We’re Tee’d Off

We spent a couple days in Orlando attending the Surf Expo and the Imprinted Sportswear Show which were co-located in the ORL Convention Center last week. The hundreds of surfer dudes, awesome ski boats, skateboarders and strolling bikini models quickly convinced us that our best beach days are past but we still gathered priceless information on what we can target, and perhaps even more info about what will never work for us. Both are good to have.

Over the years it has seemed like every submission we receive suggests that their art, among other things, would be good for apparel. Which in reality means tee shirts (and sweats and caps). Unfortunately, people, that falls into the “easier said than done” column:

The decorated tee business is weird. It’s a big industry but the VAST majority of it is local, both in subject and production, and often it all gets lumped into a category commonly called “resort”, where the tee decorations can cover not only regional locales but schools, sports, outdoors anything, hobbies, lifestyle subjects, humor, pets, brands and more. There are thousands of what are called “apparel decorators” ranging from one man shops up to big factories capable of pumping out thousands of shirts. Over the last few years large POD websites utilizing direct-to-garment printing, along with improved technology that’s easier to learn and use have brought stiff new competition to the game, while at the same time order sizes and market times have been dropping. Does that sound familiar? Most decorators (who sell wholesale) sell their tees to boutique level stores and that basic model has not changed for years. They print up samples, take them to shows (or use catalogs) and only produce what is ordered. By necessity. Decorated apparel is difficult because of the inventory challenges – there are many sizes, colors, styles and fabrics to deal with even for a tee shirt, and it is impossible to guess what will sell and what won’t with enough accuracy to keep you in business – so they don’t guess. It’s also hard for the retailers as they need to lay in an inventory with significant space requirements, and if it does sell well the most popular designs/sizes sell out first so they need to reorder frequently to fill in the gaps. And then there’s that whole trend problem…

Mass market tees are a bit different, they are almost always brand based and often produced overseas in a large run from cheap stock so they can be sold for ridiculously low prices. Tough business to get in or to be in.

So, what does this mean for a potential licensor? Basically, it is difficult (at best) to make decent money licensing onto decorated apparel unless you have a large platform and the potential for brand status. There are still a few decorators out there who will license individual designs and they are very picky about what they choose. We sat with one client at the show chatting about how the biz has deteriorated over the years – like many licenses, it now pays a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. But, they do keep selling and it all adds up, so not all is lost!
I quote: “Back in the 80’s and 90’s we couldn’t do anything wrong, but now – now we’re just trying to figure out what’s next and keep the doors open”.

Yeah, ain’t it the truth.

1 reply
  1. Marty Qatani
    Marty Qatani says:

    That’s some disheartening news, but since my day job is as an artist in a fairly large screen printing facility, I have to agree with everything you wrote, based on what I see and hear on a daily basis. So does that make me foolish or determined to continuing to follow my passion ? I’ll go with determined, since I see apparel decoration as only part of what I want to do with my properties. It’s always good to be aware of the pitfalls and “downward” trends, and use them as a learning and modification tool. I’ve been working at this too long to do otherwise. Thanks for the info as always Jim.



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