Apparel Production Process, and introduction to the clothing industry.

          The production process is the physical manifestation of your idea or business. You should expect for this entire process to take about 2-3 weeks to complete if you already have the design work done and finalized. Production entails blank sourcing, artwork processing (not creating), printing and finishing.

          Working with a designer to develop your concepts prior to production is its own timeline and can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 weeks. Whether you need to hire one, or create the images yourself, depends on your market and how good of a designer you are. now offers Illustrator (also known as "AI") as a RENTAL within the Creative Cloud suite of products, so you can pay $19.99 a month and have a constantly updated version instead of shelling out $600 to purchase the program that will be out of date in a year or so. 

          If you decide to hire a designer directly, you should look at their previous work and who their clients are. Sites like and also have great, budget friendly options, but again, be sure to look at what their previous work consists of.

**Bonus points if they’ve done work for print shops or apparel brands in the past!**  

          A lot of designers have only done work intended for mockups, stickers and other items, which have a much lower quality threshold for production than what apparel requires. Printing quality shirts requires a VERY clean design with some specific qualities that your designer should be aware of, ie: correct color separation, clean layering, open vector formats, etc.

          If you're working with a dedicated, professional designer, you should be looking to spend anywhere from $150 - $450 per design, depending on the complexity of the design you want them to create. The other sites I mentioned are much cheaper, but you may not get the experience and personalized attention to detail that SHOULD come with a designer working just for you.

          I say "should" because designers are notoriously difficult to work with, and if you find a good one that actually understands your concepts, and delivers quality designs on time, KEEP THEM. 

* The intricate artwork in this design needs to be created and executed exactly. You need to make sure your designer can deliver a product that you're happy with, but even more importantly, will SELL to your market.

          Take your time in researching the print shop you want to use. Faster and larger production machines are more expensive, thus usually only larger, more established print shops are able to afford those bigger machines. Those print shops likely got that big because they’re actually good at what they do and have a large client base. Generally, you’ll want to work with the largest print shop that will take you on. It may be nice to go with a smaller shop for the personal attention, but you’ll likely run into scaling problems fairly quickly and they may not have the experience to produce things with consistency across your entire line. 

 * An example of an automatic printing press. This machine costs upwards of +$160,000.00. A small print shop won't be able afford this machine, which has the capability of printing up 1,000+ shirts per hour. If you are planning to grow your company (which you should be), it is important to consider a print shop with capabilities that you can grow into.    

          It sounds nice to start with a small print shop and “grow with them”, but this usually means they don’t have any idea what they’re doing, and are counting on you to be their guinea pig. This approach doesn’t usually end up well for the guinea pig.         


          On another note, its important to know that volume affects costs – tremendously – because time is literally a direct equation to money in this situation. The material costs aren’t that high (aside from blanks), so it’s usually the hourly wages that are the biggest cost. That’s why volume plays such a big role. The set up work required for each design takes a lot of time, sometimes several hours, but once it’s set up, you can run thousands of shirts using the same screens. 

          So what kind of volume should you be doing, and how do you know how much to spend on a shirt in the first place?

          Here are some examples. An efficient apparel line should run at approximately 400% markup. So, if you retail a shirt for $20, you should be getting that shirt for $5 (wholesaling for $10, but that’s a different topic). A clothing brand that’s just starting up, or a business that sells apparel, but not as its primary product, should shoot for a 250%-300% markup. If that business is selling product for $20, they should aim to get the shirt for around $6.50. 

          The difference in cost of goods ($5 vs $6.50) and thus, markup (400% vs 300%), is due to the volume of product ordered. The established clothing line is usually pushing a lot more sales volume than a company just starting out, so they’re able to buy shirts at a much higher volume to get the discounted rates. This obviously gives them higher margins than clothing brands just starting out, and more money in their pocket. Starting out at 300% mark up is still good, but always keep in mind that a 400% markup is the goal you should be working towards.

          Each print shop has their own pricing structure and price breaks at different levels, but usually you’ll start to see significant volume discounts at around 360 units and 1,000 units, per design. 

          As a side note, it is possible to just go all out as a new brand and order high volume right off the bat to get great rates, and you can hit that 400% markup right away, but if you don’t have the sales coming in to support that amount of inventory expenditure, you’re going to be out of pocket a lot of money and it’ll be a long time before you can pay yourself back. So basically, all that money you saved will be sitting useless in your warehouse. A great rule of thumb in the apparel industry is: "Inventory on the shelf makes you no money”. Making sales and pushing product is the key.

          So, now that you know how much volume affects the price of the shirt, you can start to understand why apparel can be such a highly profitable business venture to get into, but only if you also understand how to make production run as smooth as possible, and order efficiently based on your market. 

          Hope you found this useful! Our next blog will be covering how to determine which types of shirt blanks best fit your market, and which to avoid. Blank selection and volume are the TWO things that affect your cost the most, we just discussed the volume portion, don't miss the second half of that equation!

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- Ryan Williams

 *Disclosure: We are NOT being paid by any of the companies, websites or entities we linked to in this article. Industry Threadworks is 100% independent, which means we can be 100% honest with our perspective and advice. 

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