By Robert Zoch, Global Content Manager, Kornit Digital
Versatile Technology Means Adapting to a Disrupted Economy
In times of emergency, it’s common for manufacturers with production infrastructure in place to repurpose their operations to fulfill demand for vital goods. In times of war, an automotive company will stop making sedans and start churning out airplanes. Facing a pandemic, that same automotive company produces respirators.
Textile manufacturers offer a perfect example in the COVID-19 era. Since the outbreak, such businesses have answered the call for personal protection equipment in the form of face masks, medical apparel, and other necessary goods for those fighting on the front line.
Being the world’s leading provider of solutions for sustainable digital textile print-on-demand, Kornit Digital has been contributing free ink, as well as continuous technical support, to customers who have shifted their focus to producing gear for healthcare personnel, victims, struggling families, and others in harm’s way. This piece highlights two such businesses that have stepped outside their traditional business models to meet these sudden challenges.
When Social Distancing Shrinks Print Runs, DTG Bears Fruit in Thailand
As distributor for Fruit of the Loom in Thailand, Chaiyaboon Brothers has been using digital direct-to-garment (DTG) technology for more than a decade, most recently implementing the Kornit Avalanche HD6 system for industrial-scale decoration of short- and long-sleeve t-shirts. Currently, the business imprints 600-800 pieces for FOTL Thailand daily, most of them one piece per order. With print-on-demand capabilities, they ensure a consistent profit margin for these small orders.
As supported by Chaiyaboon Brothers, FOTL Thailand caters primarily to three customer types: end-consumers themselves, individual designers selling their t-shirt designs online, and screen-printing shops outsourcing their short runs. In the latter case, screen printers are heavily geared towards mass production that justifies the considerable time and effort the silkscreen process requires; this model of subcontracting smaller orders to DTG shops has generated opportunity for other Kornit customers, as well.
In this regard, DTG is not a replacement for screen printing, but rather a practical supplement to it, ensuring an optimal solution for each job type and size.
With the advent of social distancing measures, however, the demand for small orders has skyrocketed, at the expense of larger orders. No large gatherings means no need for bulk orders. Rather, those screen-printing shops have had to turn to limited-edition and pre-order apparel, for which DTG technology is better suited. To eliminate inventory risk—a major concern for apparel brands worldwide right now—they need print-on-demand, and Chaiyaboon Brothers answers that need.
In addition to supporting those partners’ business needs in this difficult time, FOTL Thailand has found another way to make the best of their situation: Many of these screen shops sell blank face masks, so FOTL Thailand has been buying them to imprint via Kornit and provide to those in need.
Today, each FOTL Thailand t-shirt order Chaiyaboon Brothers ships includes an imprinted mask—one per parcel delivered. Those using a simple, repeated design are included at no charge. Those using a more complex design, made to match the corresponding t-shirts in the customer’s order, are included for $1 USD apiece, essentially for cost. Furthermore, they have been donating these masks to local community organizations to use as necessary.
In terms of both the garments that have long been the core of their business and the ability to imprint masks as needed, Kornit’s DTG technology has empowered FOTL Thailand to meet the changing demands that have come their way.
Digital Helps Hong Kong Extend a Heart2Heart to the World
Grandion Group is a Hong Kong-based manufacturer with production facilities in mainland China, managing apparel production from fabric sourcing to cutting, to sewing, to decoration, to finishing and shipment.
They provide OEM printing services for brands such as Zara, Bossini, and Baleno. In 2015, the company initiated its TML (“To Make Locally”) project, which seeks to make good use of Hong Kong’s competitive advantages, including talented designers, logistics, liquidity, and a well-established legal system for protecting intellectual property. Establishing a brand on the “made in Hong Kong” message has enabled them to broaden and enhance their supply chain capabilities while supporting and promoting local culture.
TML produces t-shirts, hoodies, and cushions on demand for Hong Kong theme parks, as well as enterprising designers and end-consumers who create and upload their own images and designs via the Snaptee platform and mobile app. The latter group includes customers as far-ranging as Europe and Japan, and the business has even expanded to include kiosks in shopping centers.
To fulfill this demand, TML installed two Kornit Storm II systems at its production center, largely due to the machine’s ability to deliver consistent high quality, as well as Kornit’s customer support infrastructure.
While TML’s operations were not impacted by the onset of COVID-19 to the same extent as many print businesses in other parts of the world (such as Western Europe and the United States), they took the initiative to create the “Heart2Heart” program.
They engaged with a community of Hong Kong designers to create t-shirt designs for 50 countries worldwide, with each printed shirt bearing an “HK Heart2Heart” icon to express solidarity across borders and ethnicities, encourage the global community to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic. All sales proceeds, less production costs, are being used to procure personal protective equipment for local charities and community groups.
As this piece is being written, TML is testing a new production process for fashionable, custom-made protective face masks using the Kornit Storm II systems. These masks will further add to their charitable efforts.
Looking beyond the pandemic response, TML believes their business will continue to grow long-term, and they intend to set up more t-shirt kiosks for the public, in addition to licensing local design brands and pop-up events incorporating custom-made elements to be printed via Kornit technology.
Digital Points the Way Forward
It’s no secret COVID-19 has devastated the textile industry, in terms of disrupted supply chains, infections slowing or shuttering factories, and demand disappearing altogether as both businesses and consumers suddenly reprioritize, with many retail stores worldwide closing and traffic shifting to e-commerce.
For manufacturers and decorators who had inventory concerns previously, these disruptions add considerable cost to the bottom line, and in many cases threaten to doom longstanding brands entirely. Even as the pandemic alleviates across the regions, resulting economic unease is widely expected to linger.
In this “new normal,” the case for digitized, on-demand production—producing only what is sold, when it’s sold, to eliminate inventory concerns and optimize profitability—offers a powerful proposition for a textile industry that today finds itself uncertain of its fortunes.
Digital textile print technology, which eliminates setup times, offers a rapid production cycle ideally suited to online business, generates a reliable profit from the first impression, and delivers greater detail with unlimited colors relative to traditional analog print methods. That it does so using safe, environmentally friendly consumables positions users to win over new generations of buyers who demand socially responsible production.
Finally, the streamlined production cycle digital enables means print operations can more easily consolidate their work to a single location, or, conversely, manage a fleet of print systems across multiple geographies, focusing on proximity production to shorten delivery times. Either way, businesses printing digitally can choose the production model that best serves their needs, and best protects them from the next global disruption.
To learn more about the benefits of digital textile printing, including both DTG and roll-to-roll direct-to-fabric systems, visit Kornit.com.
First published in Issue 05/2020 of Print Innovation Asia.