By Cassandra Balentine
With digital printing technologies, businesses are able to offer custom, short-run apparel printing at reasonable prices. This enables entrepreneurs to turn passions into profit.
This was certainly the case for Drew, owner of Phunky Threads. Bred from his love of live music, specifically the jam band variety, Drew found a way to pay his way from show to show. He would sell t-shirts in the parking lots before shows from boxes of inventory stored in the basement of his home in OH. This worked well for him in the early 2000s. However, when he settled down and started a family there was less time for his side business and so it was put on hold.
About seven years ago, he had the time and drive to reevaluate the hobby when he decided to take his now older son to a show. “My son asked for a shirt for the show. I designed it and posted it on Facebook and people wanted to know how to get one.”
It was around this time Drew discovered direct-to-garment (DTG) printing through a friend that owned a local print shop. Amidst his product line up was a second-hand Mimaki USA, Inc. DTG printer. An older model, it was limited in that it didn’t have white ink and wasn’t made for high volumes, but it was able to create a variety of different designs on demand. This eliminated the minimum run often required for screen printing. With digital DTG printing techniques, it is much easier and affordable to produce one-off or low-run t-shirts.
With the help of DTG technology, Phunky Threads mets social media demands. People could PayPal $20 along with their address and in about a week the shirt is shipped. “I thought maybe I can restart the idea of band shirts, but online rather than the traditional parking lot sale.” These were the days before custom t-shirts were readily available through PrintFul and Printify. Although Phunky Threads competes against these bigger ecommerce brands now, the company enjoys a loyal clientele and is set apart from the competition with a niche focus.
Without the need for a stocked inventory, Phunky Threads offers many designs one-off. It also provides upgrade packages to promote order quantities over one. The company orders daily from its shirt distributor, offering sizes from onesies and toddler to 6XL. “No one is printing 6XL shirts,” says Drew.
As business picked up, more work was sent over to the print provider. With the typical order volumes it made more sense to upgrade the DTG printer. Further, without white ink capabilities, Phunky Threads was limited to white and heather gray cotton fabrics. Now, a Brother International Corporation DTG printer is in place, which includes white ink capabilities. “That did wonders for me as far as opening up my creativity,” shares Drew.
In addition to technical advancements, the past year’s events have had a positive impact on business.
While Phunky Threads is a side business, it is booming. With COVID-19, people are home and ordering more, adding to its usual holiday boost.
In early pandemic days, Phunky Threads introduced dye-sublimated (dye-sub) neck gaiters. These were a huge item early on, but have tapered off a bit.
In addition to partnering with a local print provider for t-shirt and other small item orders, other inventory is offered. For this, Drew outsources to another company with a more industrial set up. Popular items sent over include ticket stub towels and blankets.
Drew sees event concert ticket stubs as a little piece of artwork, which can be commemorated on blankets. For these items, customers simply upload images of ticket stubs in the online ordering system. Pictures can be from a smartphone, blown up, and prepared for print.
“One thing about the dye-sub process is that it’s very forgiving. Even with smaller images, it translates well. With screen printing you can’t do one-offs and you can’t do small type because it will bleed together. I even get some wholesale customers that we may still push to DTG just because it’s a better product and easier to work with.”
Ordering Made Easy
One important element of an ecommerce apparel business is easy ordering. You can find Phunky Threads online in three places, its website—phunkythreads.com, Etsy shop, and Amazon. The most complete inventory line up is available on the website, with limited items available through Amazon and Etsy.
Customer service is also important to Phunky Threads, as many of its customers return if they have a good experience. “I have a lot of repeat customers. In addition to email marketing, I speak to customers and want them to know that I’m a fan like they are. In the past, people have recognized me and my kids at shows. If I meet someone at a show wearing my shirt, I make a point to say thank you,” he shares. “I still get jazzed every time I get an order or see one of my shirts, that’s a lot of the fun of this for me.”
Phunky Threads is able to complete against bigger ecommerce sites with a niche brand and a passion that resonates with his customer base thanks to DTG printing technologies.
Mar2021, DPS Magazine