First of all, it seems like a very natural transition to start printing your own merchandise after a period of time. If you have a clothing company that is doing pretty well, you are going to say at some point or another say,
“Hey, I could save so much money if I printed my own shirts.”
That is true. Kind of. It is also the only benefit, and it might be worth the difference in money you’d be saving not to have to worry about it. I started off with Heart-Core Clothing and was doing really well for a period of time. Really well. It seemed like I was doing everything right, and it was paying off. I didn’t think that I would ever have to worry about money again. I got the notion in my head that printing my own shirts was a great idea.
I was completely wrong!
When you start a screen printing company, you lose focus on what is really important – your bread and butter – your clothing line. If your line is making good money the absolute WORST thing you can do is start screen printing.
Instead of focusing on designing, promoting, and improving your brand, you are now focusing on a completely different business. You now have to learn everything that goes into screen printing. You have to find a place to keep a press, a dryer, a flash, a washout area, an exposure unit and a dark room. If you don’t have a bunch of extra room, you have to rent a place.
That’s what I did. I found a nice affordable warehouse right off of the interstate. It was a steal! The problem was, I had to build a dark room in it. Then I had to tear the dark room down if I moved. So what did I do? I rented a second warehouse that was smaller so I could use the office area as the dark room. I figured that since Heart-Core had a bunch of stock, and we were doing a lot of wholesale orders we could use the extra space anyway.
From running my own clothing company — I knew the basics about screen printing. In fact, I was a pretty decent screen printer as a result of working and printing at Fueled By Ramen. I was printing 3500 shirts a day for bands, so I knew my stuff. At the time I worked there, I was the only printer for a while, so I had to do it all. That includes screwing up a bunch of AA shirts and expensive AA hoodies. The learning curve on screen printing is a tough one. You will screw things up, and you might not even notice until everything is done. Then you have to go back through and if you’re lucky enough to have a spot gun that blasts out spots, fix every single shirt. Or if you had the dryer temperature too high and didn’t notice — throw away a bunch of burned shirts.
Back to the warehouse – I was paying a lot for my space by the end of a couple years. What happened? I was paying the same amount of money, but I was making a lot less. Why? Because I wasn’t focusing on my brand anymore. Every day I had to print films, prepare screens, emulsion screens, burn screens, setup the job for printing, pull and count shirts, print the shirts, count the shirts out, individually fold them for fulfillment, shelve them, break down the job, clean the screens, put up the ink (holy crap a huge task all in itself, keeping ink that never dries around), blast out the emulsion from the screens, etc … etc … etc. Not to mention all of the money I was spending on ink, tape, emulsion, glue, electricity, water, rent, emulsion remover, de-hazer, de-greaser, squeegees, goop scoops, etc … etc … etc. I wasn’t saving money at this point. I was spending a lot more money on different things!
Once I realized I wasn’t spending enough time on my brand, I decided to hire some people to work for me and print the shirts. Well that really defeated the purpose. By the time I was paying them, I was now paying MORE than I was to just get my shirts printed somewhere else. Yes, I was selling a whole lot of shirts, so I didn’t really have a problem paying them, but I didn’t do the math at the time either. Also, even if I wanted to stop printing my own stuff, I couldn’t. I was stuck in a lease and was wishing I never got into it to begin with.
So fast forward to today. My brand is basically on the back-burner permanently. I am now a printer and own my own screen printing company — no longer really recognized for the brand I own and operate. People come to me when they want shirts printed. I love printing and making other people’s artwork come to life — but then again, I really miss my brand! Printing is a lot more work than running a brand.
So take my advice. Get someone else to print your shirts. You will do much better for yourself and your brand if you focus on sales, designs, and marketing. Let someone else deal with production.