Build Your Business:

‘Where the Real Magic Lives’

M&R’s Michelle Moxley discusses reinvention after the global pandemic, the key to long-lasting innovation and more.

By Jamar Laster, Content Director

Michelle Moxley is director of innovation at The M&R Cos.

June 9, 2021

Talk to Michelle Moxley about innovation in our industry, and it’ll be immediately clear that she’s not one of those people who simply discusses it in a “turn-it-on-turn-it-off” manner. It’s not just an eight-hour-a-day obligation meant to justify a paycheck. The passion with which she talks about the subject is evidence of the fact that she lives it.

Moxley, innovation director at The M&R Cos., cut her teeth in this industry working in multiple environments — that small, manual shop in Rockville, Maryland, and the larger shop in the Pacific Northwest with three automatics that eventually became 12. Her 25 years of industry experience also includes developing new screen-printing techniques at Latitudes, Portland, Oregon, for big brands like Nike, adidas and Jordan Brand. She also worked in digital development using Kornit machines on licensed apparel at Fifth Sun.

Moxley also has worked alongside many people recognized as innovative industry pioneers. In 2010, she got trained on high-solids water-based inks at Virus Inks under the tutelage of Beppe Quaglia. In 2013, she was the Gildan embellishment manager in a Honduras facility that featured more than 25 screen-printing presses. There, she did print development for branded apparel, working for and learning from people like Dave Gardner, Anthony Corsano and Jon Weis.

With such a résumé, it’s easy to see why Moxley embraces innovation. Still, it’s refreshing to hear her approach to the concept. She likens developing innovative technology with no idea whether it’ll be successful to “jumping without a net.” Admittedly, though, Moxley loves the freedom found in that space.

“I think knowing where I want to land, or at least the general vicinity, has always served me well — so just jump,” she says.

Impressions sat down with Moxley to discuss her thoughts on post-pandemic reinvention as a necessity for success, the challenges of thinking outside the box, the true potential for digital-technology expansion and more. The following is what she had to say.

Impressions: What was the most collectively challenging part of the pandemic that you heard about from customers?
Michelle Moxley: Printers that could really pivot into new spaces thrived, and others were struggling because their standard modes of operations halted. I found that flexibility and not waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ in decision making was key. Printers had to create an online presence, navigate unusual hours, create virtual interactions and new-product offerings — like face masks — as quickly as possible.

Impressions: A successful reemergence from the pandemic will necessitate many decorators, and some suppliers, reinventing themselves. What’s your theory on reinvention as a necessity to innovation?
Moxley: Reinvention is key. Always be willing to change. Innovation exists in change. Innovation reveals the future. Change can be scary, but being practiced at it makes it so much less frightening and much easier to navigate. Practice makes perfect in anything and embracing change makes you good at it. Times like these really put us outside our comfort zone, but we come out stronger and less resistant to change. Practicing change in little ways in other areas of our businesses on a regular basis flexes that muscle and makes us more equipped to adapt. I always teach my printers to push into the fear, don’t retreat. That’s where the real magic lives.

Impressions: What are some challenges of thinking outside the box when it comes to developing new, innovative technologies?
Moxley: This is a difficult question because challenges create opportunity, so for me they are really a positive space. Trying to meet everyone’s expectations can be challenging. I often see the valid perspective of one idea, and also of another completely opposing idea — but in some ways, the challenge of the conflict is the key to the spark.

We recently developed a new white-ink printing method for direct-to-garment (DTG) printing that integrates the many years of knowledge and applications we have in screen printing and DTG. It was really challenging at first because it was breaking with the crowd and pushing people outside of their comfort zones. Not knowing if there will be success is sort of like jumping without a net. Ultimately, though, I love that space; I think knowing where I want to land, or at least the general vicinity, has always served me well — so just jump.

Impressions: For suppliers, the challenge in technological innovation seems to be in the ‘life’ of the technology. What’s the key to developing lasting innovations that will have truly long-term meaning and application?
Moxley: Part of long-lasting innovation is determining and demonstrating value. If an innovation has steps beyond this stage, it will last. Oftentimes, whatever we are doing in this moment is a piece of a larger picture or journey that is being visualized. This is a step in a story. Your choices need space to evolve and grow, and you are spending time seeing that next step and the reaching impact it will have. For example, is this innovation eco-friendly? How will this impact future generations and jobs? How specialized will this become? It takes a bit of predicting and the easiest way to predict the future is to create it.

Impressions: Discuss the value of data in decorated apparel and digital technology, and how data and analytics can be better used to leverage future technology.
Moxley: Data collection in garment decoration can be used to improve productivity and profitability. Waste data provides the largest-margin opportunities for growth in relation to the factory profitability. Waste data provides the most opportunity for behavior improvements and reduced waste, which should be a target for everyone.

This evidence is integrated into future technology choices and innovation decisions because the longevity of the innovation utilizing data like waste drives smarter application methods, more profitability and meets standards set by the largest global brands and legislation. Data begets predictability, and using predictive models demonstrates patterns and reveals the future, which feeds innovation. It’s a spiral.

Impressions: Speaking of digital technology, how do you see it defining the role of screen printing as the process becomes more closely aligned with digital printing? Do you think this is a natural progression?
Moxley: I think there is a lot of space for digital technology to expand in application, which makes it a “blue-ocean” space and really exciting. I’ve heard many customers talking about how they had to convince their customers to be in a digital space based on volume, and for me that became an opportunity. Digital textile printing has so much space to grow and evolve that it is primed for screen-printer knowledge to be integrated, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re bringing what we know with a focus on pioneering DTG applications.

Impressions: Discuss the advantages and possibilities of leveraging hybrid printing through variable-data printing. What do you see coming down the pike in this area?
Moxley: Digital hybrid printing is a digital enhancement to screen printing. Users can decrease setup times and achieve consistency with the digital print. Variable-data options create endless customizations, like DTG, with the added ability of screen print-specific capabilities like special effects.

Variable data is a form of digital printing, including on-demand printing, in which elements such as text, graphics and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next without stopping or slowing down the printing process. New business models across the market actively use social media, analytics and cloud-based management systems. Collecting and harnessing data is important to create customizations, speed product to the market, localize the supply chain and lower the need for excess embellished inventory.

Tees-as-Subscriptions (TAS) is a perfect variable-data hybrid product example. Tourism tees offer another effective use of variable data. Finally, hybrid and variable data introduce a uniqueness to the market that has never existed before. It’s possible to produce hundreds of thousands of individual shirts, yet products can carry a brand story, have individual numbers or carry unique image data, making them all singular to the market. Every shirt, everywhere, will be an individual, just like the person wearing it.

Impressions: What is/are the next big growth area/areas in decorated apparel?
Moxley: I see a rise in digital and hybrid applications, and more modular-style equipment. Using an indexing system in digital application will drive higher yields. Aligning digital equipment between devices will create a variable volume factory model for any kind of output — large, medium or one-of-a-kind units. Modular equipment systems will allow for growth into new technologies without completely reinventing the application, which is critical for longevity. This will allow for the rise of systematic digital application like color management, and allow for fabric evolution, which is critical for brand growth and survival.