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Step Up Your Game with Team Wear

Read on to see how to grow your team sportswear printing business.

Apparel decorators know that one of the most profitable niches for them is in the sports market. Team uniforms, jerseys, spirit wear, fan wear—the opportunities are practically endless. With lots of dealers and decorators for consumers to choose from, how do you get ahead of your competition and stand out? It’s not a secret—offering great prices, a wide selection of athletic and teamwear (Figure 1), and keeping up with the latest trends will keep your business booming!

Getting started
It doesn’t matter what the season is or what time of year it is, there is always a need for decorated team apparel and fan wear. If you’re a garment decorator just getting into team wear, then make certain that you take the time to do your homework. Understanding the market, the needs of the players, the coaches, and the parents will help you get ahead.
Teams tend to stick with a familiar supplier and aren’t always willing to consider switching to a new vendor unless they see a valid reason for making the move. Get to know the team that you’re targeting and what they’re looking for. Sometimes it can be something as simple as the fit of a uniform or the style of jacket. If a team isn’t happy with their current vendor, then it opens the door for you to try out your garment printing expertise. If their shirts don’t fit right, then find them ones that do. If a jacket is too short, show them a longer one. If you’re able to offer a better product, lower price, different materials, special effects, or faster turnaround then you’ve got a great shot at winning their business.

Suit up
Lightweight fabrics, special effect materials, and unique graphic placement are all extremely popular when it comes to uniforms. Technical fabrics, while still considered a trend, are becoming more standard. Athletes are looking for materials that don’t hold them back and that offer moisture management (Figure 2) features, antibacterial properties, and UV protection. Performance wear has to be soft and stretchable. Basic cotton or polyester blend garments are being reengineered and restyled to meet these demands.
Tapered/form-fitting jerseys in smaller sizes are also very much in demand for women. Girls are no longer forced to buy men’s jerseys in small sizes or order youth-size uniforms, since most manufacturers offer a ladies fit (Figure 3). One of the best ways to cater to women is to stock what they want. Specifically, carrying women’s uniforms and showing a variety of fashionable options for female athletes is key.
Top manufacturers are also fighting for their share of the market place. In January, Nike unveiled its Hyper Elite Platinum series, which was worn by nine teams during the NCAA Basketball Championship this past March. The uniforms are made from 100% recycled polyester and are tailored for optimal efficiency and movement. The uniforms feature prominent accent colors, laser cut logos, and reflective numbers as well as side panels for increased breathability and lightweight fabric.
The NFL recently debuted new fall uniforms, which were also designed by Nike. The new uniforms are designed to be lightweight, contoured to fit the body, and breathable. In terms of the designs, most of the uniforms received small tweaks for a more modern and sleek appearance.
Adidas recently introduced TECHFIT. Worn by players in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game it features strategically placed thermoplastic polyurethane powers bands that align core muscles and boost power to key muscle group for more efficient movement. Ultimately, TECHFIT is designed to increase acceleration and a player’s endurance.
Pro sports and college sports influence trends in active wear in the same way that celebrities influence consumer clothing choices. High school teams and recreation leagues are sure to be excited for the new jerseys and will most likely start demanding uniforms similar to the pros.

Name/number-decorating options
Long-term decorators are familiar with the traditional methods of decorating including screen printing, heat printing, embroidery, and sublimation. The advances in team uniform fabrics are growing and so is the technology available for decorating. Applying durable materials and choosing the most cost effective method will give dealers an edge. When it comes to putting names and numbers on jerseys, there are a variety of options to consider. Each method comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Seeing through the screen
Screen printing is one of the most popular methods when it comes to decorating large quantities of garments. Most team dealers will put custom logos and mascots on jerseys, team wear, bags, and fan wear. However, screen printing names and numbers can become complicated. Since screen printing requires different screens for every number and name, some shops may limit the colors and font choices.

Tackle it
Appliqué is the most expensive method and commonly used on professional and replica jerseys. It’s more time consuming which is why it costs more. A polyester-based fabric is usually treated with a heat transfer adhesive and then cut from a roll either with a knife, laser, or water jet. The name or number is then positioned and heat applied onto a garment. Next, they are sewn onto the jersey. There are two ways to affix the names and numbers— manually on a sewing machine or with automated embroidery equipment. Different stitches such as satin or zigzag can also be used to sew down the appliqué.

Do or dye
Sublimation is another method of decorating that is seeing a lot of growth. Dye sublimation is a heat transfer process that uses specialty inks to embed colors and graphics into fabric. Since the inks actually fuse with the garment, this results in a smooth print that is actually a part of the garment. Since the dyes are less dense than other methods, sublimation can be used as an all over decorating technique and applied over seams and in odd places.
Sublimation lettering and numbering is also available. Various manufacturers are now offering sublimated letters and numbers in a wide variety of colors and fills. Decorators can even order custom colors or create multi-layer looks that are more lightweight than twill lettering.

Hot options
Heat printing is probably the easiest and most economical option when it comes to decorating uniforms. Small- to mid-sized shops can add heat transfers to their business with a minimal investment in equipment and supplies. Every decorator should have a heat press.
Heat presses (Figure 4) are available at different price points depending upon budget, volume, and space availability. They range in size from portable presses that start out around $500 for mobile decorating to air-operated presses for commercial use that can run up to $4,500. Heat printing offers great benefits including the ability to produce personalized apparel, short runs with quick turnarounds, and even print on demand. With minimal education and training and patented technologies such as touch screens, automatic open presses, and digital pressure gauges, heat presses are faster and easier to use than ever before.
Team orders typically range from ten pieces for a team to several hundred for a league. Heat-applied transfers are ideal for the short-run orders, especially those that require personalization. They are especially popular for teams on a budget. Simple names and numbers can be applied for a very low cost.
Heat transfer materials are available in a several different formats. Decorators can choose from stock letters and numbers (Figure 5), custom cut options, or they can purchase material by the roll and cut it themselves. Most manufacturers ship stock letters, numbers, and even custom graphics within 24 hours, which allows for a fast turnaround. Keeping an inventory of stock letters and numbers on hand also allows for fast, on-site personalization.
Heat transfer materials are available in a wide range of textures and finishes. Decorators who own vinyl cutters can purchase rolls of materials and cut designs for quick custom applications. There is also a high demand for neon, reflective, metallic, glitter flakes, and other special effect types of material, especially in the cheer market. Durability is another important factor and many heat transfer materials are guaranteed not to crack or peel and are designed to withstand tough on the field action.
Ken Chadwick, GroupeSTAHL representative in New England, has been advising team dealers who own a cutter to offer player numbers on cleats, gloves and bat bags. It makes it much easier for players to find their bags or cleats in the locker room. Trying to gain more business from an existing customer is also much easier than trying to cultivate a new one.
Another method that is catching on in heat printing, thanks to pro teams and big name brands like Nike, and Under Armor, is digitally printed names and numbers. This method uses digital printed heat transfer material and eco-solvent or thermo-resin print/cut systems to print full color images, fills, or effects directly onto the digital media. Decorators can offer custom fills featuring school mascots or sport-specific patterns like footballs or soccer balls in the design.
Sign cutters who already have print/cut systems need to purchase a heat press and the digitally printable material, and they can add garment decorating to their range of services. Decorators who aren’t ready to invest in the equipment can also order directly from manufacturers. Online ordering and fast shipping options make it easy for decorators to offer custom personalization with fast turnarounds.

Add-on sales
Today, more dealers offer complete outfits and are becoming full-service providers. In addition to customizing the uniforms, they are increasing their add-on sales by supplying coordinating bags, jackets, sweats and caps. With the advances in full-color digital printing, dealers can also profit with banners, wall graphics, window decals and custom helmet decals. The key to add-on sales is to provide your customers with ideas and solutions designed to help them stand out and get noticed.
Backpacks, tote bags, and travel bags are ideal add-on sale items plus they offer tons of opportunities to personalize. New options in heat transfer vinyl as well as digital transfers created from solvent inks allows decorators to customize virtually any type of bag from woven nylon to polyester. These materials even allow for decoration to run down the straps, around zippers and even over seams.
Showing samples to customers is one of the easiest ways to increase sales. Anytime you sell a piece of apparel such as a jersey, be sure to create additional pieces that demonstrate what you can do. Customers generally aren’t aware of all the products available that their logo (Figure 6) can be applied to or that can be customized for them.
A great example of using samples to increase your add-on sales is to create something extra for the coach or the person who places the order as a thank you. If they ordered little league T-shirts, then include a jacket, duffle bag or cap with the logo heat applied on it for the person who placed the order. If you take the time to find out their size and give them something specifically selected for them then it gives them another product idea and demonstrates your appreciation for the sale. It can also lead to increased opportunities for creating fan wear. Once they wear it to a game, parents and grandparents might like to order one too.
According to Patrick Seward, company representative for New York and New Jersey, knowing what is popular locally is what helps him determine which products are important to show to team dealers. For example, team names, graphics or player numbers on the back window of cars is very popular in New Jersey. He often takes samples into the dealers and suggests they offer them to their customers. It makes for another great add-on sale as well.

Regulations and resources
Knowing what does and doesn’t work on uniforms is a critical element in team decorating. Schools, associations or teams usually dictate the uniform style, colors, materials, and accessories that are worn. The National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) both publish rulebooks that contain policies associated with uniform design. In addition, league rules may vary, so it’s important to check with the appropriate organization in terms of logo placement, lettering sizes, or name layout.
The opportunities and options that are available in decorating team uniforms are virtually unlimited. Keep these methods in mind and you’ll find that decorating team uniforms and apparel can equal big profits.

Cara Cherry is a PR manager for Stahls’ ID Direct, manufacturer of heat-applied graphics and equipment. She has a Master of Arts degree in Public Relations and Organizational Communications and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). She has written articles for various industry publications.
 


 

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