For this Arizona company, garment decorating is about more than fashion; it’s a platform for socially responsible business.
An End-to-End Overhaul
Several months after Nelson joined the Fed By Threads partnership, co-founder Appadurai resigned from the company for personal reasons. Nelson and Shah took over the operation and began to reexamine the company’s decorating processes. Its contract printing vendors were asked to use sustainable, non-PVC inks, green chemicals, and hypoallergenic sprays; they were given a six-month grace period to comply. “What we ended up with was some vendors who weren’t willing to change,” says Nelson.
Each size shirt has different neck label copy that reinforces the Fed By Threads message – Nelson calls it the company’s “emotional capital.” Printed five at a time on a custom platen prior to decorating, they help prevent sizing errors and are even requested as shirt-front graphics on occasion.
Thus began a shift to in-house printing. With four 4-color and two 6-color presses and an electric dryer, the goal is for 20 percent of the company’s printing to be done in-house by the second quarter of 2017, moving to 80 percent or more by the end of the year. New staff is being hired and trained for the green shop, which will continue for the near-term to use both plastisol and water-based inks to accommodate seasonal variations in the Tucson climate.
“Designing for screen printing here is like growing seasonal vegetables for an organic restaurant; you have to factor in the climate as well as the garment,” notes Nelson.
The company also revisited its growth and marketing strategies. After experimenting with the idea of creating an upscale shopping experience for their customers, the pair realized retail wasn’t the right path to take. “We discovered that the people who shared our values were willing to pay a premium for our garments, which basically sold themselves,” says Nelson. “The problem was that customers tended to buy fewer items less frequently.” The data supported a switch to custom printing exclusively, perhaps with an eye on returning to retail once the brand and customer base were established. The retail store was closed in December 2016, and work began on a revamped website with a custom printing focus.
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