Q&A: Steve Kanney, Target Decorated Apparel

The who, what and wear of industry experts

  • Steve Kanney
  • Owner of Target Decorated Apparel (asi/90549).
  • Winner of inaugural Wearables Top Decorator competition.
  • Oversees full-service decoration shop that has won more than 50 industry awards.

Performance fabrics are hot. Our business has changed pretty drastically since I came aboard a few years ago. We were a screen printer, but we’ve evolved into a full-service decorator. We’ve been doing a ton of foil work, some puff embroidery, and waterbased printing. Direct-to-garment is getting bigger every year. Probably the biggest trend, though, has been performance fabrics. From tees to hoodies to polos – you name it – we’re seeing it in a performance fabric. We personally have had to adapt to the challenges of decorating on these fabrics. We’ve had to learn by fire in some cases.

Too many choices is a good problem to have. When I started in the industry 25 years ago working for my parents’ printing and promotional products distributorship, S&S Activewear (asi/84358) had, like, an eight-page, black-and-white catalog printed on colored paper. Now, the S&S catalog is more than 800 pages, and there are a number of other wholesalers just like that. The garment choices, the fabric choices, the decorating options, it’s a lot for suppliers and distributors and clients to deal with. It’s much, much cooler to have all the options, but, gosh, it’s gotten challenging.

Chicago breeds champions. Our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cup championships in six years. That’s an unprecedented achievement. My Target DA team has been through each one, working 24-hour shifts, producing as many as 100,000 shirts in 48 hours to support the team. It’s hard work, and the team is drained, but they always have a great attitude and a little twinkle of Chicago pride in their eyes.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. That’s a fairly well-known quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, but I first heard it from my older brother, whom I’d always looked up to. The point is, if you don’t at least get in the fight and swing away, you will never find greatness, and you will never accomplish any goals. Live life, and take the shot. What’s the worst that can happen?

Father knows best. For all of my father’s wackiness (he’s a Buckeyes fan, from the Woody Hayes era; I think some readers will get that), he’s a great man and has taught me and my siblings some great life lessons. He’s a serial entrepreneur, and I was lucky enough to have inherited that trait. He is fearless.

My team is the best. I wake up every day knowing I have a great team to go into battle with, and that’s huge as an owner. I love each and every one of them. They are constantly asking me to stop creating new stuff, but that’s what keeps it interesting for me and has helped us diversify and see less seasonality in our business.

You’re never too old to play. I’m an avid football fan and have Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals season tickets. I’m also a fan of toys – you know, cars, trucks, motorcycles, wave-runners, all the good stuff. They keep me young and feeling alive, I guess.

You should do what you say you’re going to do. I think clients just want to be treated fairly, and if you say you’re going to deliver, then deliver. It’s tougher than it sounds, but that is the ultimate goal.

The industry has changed a lot in 25 years. Technology will continue to become a larger and larger part of the game, and I think the relationships between suppliers and distributors will become even grayer than they have already become. It’s very, very different than it was when I first got into the industry.

I’m not big on fantasy. My favorite book is Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. It’s set in Chicago, where I’ve lived my entire life and is based on real events. It contrasts the truly evil that can exist in society, against the truly great that has happened. A great read.