Founder, Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627)
For Kathy Cheng, the key to an efficient apparel manufacturing company is keeping things local. The founder of Redwood Classics Apparel, the fastest-growing ad specialty company in Canada, is the resilient force behind the company’s desire to go against the traditional promotional supply chain model. “We own and operate our domestic production operations, along with our raw materials inventory. We can quickly custom design, develop and produce unique products tailored to client desires and needs,” she says. The daughter of Chinese immigrants grew up in the apparel trade and took her parents’ company to new heights – but only after facing a make-or-break decision to overhaul or close in the wake of the recession. Cheng opted to stay, and today WS & Co. produces apparel for some of the biggest names in retail, while Redwood Classics is establishing a lucrative foothold in the Canadian promotional marketplace. “Knowing that we are giving back to the country that has given our family so much is a massive accomplishment,” she says.
Home-Spun: “I am a true believer in the people, planet, profit model. Similar to the local food revolution that encourages farm-to-table eating, my top priority is to let more North Americans know that though there are not many, there are still some manufacturing companies on our continent.”
Creative Director, Kotis Design (asi/244898)
Nic Thomassen has always been interested in graphic arts; he started designing T-shirts for anyone who asked during his fraternity days at the University of Washington. When he teamed up with Jeff Becker, who had also made a name on campus selling custom tees, a lucrative business was born. Fast-forward a decade and Seattle-based Kotis Design still has a firm foothold in the university Greek system as a go-to decorator in about 500 schools. These days, however, roughly two-thirds of its business comes from the corporate world, particularly breweries and tech companies. What sets Kotis apart, Thomassen says, is its commitment to design – the company employs a dozen designers – and willingness to take risks, like opening its own print shop in 2011, and later adding a small cut-and-sew operation to meet consumer demand for trendy contrast pockets on tees. “That was a great example of taking this college trend and figuring out how to do something tons of people told us we can’t do,” Thomassen says.
Control Measures: “We’re just big on in-sourcing and having more control. All of it takes longer, costs more and is more difficult, but in the end you become more of a master.”
Account Executive, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000)
No matter the client, Casey Silseth isn’t afraid to go bold. Eye-catching colors and unique decorations are a constant for the apparel sold by the account executive from HALO Branded Solutions. “Anyone can sell a left-chest embroidered logo, but when you start creating pieces with different decoration techniques and colors, your piece almost becomes custom,” says the Chicago-area rep, who has worked in the industry since 2008. “Your competition now has a tougher time stealing the business away, and your customer feels like they have a special piece that is uniquely theirs.” He recognizes the importance of having strong supplier relationships, particularly with Rachel Hare of Trimark Powered by Leed’s (asi/66888). Together the two dream up embroidered and decorated pieces that surpass customer expectations. “Sometimes the client isn’t always ready for the creativity they are about to receive, but what they find out immediately is that I am their apparel expert,” says Silseth. “Now they see me as something more, even if they only order the left-chest embroidered shirt at the end.”
Creative License: “I love the wow factor I get from the customer when they say, ‘I had no idea you could do something like this.’ I think that validation is why I get up every morning.”
President & CEO, T-Shirt Tycoon Solutions Inc. (asi/87000)
When it comes to producing fashionable T-shirts, Adam Walterscheid has a motto: “We make the closet, not the drawer.” The President and CEO of T-Shirt Tycoon Solutions has based his company on the idea that a shirt that makes the closet is worn at least 20 times, while clothing that makes the drawer is worn only three or four times. “After that, it’s used to wash the car,” he says. To achieve that goal, Walterscheid has generated a number of inventive techniques (lenticular, NFC technology) that have made T-Shirt Tycoon the fastest-growing supplier since 2011. Moreover, he takes an enlightened approach to brand management, with a relentless focus on private labeling. The causes merge with innovations like his company’s inside-out print technique, which creates a vintage-style tee without compromising corporate logo guidelines. “We’ve developed core print techniques,” says Walterscheid. “These are ways we print your customers’ logo while holding brand integrity.”
Private Education: “We educate on the importance of the private label. It protects our preferred partners from competitors quoting on their shirt.”
Sr. Vice President Operations, Top Promotions
It’s no easy task to help build what was once a small screen-printing firm into a booming and diversified printing business. There is an additional mission that Shannon Mayerl, senior VP of operations at Top Promotions, executes with pride: to incorporate blind and visually impaired individuals into the various departments of the company. The initiative was started by Top Promotions’ parent company, Industries for the Blind. “The blind population has an extremely high unemployment rate, about 75% unemployment, and we’d like to play a part in reducing that rate,” she says. “Having blind employees just requires some thought in terms of processes, planning and adaptive technology.” Mayerl has also worked with city planners and the local metro bus system to add a bus route by the company’s building to accommodate for the blind workers. Within the next three years she hopes to add 16 more blind employees, bringing the total to 20.
Mission First: “We want to have a positive impact on not only our customers and our employees but on our community. It’s about having a mission that we can stand behind and take pride in – to know that we are not only providing a quality product to our customers on time, but we are doing so while also providing employment opportunities where many others would shy away because of the challenges.”
President, Trimark Sportswear Group (asi/92122)
Style-setting garments and cutting-edge decoration are rarely found under the same roof, which makes Trimark Sportswear Group a successful outlier in the industry. President Will Andrew has capably guided the supplier to its current leading-edge position, with an aim toward redefining the way apparel manufacturers do business. Over the last three years, Trimark has introduced exciting decoration techniques like True Edge (free-standing transfers with no contour around the image) and the brand-new inFusion, which offers high-resolution graphics and unlimited colors with no-hand feel. Andrew partnered Trimark with Leed’s (asi/66887) in the U.S., bringing over best practices like 24-hour turnaround time on decorated orders, but it’s his focus on the marriage of decoration and design that leads Trimark forward. “We now build products exclusively for the ultimate decoration that will be applied, which is a first in the industry,” he says. “It is a logical extension for our engineering team, who are relentlessly testing new methods of decoration for apparel.”
Passion Play: “We make it our passion to evoke the pride of those wearing our branded apparel.”
Owner, Forward Printing
Back when Dan Corcoran was working “insane hours” as a bakery manager, he remembers a slew of bad experiences ordering logoed apparel for employees. Corcoran saw a need for quality craftsmanship and good customer service in the industry – which is why he started Forward Printing in Oakland, CA, nearly a decade ago. The decorator got into waterbase inks early on, teaching himself through long nights of trial and error after other screen printers refused to share their knowledge. “We just keep trying to push the envelope,” he says. “We found a lot of the things that the manufacturer said we couldn’t do [with waterbase inks], we could do.” Forward Printing continues to experiment with inks, like the trendy high solids acrylics, as it strives to become a 100% waterbase shop. Corcoran has also made it a mission to educate customers and other screen printers on ink chemistry and decoration techniques. Elevating standards across the board, he says, will help the industry thrive.
Good Karma: “Ultimately, we’re just not on a capitalist mission to become some huge company. More than anything, we like helping other shops. … We call it business karma. We just want to take the high road.”
CEO, Boxercraft (asi/41325)
Boxercraft has been the “comfortable” choice for promotional apparel for nearly 30 years, but CEO Shelley Foland is aiming to take the apparel manufacturing process out of its much-maligned comfort zone. Foland has aligned the company with Industrial Revolution II, a manufacturing facility in Haiti that invests 50% of its profits into their workers, families and the local community through health and wellness programs and training and education initiatives. “Consumers are paying attention to where their garments are being manufactured and the conditions of the factories when they purchase products,” she explains. Meanwhile, since taking over as CEO last year, Foland has recalibrated the supplier’s design direction with the company’s b*sport line, which captures the growing performance-wear trend that’s being worn outside the gym. “We carefully and methodically shop the market for trends in color and style,” Foland says. “We research the markets we serve, and work closely with retailers and customers to be sure we are providing distinctive merchandise for the upcoming season.”
Listening Skills: “My favorite part of the process is engaging with customers. We all have something to learn and when I meet our varied customers, I find it most gratifying. Listening to our customers provides answers to how we grow and satisfy their needs along with creating opportunities for long-term partnerships.”
Director of Research and Development, Lynka Promotional Solutions
Pawel Hojol has a passion for solving production puzzles, whether it’s figuring out the most successful methods of printing on new materials, developing new embroidery techniques or mastering the use of specialty inks. Hojol came to Lynka in 1997, five years after the Krakow, Poland-based promotional apparel company was founded. He started out as a shift supervisor and was quickly promoted to production manager, a role where he devoted himself to learning new printing techniques and training staff. Today, he is head of Lynka’s research and development team. A self-described perfectionist, Hojol says he strives to push each decoration process to the limit, while ensuring that it’s cost-effective and efficient for a large production facility. As a result, the company has won a slate of awards for its innovative special effects prints. His latest challenge is incorporating a state-of-the-art computer-to-screen imaging system – the first of its kind in operation in Poland – to Lynka’s production floor.
A Digital Future: “Each year, more and more companies are producing equipment for digital printing on textiles. Devices are getting better, more efficient and operating costs are becoming cheaper.”
Vice President, Portfolio and Supplier Management, alphabroder (asi/34063)
Overseeing a team that manages over 40 private label and industry brands for a total of 1,500 unique styles is no easy task. But there is a tangible reward for Andrea Engel that merits all the juggling: satisfying the customers of alphabroder. “Nothing makes me happier than designing and developing products that speak to the widest audience possible,” says Engel, who spent over five years with Alpha Shirt Company before rejoining alphabroder last year. “When I can connect with a particular customer or end-user need, and develop a product that fits that need, I’m extremely happy.” Trend and fabric research, stocking forecasts and accurate brand messaging are all part of the job for the apparel veteran. Most recently, Engel and her team re-launched the supplier’s Authentic Pigment brand with a fresh new logo and products that bring an energetic, youthful vibe. She says: “We developed the new brand slogan ‘True to Your Spirit,’ which not only speaks to the definition of ‘authentic’ but also speaks to the audience for whom this brand was developed: those who are individualistic, artistic and unconventional.”
Developing Story: “Developing products is a difficult but passionate process during which many people pour out their blood, sweat and tears. To see those products go on sale and to hear customer success stories and gauge customer response is definitely the best part.”
Executive Director, Sustainable Green Printing Partnership
Martine Padilla has a storied career in the world of print buying, with a 30-year resume that includes stints at Wal-Mart, Colgate, Payless and Disney. Several years ago, as the authorized print director of Toyota, she noticed a trend of printers touting their green properties. “I’m like, ‘Really? Based on what?’ ” she says. So, she started crafting sustainability guidelines, realizing early on that it was a task she couldn’t take on alone. Padilla became one of the original stakeholders of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, which created a system of transparent and measurable best practices in sustainability. The partnership certified its first printer in 2008. Now, there are more than 50 certified SGP printers, crossing over all technologies, including decorated apparel. In January, Padilla took over as the organization’s executive director. “I know we can get our name out there and make a difference,” she says. Her focus has been on education and starting conversations between printers and the brands they serve.
The Three P’s: “True sustainability is about your people, your profits and your planet, the old three-pillar conversation. It’s not just about being green.”