2019 Predictions for Apparel Decorators by Josh Ellsworth

Josh Ellsworth of GroupeSTAHL, top heat printing industry educator.

Heading into 2019 there is a great energy in the heat printing industry. As we’ve seen in 2018, more and more people are finding heat printing as a top method for growing their garment printing business. What have you got to look forward to in 2019?  Renowned heat printing industry educator and educational speaker Josh Ellsworth shares his thoughts on 2019 themes and predictions for apparel decorators:

Guest Blog by Josh Ellsworth

I just love the idea of a fresh start!  The week between Christmas and the new year is a great time to think deeply and plan your next step.  For me, that means looking back at what we accomplished or didn’t accomplish in the prior year and better understanding “Why”.  It also means, reading…. lots of reading, to ensure any new plans or in this case, predictions have some context to the world we exist in.  Everything from State of the Industry reports to internet and business trend reports to Stahls’ sales reports that present patterns…I love to analyze, predict and plan how to be relevant in the future based on data.  Through my research, I’d like to present 10 predictions that may challenge you in your business.  They have certainly challenged us in striving to help you become more successful.

  1. The BIG Squeeze

The excerpt below is from the Wearables Magazine State of the Industry Report

“The economy is growing and optimism in business is riding high. Except, it seems, in the decorated- apparel industry. That’s the major insight from this year’s State of the Industry report. It’s not a story of stagnation, but decorators are certainly reporting a tale of dampening enthusiasm. On average, they are less optimistic about the industry than they’ve been in previous years. The majority of decorators believe their sales numbers will stay level this year rather than grow, and about a third of the professionals we surveyed are consumed with the need to broaden their customer base.  Why the tempered expectations? Decorators cite the ever-growing roster of choices that consumers have: online competitors, home hobbyists and suppliers who do their own decoration.”   The space between big internet/supplier brand and home hobbyist is feeling the BIG Squeeze.  This trend has been in place for at least the last 5 years and is now registering big time on the radar of mid-sized apparel decorators.  The prediction is that this squeeze will continue, and mid-market decorators will need to decide who they want to be?  Getting bigger or getting smaller should be a question you are pondering.  How will your business plans change with the competitive landscape?

  1. The Minimum Viable Customer Phenomena

A few weeks back I read a book written by Seth Godin called, “This Is Marketing”.  In one part of the book it challenged the reader to think about the Minimum Viable Customer.  A lot of product developers like to use the phrase Minimum Viable Product as a way to prevent a project from going on in perpetuity with diminishing returns.  The phrase minimum viable customer is similar.  It challenges us to create something for a small audience rather than allowing it to become irrelevant or complex for an audience of too many.  When I think about the concept and align it to some other data points it makes a lot of sense.  Consider this – 22% of companies in the Wearables State of the Industry survey cited price pressure as one of their top challenges.  If you created something tailored so specifically to your audience would price become such a big factor?  It’s tough to out price and out optimize Amazon or even a company down the street without the same overhead, so why not try to create value in other ways?

The top growing advertising mediums are Facebook and Google.  Both of these thrive off of hyper targeted ads to a small audience based on who they are, where they are and what they like.  Successful businesses spin up a multitude of offers that can each be deployed to a targeted group.

In a recent issue of Team Insight Magazine, client specific or team specific webstores were cited as an emerging trend that delivered growth to dealers that was above the average mark.  In a store like this, everything is relevant to the fan of that team or the employee of that business.  No wonder sales are coming in.

The end result – succeeding in the world of apparel is no longer possible by saying “We do t-shirts”.  Who do you specialize in t-shirts for?  How do you create them better than what a generalist or a hobbyist could?  Of course, the decoration and actual items make a difference, but so does the story and experience.  The prediction is that decorators who focus on curating their offer(s) to small audience(s) will grow faster than those who don’t.

  1. Stories and Experiences

Heat printing is expanding down 5th Avenue.  Ask any trend reporter in retail what’s happening, and you are bound to hear about the importance of experiences in the store.  On demand customization with a heat press is one way to drive experiences and brands such as the NBA, American Girl, Adidas, Nike, Champion, Louis Vuitton, UGG, Ralph Lauren, DKNY and more have deployed them.  The prediction is that as heat printing grows into the fashion market it will attract new, up and coming designers and entrepreneurs with creative ideas that we’ve never seen before.

  1. Sports Participation Increases Again

Yeah, I know kids are lazy.  Things aren’t how they used to be back in “your” day.  Sure, eSports are on the rise, but so are other sports participation levels according to NSGA.  Sport is growing in popularity, so there are more athletes than ever before.  With the rise in high school participation it can be assumed that club sports are also experiencing growth. The prediction is that sports participation will rise again in 2019 for the 32nd straight year.  I know, not a bold prediction, but this one is intended to point out that the numbers show that there are increasingly more opportunities in team uniforms and fan apparel.

  1. The Decline of DTG for the Small to Mid-Sized Business

This one is not going to put me on the most popular list, but I believe 2019 will be another year of DTG advancing for the few, and further realization that DTG is not for the masses.  It’s always fun to predict the next big thing, but it’s time we see DTG for what it is, a technology built for mass customization of t-shirts.  A proven business concept is that is much less expensive to sell more to current customers than to find new ones.  A DTG is a piece of equipment that is very specific in what it accomplishes and has limited potential for printing more products.  With the rise of lean businesses along with the challenges of finding new customers and skilled labor, it’s not advisable for any mid-sized or small business to invest in DTG.  Predictions are easier when trends have started, so the prediction is that the percentage of garments printed by DTG will rise, but the percentage of shops interested in purchasing a DTG will wane for another year.

  1. The Continued Growth of Heat Printing Technology

What’s inexpensive, easy to scale, offers many finishes and prints all over a wide variety of items?  Yep, heat printing finally has the floor.  It may not be as cool to some as printing right on the shirt with DTG, as magical as the chemistry of Sublimation or enjoy the rich heritage of screen printing, but its on the rise.  Look at the 5-year search trend report from Google Trends on heat press versus screen printing.  The prediction is that heat printing will outpace screen printing in search volume within 3 years.  For the record, I don’t think screen printing is going anywhere and actually believe the industry will continue to see growth, but heat printing is experiencing a groundswell that is noteworthy.

  1. Fast Fashion will Grow for a Cause

Meaning what’s on YouTube or Instagram today needs to be available for purchase tomorrow.  Connecting customizable apparel to spheres of influence can be profitable, both for the influencer and the brand.  The prediction is that more influencers will look to wear/promote apparel to their audiences around causes.  Check out www.represent.com for a look at what is happening.

  1. Reflective as a Finish will Grow

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the construction industry to be one of the fastest growing over the next couple of years.  And somehow, High Visibility apparel is all over the runway as a Fall/Winter trend from 2018.  These two facts mean that we predict reflective as a finish to have a record year of sales growth.

  1. Apparel graphics meet Augmented Reality in a Big Way

Ever heard of Augmented Reality?  If you’ve ever had a bottle of 19 Crimes Wine with friends then you have, if not take one to your New Year’s Eve party and be the hit…thank me later!  But with the context of experiences and stories, the prediction is that promotional items will start to be produced with a digital decoration that brings a brand to life in a fun and memorable way.

  1. Apparel Gets into the Details

While there is certainly a space for big, bold graphics, the prediction is that small, simplistic logos with unique placement onto unique apparel will separate your work from the next shop in 2019.  Think about merchandising application onto cuffs, collars, back shoulder, ankle and calf locations.  These placements are also a secret weapon for the heat printer competing with other decorating techniques that are typically limited in these areas. So, there you have it….10 musings that can spark some conversations for you or your leadership team.  For my co-workers at Groupe Stahl, I predict this is the year we become known as a technology company in addition to the world’s largest manufacturer of heat printing equipment and equipment.  Here’s to a successful 2019!   Josh Ellsworth

Thank you Josh for your contribution and information. Excellent food for thought heading into 2019. To everyone around the world–wishing you a safe and fun slide into 2019!









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One comment

  1. JP Hunt says:

    Excellent insights Josh! To your point on the ‘Minimum Viable Customer’ phenomena: This is a source of real competitive opportunity for decorators to defined against the large, aggressive, and well funded online competitors — you know how I’m referring to. Mindfulness of this approach also drastically simplifies the go-to-market plan by focusing versus the alternative of ‘we can put your logo on anything’.

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