Build Your Business:

Tech Influences Sustainable Merch Design & Production

By Jack Warner, Contributing Writer

March 10, 2020

Not that many years ago, most high street shoppers’ notions of sustainable clothing and fashion were centered around hemp, organic cotton, and natural dyes. But these days, more and more consumers are switching to eco-conscious, ethically produced, and high-quality clothes that hold none of the “hippy-dippy” style stigmas of last century.

From designers as lauded as Stella McCartney and her innovative designs to basic tees and shirts off the rail, ethical manufacturing and production now play upon customer minds and form a key part of retail marketing. Fast fashion seems to be foundering in the media (although we should expect a slow death as a draw of super cheap clothing remains attractive despite the human cost) and has shown itself as unable or unwilling to keep its sustainability promises — here’s looking at you, Zara.

Meanwhile, new generations are embracing the slow clothes movement and expecting their garments to last longer, perform better, and stay looking chic for years to come.

With this rising change in mindset to mind, companies will do well to embrace ethical and sustainable merchandise. After all, touting a clean and green image then supplying merch that runs completely counter to that message is not only counterproductive, it screams out for the kind of social media call-out businesses dread.

When combined with high-quality and sustainable textiles (such as bamboo) digital printing offers companies a sure-fire way to create the kind of merchandise people are proud to wear. The win-win here is that coupled with creative, unique design, a business’ merchandise can provide walking talking advertisements for years to come.

Style matters just as much if not more than virtuous production. As Samata Angel notes for The Guardian, “Ethical companies must recognise that and swim with the tide or risk being pulled under by the weight of the message.”

Consider Patagonia; their ethos is primarily focused on providing quality performance wear that stands the test of time and looks the part. Their ethical stance, B-Corp Certification, and sustainable production processes play second fiddle to this.

Digital printing as an industry is well-positioned to play a key role in creating the kind of merchandise that consumers and businesses alike love: it reduces the need for waste; cuts the need for paper press proofs; and uses fewer harmful chemicals that make their insidious way to the waterways.

Cutting Waste

Of course, we still need some paper materials during the design and production process, but as a general rule, digital printing uses much less paper (read trees) than traditional printing. Older style flexographic printers come with a constant running waste that sits upwards of 15 percent. With digital methods, the scrap runs closer to just 5 percent thanks to swifter setups and electronic charges placing inks.

Combine these waste savings with recycled textiles and the environmental credentials are even better.

Electronic Copies and Proofs

Today’s PDF assisted workflows in printing mean paperless proofs and copies that are easy to send, edit, annotate and share electronically. Sometimes, press proofs aren’t even required for certain jobs because we know exactly what the product will look like.

All this electronic sharing and the network-connected printers and devices do come with their own set of challenges and we would all do well to properly encrypt our networks to secure them — one of the many uses of VPN technology. Although it may seem like internet security is the least of the digital printing industry’s concerns, if a fish tank can be used to hack a casino, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Eliminating Excessive Chemicals

In both offset and flexographic printing, a lot of toxic chemicals are required to produce a single printed piece. Then there are the solvents needed to clean off the rollers. With digital printing, although some chemicals are still necessary and crucial to the process, much of the excessive toxins used in the past are eliminated.

Digital printing generally reduces both chemical and physical waste making it far more sustainable than traditional printing methods. And, of course, the knock-on effect here is cost savings, yet another reason why merchandise producers ought to embrace digital methods.

And this same point is hyper important when it comes to keeping sustainable clothing and merchandise popular because, for most consumers, B2B or otherwise, the cost will always outweigh any ethical concerns that float mostly unformed when weighing up whether to buy an order of merchandise or the shirt on sale in front of them.

Armed with modern digital printing methods and ethically produced textiles, companies and businesses are set to overhaul merchandising and create the kind of gear that appeals to the eco-conscious wearer so long as style is kept at the fore.

And who knows, with enough of us embracing the changes to the fashion and apparel industry, maybe sustainable will become the new cool and even the new normal.

Jack Warner is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on topics such as whistleblowing and cybersecurity tools.