customized team apparel for alpine skiing, cycling, Nordic skiing, running, and track—all produced in its MN-based facility.
Nov2018, Industrial Print Magazine