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The Big Interview We took the ink nerd

and the fibre nerd and said we were going to make garments that were myopically focused on sublimation… The best thing that can happen to you in your career is to find a problem that you can solve.

– Chris Bernat, owner and founder of Vapor Apparel

Chris and his team put a lot of effort into determining which colours join their range. “Take for example our light blue Basic T. When we decided to pick that colour we had our mill send us 11 different light blues, then we analysed these samples with a spectrophotometer to determine which one had the highest level of print accuracy. This takes a lot of time, but weʼve seen the benefits as volume of sales are up,” he explains.

Product innovation

As well as varying types and styles of T shirts, Vapor Apparel also supplies a myriad of accessories, including dog bandanas, scarves and socks. Socks, Chris says, has become a huge part of the sublimation market in the US. This trend originated from basketball teams wanting socks to match their shoes. “We are seeing sublimators setting up on site at games and printing socks on demand for fans,” says Chris. Just a quick search of #customsocks on Instagram demonstrates the popularity of this product.

After introducing socks into Vapor Apparelʼs range three years ago, a hunting sock is the latest addition, as Chris explains: “If you are going up a mountain you donʼt want a regular athletic sock, you want something with a little

Examples of some custom socks

Chris Bernat pictured at P&P LIVE! in February

warmth to it. We have created a sock that is cotton and wool on the inside and polyester on the outside. Even with the sock category you have to innovate.” It is this desire to innovate that led to the introduction of the Solar Performance line – a range of clothing with in-built UPX50+ sun protection. Chris says these garments are growing in popularity in the sports market, as well as the gift/ souvenir market in holiday resorts. And the innovation doesnʼt stop there. Chris says that Vapor Apparel is currently working on a new fabric that repels water. Code named Water Stop, this fabric utilises the same technology used in the military to prevent soldiers from getting wet in the jungle, but is being tweaked to make it sublimation friendly. “The point is that we always have something going on in product development,” says Chris. Vapor Apparelʼs products are priced at the upper end of the market, but Chris reasons this by saying they have considered every problem a sublimator could possibly encounter and solved it. “We donʼt want people experiencing shrinkage or colours that donʼt work or not having access to the correct time or temperature recommendations. We find that sublimators are willing to pay more for a shirt that will ultimately contribute to a lower error rate in their print shop. I tell people we make Land Rovers and BMWs, but they are competitively and fairly priced for what they are. We have been referred to as the customisable version of Adidas and Nike,” says Chris. Vapor Apparel is currently riding on a high in the US and has grown by 25% each year for the last five years. In addition to this it was recently named as the seventh fastest growing company in South Carolina. It is this success that the company is hoping to emulate in the UK. “We like to say we perform well on the press and on the field,” says Chris. And letʼs hope that remains true as Vapor Apparel begins its venture into the UK market.

Chris’ sublimation titbits


roviding education for sublimators is something that Chris sees as crucial. Although he founded Vapor Apparel, Chris still takes tech support calls from his customers several times a week so he can keep his ear close to the ground.

Here Chris provides some little anecdotes to give sublimators some

food for thought. ● Sublimation will only truly work on 100% polyester. It will work on a 65/35% poly/cotton garment, but any area that is cotton will not hold the ink correctly and

will crack, peel and fade. ●You should aim to target the gift/souvenir market as it is the safest kind of retail on the planet. People buy T shirts because they want to remember their holiday or trip. To monopolise on this take a fantastic picture of a location/ resort and use a geographically specific

namedrop in your design. ●Always lint roll your garments because you donʼt know what the contamination is like in your print shop. We wrap every six shirts in plastic to prevent any kind of contamination, while

our garments travel to our customers. ● Use a deconstructed Teflon pillow to prevent press and paper lines caused during the transfer process. This adds a layer of cushioning in between your press plates allowing the edges of the transfer paper to float off the edge of the

garment. ●The three biggest sales tools at your disposal are; the innate human desire to

be unique, Facebook and Photoshop. ● Use a template when sublimating socks, because if you print socks and theyʼre not on the jib, when someone with big beefy calves wears them the material of the sock will show through as

the print stretches. ● Do not change your customersʼ art for free. If nothing else on the invoice you should put the cost, and then negate it out so the customer is aware of the charge, but that you have provided the service for free. It establishes that there is a value to the service and the

customer will be impacted by that. ● Choose the right garment for the right market. An electrician has no need for sun protection T shirts and a sports team probably has no need for 4XL and

5XL garments. ● Embroiderers should consider sublimation as a great business add on, because embroidery already has a very high perceived value so your customer base is already predisposed to value. Sublimation resonates with that kind of

customer. ● And finally, remember that a sample a day keeps the printer repairman away.

May 2017 | 25 |

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