The Ins and Outs of Apparel

Apparel is one of the leading industries in the world. It is valued at more than 3 trillion dollars and comprises 2% of global GDP. Womenswear is worth an estimated 621 billion dollars, followed by menswear at 402 billion. The United States has the largest apparel market worldwide, with a value of more than 395 billion dollars.

There may be a huge fashion market, but that also means there is a lot of competition and it is even harder to break into. In fact, more than 53% of clothing brands don’t survive after the end of their fourth year of operation.

To be successful in the industry, it is not enough to have creative or fashionable designs. You need to be well-informed on the manufacturing processes and plan strategically. If you are thinking about launching an apparel brand or opening a store, there are a number of things to consider.

At 10twelve, we work with apparel brands and run our own stores. Here are a some of the essentials that you need to know.

Design and Manufacturing Method

You might have a few of your own designs and even sketches ready to produce. The next question is: how will you do it? There are several options for producing apparel. However, you need to determine which one aligns with your brand standards and specific needs. Which fits your budget, aesthetic and timeline? These are all questions to consider when selecting a method. The most common methods are:

●      Screen printing

●      Digital printing

●      Sublimation

●      Embroidery

How do you know which is right for you? Here are some of the key differences, as well as advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Screen Printing

When garments are screen printed, it means that they are made with a stencil of sorts. These are referred to as screens and are used to apply multiple layers of ink to the apparel. Many of the t-shirts with catch phrases or vintage looks are created with screen printing. The process can be pretty laborious and costly. Each screen is custom-made for a design, so there is usually a minimum order requirement and screen set up fees. The more that you order, the less expensive it tends to be.


●      Cost-effective for large quantities

●      Produces vibrant Pantone colors

●      Prints on a wide-range of materials


●      Less detailed designs- or you are generally paying for additional screens and colors

●      Expensive if you only need a small quantity

●      More limited to a few colors per design

Digital Printing

When you use digital printing to create apparel, it transfers an image onto an item much like a printer does on paper. An image is uploaded to a computer and is transferred onto the garment using a digital printer. Since the design goes right onto the clothing, it is sometimes called DTG or direct-to-garment printing. The method is newer than screen printing, but uses CMYK ink that mimic colors.


●      Often most cost-effective for smaller quantities

●      Works well with heavily detailed designs

●      Fast production time


●      Often smaller range of design placements (i.e. front and back of t-shirt)

●      Charge is based on a flat rate, so there is generally no discount for larger orders.

●      Prints can look rubbery on darker colored garments.

●      Works best with cotton

Both screen and digital printing transfer best on cotton materials. However, screen printing is the more versatile and can be used on anything from polyester and nylon to bamboo and burlap.


Sublimation is also known as all over garment printing, because designs can be placed from seam to seam. Sports apparel and patterned clothing is often created using sublimation techniques.

Designs are printed on a special paper, which is then pressed into the fabric. Unlike digital printing, in which the ink sits on top of the fabric, sublimation ink fuses into it when heat is applied. However, there are only certain fabrics that will bond with the ink. Polyester is commonly used for sublimation.


●      All over print

●      Produces detailed designs

●      Won’t peel off


●      Only works with limited materials

●      Generally no discount for larger quantities


Instead of ink and printing, embroidery uses thread and sewing. For example, the U.S. Polo Assn. shirts are embroidered with horses.

Years ago, embroidery would have to be done by hand, which made it expensive and time-consuming. It is also why the process tends to be associated with more luxury brands or special occasion clothing. Now, computer-controlled machines can do all of the sewing work at a much faster pace and lower price. All that is needed is an image file, and the machine can sew it into the fabric of your choice.


●      Works with a wide-range of materials

●      Durable


●      More expensive, particularly for larger designs

●      Not always a complete replica of the image file

●      Not suitable for lightweight fabrics

●      Slower production time

The price for embroidery is based on the amount of thread and variety of colors used. As you can imagine, larger and more intricate designs are more expensive. There is generally a digitizing fee, which often is just a one time fee per unique design. Embroidered designs can usually be sold at higher prices than ones made with printing. It depends on the look that you are trying to achieve and your target customers.

To decide which method is best for your brand, here are some questions to start with:

●      What is my budget and what are the upfront costs?

●      How many products do I need? Do I want to/can I afford to stock inventory or should I print on-demand as order come in?

●      How many colors does my design have?

●      What is the placement and size of the design?

●      When do I need the order?

These questions will help you decide the best method for you. Ultimately, the method that you choose will depend on the complexity of your design, the quantity you need and your budget. If you can only make a small upfront investment and produce a smaller quantity, digital printing will probably be the best choice. If you need a large quantity and your design requires few colors, screen printing may be ideal.

Knowing the ins and outs of apparel is not only important from a fashion perspective. It is critical to your business. You need to know how to price certain items.  Which methods of apparel manufacturing are the most cost-effective and produce the highest quality? You may even ask whether or not you should outsource your apparel production or do it in-house. What materials will work best with your designs? What is the most effective way to market them and who are you marketing to?

All of these questions and more are part of building an apparel line. Knowing more about the production, can help you make more strategic choices and grow your business. For help in marketing your apparel brand or setting up your online store and inventory, reach out to 10twelve.