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Build Your Business: Shop Talk
Screen-Printing a High-end Denim CollectionAfter initially outsourcing its screen-printing operations, Artmeetschaos decided to bring its screen printing in-house, and the benefits keep coming
Bringing its screen-printing functions in-house has made all the difference in the world for high-end denim apparel creator Artmeetschaos. Photo courtesy of Vastex
Donwan Harrell knows denim. His unconventional styling has achieved celebrity status among garment manufacturers as well as celebrities, including Brad Pitt and Questlove who wear his designs.
In 2018, Harrell founded Artmeetschaos, a high-end denim line for men featuring complementary T-shirts and hoodies. His collections are sold in upscale boutiques nationwide as well as via the company’s e-commerce storefront.
Harrell and his wife, Jahayra, previously outsourced all of the company’s garment manufacturing and printing overseas. But when minimum order quantities saddled the business with excess inventory, they decided to bring their screen-printing operations in-house.
“Manually made clothing is very appealing to our customers in the denim market, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it,” says Jahayra. “Our T-shirts retail from $85 to $120 and our jeans are $300, so it wasn’t profitable for us to hold leftover stock, especially because we’re a small business.”
The couple also wanted more control over the look and character of the garments’ graphics. Printing in-house would give them the flexibility to carry graphic designs over from one season to another with images that could be applied to the company’s cotton jeans, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Last but not least it would eliminate the supply-chain issues they’d been dealing with.
The result has been the Harrell Print Company, established in South Hackensack, New Jersey, to screen print those same garments Artmeetschaos previously outsourced. As a first step, Harrell and his son, Joaquin, attended a workshop at Vastex International to learn the fundamentals of the business, after which he outfitted the shop with a press, screen coater, pin registration system, drying cabinet, exposing unit, flash cure unit and infrared conveyor dryer, all from Vastex.
Central to Harrell Print Company’s production process is a V-2000HD four-station, six-color press equipped with the T-shirt pallets, sleeve pallets and leg pallets, required to meet the company’s decorating needs. Harrell also chose to increase the number of colors (print heads) to eight. “When generating art that has eight to 12 colors, I previously had to supplement or consolidate colors on the six-color press and sometimes lost the integrity of the original graphic art,” Harrell says.
Given the intricate nature of the artwork he is creating, Harrell says he has been especially pleased with the press’s rigidity and micro-registration system. “We’re using very high mesh counts—230 to 315—to accommodate the fine details of some of the art, so stability is everything,” he says. “When we line up the screens on press and print T-shirt after T-shirt, we can’t have any movement of the frames. And when we swing the heads of the machine around and bring them down on the T-shirt, they can’t move.”
To ensure the artwork is aligned precisely, Harrell employs Vastex’s pin registration system, which registers all the screens he’ll be using to one another before they are exposed using the shop’s LED E200 screen exposing unit. Pre-registered screens can then be clamped on press in register in seconds, eliminating trial-and-error registration on-press and associated make-ready rejects.
During printing, a RedFlash flash cure unit cures the underbase and flashes garments after every two colors. Harrell automatically rotates the head of the unit into position using a foot pedal and rotates it away from the garment after a preset eight-second dwell time.
Finished garments are placed on a LittleRed X2 conveyor dryer, equipped with a 30-inch-wide belt and two 24-inch-wide infrared heaters. Because Harrell uses high-curing plastisol ink, he sets the temperature to 680°F and slows the belt speed for an output of about 100 garments per hour, adjusting the heater’s height to accommodate T-shirts, hoodies or denim.
After garments exit the dryer, labels are sewn on the inside and hangtags are attached to the outside with safety pins. Items are then cleaned with a lint roller, folded and individually bagged and sealed.
“Currently our business is about 90 percent denim, including screen-printed jeans, and about 10 percent tops,” Jahayra says. “We’re aiming to increase our revenue from screen-printed shirts to 50 percent, so our business will be 50 percent denim and 50 percent tops.”
The Harrells also plan to grow the business by fulfilling customized orders for other clothing brands. Recently, the couple entered into a nondisclosure agreement with a large company in need of screen-printing services. Clearly, the decision to go into the screen-printing business was a good one, as they’re already looking at investing in yet more equipment to accommodate their rapidly growing new business.
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