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Meeting customer demand for custom printed fabrics

Editorial | February 1, 2019 | By:

“I’d said to my partner Stedman, ‘What am I going to talk about for ten days and ten nights at Nelson Mandela’s house?’ And Stedman said, ‘Why don’t you try listening?’”

~Oprah Winfrey

Over the years, those of you who are regular readers have probably had your fill of hearing me say things like: “I don’t want my car to choose my route. I don’t want my refrigerator to email me about the moldy cauliflower in the crisper. And I especially don’t want every online marketer in the world to know that I bought a package of Twinkies at Speedway yesterday. It’s bad enough they know my zip code.”

I’ve always maintained, however, that my personal wariness about the enervating effects brought on by excessive reliance on technology has no bearing on how I view the evolution of technology when it comes to business—especially a business with its roots in custom craftsmanship. This issue, with a special editorial emphasis on fabric graphics and its appeal to increasingly savvy and demanding customers, addresses some of these issues head-on: There’s a constant evolution in the development of products, techniques and systems that can make fabric products of almost any type more individually appealing to purchasers, but what does it take to master the new mediums, and how does more automation jive with a business that relies on creative quality and flexibility?

And how do you know when it’s time to invest in new or better equipment, not just financially, but with the learning curve for employees, and the need to find new ways to market and promote your new capabilities?

In the area of fabric graphics, potentials and pitfalls, there seem to be two basic axioms:

• Earmark a dedicated portion of each year’s revenues for a capital fund for the purchase of new equipment, new technology and education. Make each purchase a planned investment into the future of your business, not simply another expense. Make it part of the budget, and the bottom line will look a lot more promising.

• Before you buy, learn from those around you. Research the surrounding markets, find out what other businesses are doing, talk to the manufacturers and users of the equipment you’re considering, and, as Paul Aumento, our Perspective interview in this issue, advises: listen to your customers, and involve your employees in decisions. If you’re fortunate enough to have talented people of different generations working for you, what better way to blend the digital world into a handmade product?

As you read the three features in the “Printing in Demand” section in this issue (and don’t overlook the dazzling projects featured in “Swatches,” and “Museum quality”), put yourself into the graphics equation, and get some advice from our sources: manufacturers, equipment suppliers, designers, consultants and industry experts. Perhaps in the future we should consider a new certification: Master Graphics Craftsman (MGC).

But when you’re in the market for Twinkies: pay cash.

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