Kerry King is Senior Vice President Research and Development for Spoonflower, which has been a success since it was founded by Stephen Fraser and Gart Davis nearly 12 years ago. Back then, very few people considered the option of designing and printing their own fabrics because not only was it expensive to print a custom design – from $ 50 per yard for bulk orders to $ 150 per yard for smaller orders -, instead, many surface pattern designers do not have a low-investment platform through which they can sell their products directly to consumers. Advances in digital printing and on online sites like Spoonflower have changed this beyond recognition.
As a result, the company’s customers have grown to over 4.5 million people, who choose from more than a million designs for fabrics and wallpapers via the online marketplace.
Spoonflower is currently in the process of moving to a larger and better-equipped facility at its headquarters in Durham, North Carolina that will soon be as fully integrated as the company’s second Berlin office, which is currently handling international orders.
Kristen Dettoni is the founder of East Hampstead, New Hampshire-based Design Pool, which specializes in licensing or delivering proprietary seamless patterns through its own digital library, and works with leading print-on-demand companies like Spoonflower. An important goal is to sensitize institutional planners, architects and interior designers to the potential of on-demand digital printing services. Domada Design is a recently launched extension of the Design Pool with a focus on items for individual living spaces.
Domada was founded as an online shop in just 30 days.
“Without Industry 4.0 tools this would not have been possible in the past,” said Dettoni. “We don’t have any inventory and everything is made on request. The DIY part of the business has been very successful, but the challenge is reaching the commercial and residential companies. The do-it-yourselfers get it, but interior designers are little aware of the potential and these are the markets we want to enter. “
Prima-Tex, based in Buena Park, California, is a family-run, full-service provider of digitally and rotary printed fabrics, from design to fabric sourcing, printing, cutting and sewing to labeling and packaging.
CEO Jonathan Tio said the company started off with rotary printing, which still makes sense for many customers who bulk-order single-design fabrics.
“The two technologies can work well together, especially the delivery of digitally printed samples and the rotation of bulk orders because of the lower total costs. However, one good thing about digital printing is that many more people are investing time in research and development. “
With ten sewing machine operators on site, Prima-Tex has focused part of its production on face masks for consumers over the past six months.
The next normal
All three panelists agreed that the existing supply chains for clothing and home textiles need to change and that online print-on-demand can become the “next normal case” based on collaboration, transparency and agility.
“Our company knew from the start that waterless printing was the way to go and that it makes sense to reduce the number of process steps to achieve a low-impact business,” said King. “Spoonflower’s digital printing process continues its innovations on the pillars our founders put in place through an environmentally friendly process, sustainable operating practices, the use of water-based pigment inks and dyes, and initiatives to further reduce waste by-products.”
She added that Spoonflower has also focused part of its production on face masks, “based on the skill of the makers, whether sewing or designing, which is the right space for us.”
“We are a source of unique fabrics and offer kits for the manufacturing community that can be put together, cut and sewn.
Speaking of advances in digital printing, Dettoni said so much had been achieved in areas of sustainability, not least in the development of clean dyes.
“People forget that digital printing is only available on demand and you only order what you need. This is one of the reasons it is replacing older business models,” she said. “Digital sampling is now also very cheap and worthwhile from the consumer’s point of view to see and feel the fabrics. The nice thing is that each order can be fully customized. “
Advances in automation and 3D visualization have been identified as new tools that can be used to fully schedule jobs.
“Digital printing is about joining all the parts and pieces together and completely automating the process from the first order to the cutting,” said King. “All solutions have to talk to each other.”
For Tio, the takeover of a laser cutter by Prima-Tex means strengthening the company’s current face mask and PPE business.
“It allows us to do so much more in one go, and it doesn’t require a lot of specific skills. You just program, load the material, and run it. The speed can be a bit slower overall, but offers a lot more freedom in terms of shapes and sizes. “
While the panelists agreed that sewing remains a bottleneck despite the constant advancement of sewing machines, the ongoing trend towards independent design and faster, small-scale online manufacturing and delivery remains.
“In general, this is a huge win for making unique and useful products,” said King.
“So much has changed and it has allowed anyone to get into this business,” added Tio.
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