Author: Laurie Prestine

Laurie is part of the marketing team for the leading supplier in the industry, alphabroder. During her free time, Laurie likes to ride horses, sail and spend time with her husband and her two children. Reach her at

Start Pitching Bags to Every Single Client, Starting Now

A bag is one of those rare promotional products that everyone can use. Plus, bags boast a massive amount of branding space, so they’re a no-brainer marketing medium for your clients. Get a primer on why bags are the perfect promo item for almost every client, and see how two top decorators and digitizers create get-noticed, multimedia styles.

4 Reasons Branded Bags Are Great Promo Items

A bag is a great promotional item to pitch to clients, since it’s an item everyone can use and will keep. Share these four reasons about why choosing a promotional bag is a smart marketing investment with your clients.

1. Decorated bags are affordable promo items—that make a big impact.
When you give employees, customers or prospects an imprinted bag, they’re more likely to use it every time they leave the house. In fact, a Sage World study found that bags generate more brand impressions than any other promo product in the U.S. The study also showed that 30% of consumers own at least one promotional bag with a logo on it. As more states move toward banning single-use plastic bags in retail locations, more of us will have a need for multiple imprinted bags, making now a great time to pitch bags. 

When you’re working with duffle bags for school sports teams, pick the largest decoratable area on the bag. If you’re doing embroidery, this allows easy access for your hoop. Plus, you can stitch a large design that gets noticed for team recognition.”  Justin Armenta, JA Digitizing Studios

2. Decorated bags offer a lot of room for branding. 

You can embroider or print your client’s logo, artwork or message in a large format on one or both sides of the bag, or on a large pocket or pouch. The large imprinting space is a big selling point for the bag, since you can imprint a tagline, catchphrase or longer branding message. 

3. Decorated bags are environmentally friendly.

Most of the single-use plastic bags we use get thrown away every year, with Americans discarding 1 billion plastic bags into landfill. As more consumers and businesses become more conscious of this massive waste, logoed reusable bags are a great giveaway for customer gifts or event attendees. When companies give (or sell) a tote bag, duffle or backpack to people, they demonstrate their commitment to the environment—and give recipients a quick and easy way to reduce their carbon footprint. Plus, there are many bags made from organic or recycled materials to show your clients.

4. Decorated bags stick around for a long time.
Industry studies show custom decorated bags earn almost 6,000 brand impressions throughout their lifetime, making them one of the best branding choices. People keep useful promo products around, for at least a year or more. Recipients will likely use the bag daily or at least a few times a week, keeping brand recognition top of mind.

A ‘Big Bang’ Bag in the Streetwear Scene

Artem Ionitsa, president of Logo Unlimited, headed up his team’s efforts to decorate upscale travel bags for Monsieur le Chaos, a new streetwear fashion brand. “Most of the pieces are custom made, but they chose this particular high-quality wholesale bag to be part of the new collection,” he says. “The streetwear brand wanted subtle decoration, so we avoided embroidery and instead chose laser etching and debossing as the go-to techniques for the bag.”

Ionitsa’s team used a special Galvo CO2 Laser Machine for the brand name and other text, which he reports is significantly faster than plotter lasers he’s used. “Plus, it would be very inconvenient setting up a bag inside the plotter laser, with an hour of production time per bag,” he says. “With the Galvo, our turnaround time for each bag was less than 3 minutes.”

Logo Unlimited debossed the gun image using an emboss press. “Think of it as a big hydraulic heat press so that we can achieve your desired pressure,” Ionitsa says. “We used a custom-made magnesium die of the client artwork and applied it with 15 seconds of press time.”

The streetwear brand provided the unique “Bang Bang” artwork. “We’re the company that brings our clients’ ideas to life,” Ionitsa says. “I love this artwork, as it’s fun and unique and will help this new brand stand out in the streetwear market.” 

A Cheer Duffel That’s the Cat’s Meow

A high school cheer squad wanted to showcase their school Wildcat mascot in a unique way, without using their traditional logo. “I created this multimedia take on the mascot design, focusing on the eye section of the face, with the “cats” nickname underneath,” says Justin Armenta, owner of JA Digitizing Studios (@jadigitizing) and moderator of The Embroidery Nerd Group on Facebook.

Armenta took a different approach to making the 44,885-stitch cheer team mascot stand out. “Typically, you see bold, solid-colored designs in school sports,” he says. “Instead, I added some artistic touches and used multimedia elements like glitter flake vinyl applique and 3-D puff embroidery for a more realistic and dynamic rendition of this 4.25”-by-7’wildcat mascot.”

He used STAHLS’ Glitter Flake Heat Transfer Vinyl for the eye applique. Three-dimensional puff embroidery added dimension and depth to the cat’s eyebrows and nose. Armenta used different stitch techniques to create a realistic fur texture and dimension.

If you want to embroider a realistic design, Armenta advises moving away from the typical flat fill stitch areas with simple bold satin borders and detail. Instead, try using several different stitch techniques and types to build layers of texture and dimension. For the wildcat design, he digitized the design in Wilcom EmbroideryStudio e4.5 with some specialty stitch options:

  • The hand stitch effect came in handy on fill areas. “This randomizes the stitch pattern to look more rugged and uniform,” Armenta says.
  • The randomized stipple stitches mimicked a fur texture when Armenta used the correct mid-density settings. 
  • The jagged edge effect randomized one or both edges of the stitched fur areas, giving them an unfinished, feathered look.

“Overall, I approached this design using lower density stitch patterns and layering to achieve texture, shading and a more dimensional look,” Armenta says.

The other key to producing a decorated bag that gets used and noticed is choosing the right spot to imprint. “When you’re working with duffel bags for school sports teams, pick the largest decoratable area on the bag,” Armenta says. “If you’re doing embroidery, this allows easy access for your hoop. Plus, you can stitch a large design that will get noticed for team recognition.” 

5 Promo Bag Styles to Share

There are so many promo bag styles to choose from, so you can easily match the right style for each client’s event or usage, whether it’s heading to the gym, the game or the grocery store. Here are a few styles to keep on your radar:

Tote bags: With tote bags, the sky’s almost the limit. There are so many sizes, colors, materials and styles to choose from, to exactly match your clients’ and end-users’ needs. Tote bags are affordable and easy to customize on one or both sides. They’re great to hold welcome gifts for new employees, trade show attendees, or summer camp goers. Retail stores or restaurants can sell totes or give them away with a certain order dollar value. The bottom line: You can pair a tote bag with almost every client you serve.

“For a streetwear brand that wanted subtle decoration, we avoided embroidery and chose laser etching and debossing as the go-to techniques for the upscale bag.” Artem Ionitsa, Logo Unlimited

Shopping bags: These bag styles might be larger or have reinforced handles or bottoms. If you’re going with an eco-friendly theme, choose an organic material or color to better communicate your client’s sustainable message. These bags make great gifts, along with an enclosed letter about safeguarding the planet.

Duffel bags: These larger, heavy-duty bags, which hold a lot of gear, are great for frequent travelers and gym goers. School teams are another great candidate for decorated duffels. These bags create unity among team members and pack a big branding punch because of their large imprinting space.

Backpacks: Like duffels, backpacks are great for adults and young people on the go. These sturdy bags are great for branding, since they’ll stand the test of time and go everywhere with the recipients. With so many styles, colors and patterns to choose from, you can find the exact right fit for every client. 

Cooler bags: This is another bag style that everyone can use, whether they’re headed out for a picnic, camping trip, the stands, the beach and beyond. Pair your client’s logo with good times, and recipients will have a favorable impression of the brand.

What to Do Today

Don’t forget this important industry statistic: 83% of people like receiving useful promo products like a bag, and are more likely to do business with the brand that gave the bag to them. Everyone can use a decorated bag, so you should include an appropriate bag style in every promo package you pitch to your clients. Plus, similar to a t-shirt, a bag offers huge real estate for your client’s logo, branding and message. 

How to Grow Your Customer Base Effortlessly With Referral Clients

Did you know that 54% of business owners say referral programs for their companies cost less per lead, than any other form of marketing in fact? In your screen-printing print shop, you might not be happy with your leads pipeline. The good news? If you create a compelling referral program built on an amazing customer service experience, you’ll start getting new customers faster than you expect.

The reality is that your next big client could be closer than you think. Your existing customers do business with others and are friends with other business owners. They can refer you to other high-volume clients if they like your work.

“If your customers refer you to someone they know, it helps you gain another great client who’s typically like them: easy to work with and who pays on time,” says Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images. “It’s also cheaper to invest in a referral program, which has a higher ROI and carries little to no risk. With a great referral program, you’ll end up spending less on advertising overall.” 

We break down how to build a referral program that will work hard, on repeat, for your shop.

Why Spend Time On a Referral Program?

First, using referrals to gain business should be a no-brainer. It’s one of the lowest-cost methods out there when it comes to getting new customers in the door Beyond that, there are still more reasons to invest in this strategy:

1. Setting up a referral program is quick and easy. Once you set up your shop’s plan, all you have to do is manage it by rewarding those who refer new business to you. It’s pretty simple.

2. It’s a pretty sure bet. A whopping 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends, family or business associates. All a new customer needs to take a chance on your shop is a feeling that you’re credible as a decorated products business. A referral will give them that extra dose of confidence to trust you with their first order.

“Your referral engine literally starts with that old school great customer experience,” Potter says. “Produce quality artwork and put it on a quality product. Give them a great product selection. Get the order done on time or ahead of time. Treat them with respect. Your customers will naturally promote you without you asking.” 

3. Referrals create more referrals. If you get a new client as part of a referral program, they’re able to refer others and so on. In fact, the numbers can grow almost exponentially as the average referring customer invites an average of 2.68 people.

“There’s no glaring secret sauce when it comes to repeat business,” says Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative. “If you follow through and offer superior products, your referral business will continue. With our music industry clients, our team continues to deliver when they’re in a pinch time and again. The word spreads like wildfire because there are a ton of facilities that over-promise and under-deliver. Once a client gets burned, the likelihood that they’ll come back or put the name on the line to refer you is slim to none.”

4. Customer referrals also help you retain the customers you already have. By knowing that their referral matters to you, you keep your current customers happy, leading to a 37% higher customer retention rate than other businesses.

9 Tips to Get Started With Referral Marketing

#1 Develop a business plan. It’s impossible to succeed if you don’t have a plan. “When you develop your approach, you’ll understand your hardline costs,” Potter says. “For example, if someone gets you a new customer who places a $500 order, factor in a percentage for a discount on their next order or a voucher to help them save money on their next order.”

Start by creating a plan that addresses the following questions:

  • What do you offer to your customers and clients that make them want to use your business?
  • What sets your shop apart from similar companies? (Or can you figure out a way to differentiate yourself from the pack?)
  • Who’s your ideal customer? What brings them in and makes them buy from you?
  • Who’s your main competitor? What do they do to bring in customers?
  • What means of production are most in demand by your customers?
  • What are your operating expenses, and how much profit do you hope to make?
  • What avenues do you use to market your shop?
  • What is standing in the way of achieving your goals?

By coming up with the answers to these questions, you’re on the path to improving and strengthening your shop overall. Revise this plan regularly so you can stay fresh and current.

#2 Pick a referral program platform to make things easier. Whether you’re a newer, smaller or larger shop, managing a referral program can get tricky. That’s why it makes sense to take a look at referral program software that helps you manage your referrals and rewards. Sometimes, referral program software will allow you to enter your clients into the software so they can receive a unique referral link or code to share with their network. Then, once the new referral places an order with your shop using the link or code, then your referring customer receives an email with their discount code or reward.

“If your customers refer you to someone they know, it helps you gain another great client who’s typically like them: easy to work with and who pays on time. It’s also cheaper to invest in a referral program, which has a higher ROI and carries little to no risk.”
Howard Potter, A&P Master Images

#3 Know who you’re targeting. When you worked on your plan, you identified your typical customer. Now, look closely at this definition and identify the customers who place your biggest orders. These are the ones you specifically want to target for referrals. Sure, it would be great to get one or two new small-order customers. But it’s those bigger (or more frequent) spenders that you need to target to bring in more like them.

“This strategy can work as well,” Potter says. “Also consider promoting to clients or industries that have easier work and consistent volume to gain growth, but never limit the program to others.”

#4 Keep your program simple to understand and use. “Referral programs can be too complicated,” Guariglia says. “Our shop’s feeling is that clients and partners should be willing to refer other potential clients to you because they truly feel you offer superior service and experience, as opposed to being solely motivated by monetary or ‘perks’ elements. If you just rely on referrals for perks, you can quickly lose that customer once another competitor offers a better perk. We prefer to align ourselves with solid business based on strong relationships, as opposed to just handouts.”

That being said, you can ask your clients what “perks” they’d enjoy most. Discounts on future orders? Free samples? Free rush order? Depending on what motivates them most, you can create a simple structure for your clients, along with a referral code they can use once they’re eligible.

#5 Focus on customer service. Customer service should drive almost everything you do. “Simply by producing a quality product and getting the order done on time or ahead of time can get you a free customer referral,” Potter says.

Communicate clearly what your customers can expect from you, and do everything you’ve promised to make your customers happy. Then, they’ll be delighted to provide you with a referral because they know that anyone they send your way will be treated right as well.

#6 Make sure everyone on your team works toward the same results. A top-notch referral program isn’t a one-person enterprise. When you set your goals for the referral program, make sure they’re SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound). That could include emailing or phoning each new client to thank them for their recent order and tell them about your referral program. For example: If you refer a new client to us and they place a $500 order, you get 20% off your next order. 

“Gather your team and simply explain the pros and the end goal of marketing your referral plan,” Potter says. “When your team communicates your referral program benefits to your clients, they get excited to learn how they can save themselves money while helping your company grow and gaining other great clients. You might even offer your team incentives for getting new clients through their referral conversations.”

#7 Make your program mutually beneficial. Your rewards can do double duty for both the referrer and the referred. For instance, if you give one a discount or a promotional item to your referring client, send the same discount or benefit to the new client as well.

#8 Monitor your progress. Now that you have your program in place, constantly update and monitor your data. Make sure you’re reaching your goal that you’ve set. If you haven’t, adjust your staff’s approach and rewards to improve your program’s performance.

#9 Promote your program. Finally, it’s essential that you promote your program consistently and thoroughly. No one will be able to take advantage of the program if they don’t know it exists!

“Promote your program in person or via a personalized email,” Potter says. “Otherwise, you look like you’re begging for help by promoting it all over. Plus, if everyone starts promoting your shop at once, you won’t be able to keep up with the volume of new customers. Instead, set benchmark goals for your desired number of new customers and end sales goals.” 

A Few More Ways to Promote Your Referral Program 

This last point is a huge item, so let’s break it down further. If you have a referral program, you need to promote it. Here’s how:

1. Reach out to all of your customers. One of the best ways is to include it as part of your post-order emails. When you send your paying customers a message thanking them for their order, include information about your new referral program in that email. Make sure to spell out all the benefits that come from referring your shop to others.

2. Let them customize the program. When you give your customers a referral link to give out to friends and family and other associates, let them customize the page that the link takes them to. If they can put their own spin on the layout and message of the referral page, they’ll be more invested in it themselves.

“There’s no glaring secret sauce when it comes to repeat business. If you follow through and offer superior products, your business will continue.” Lucas Guariglia, Rowboat Creative

3. Include testimonials. As part of your referral program, be sure to include actual customer testimonials. This can be in the form of text, or you can get creative and use pictures and video to tell the customers’ stories.

4. Include program information with every purchase. When your customer receives their package, include a referral program guide and code with the purchase. You can also follow up with them a week or two later with a thank-you gift that also includes the referral information.

5. Use your data wisely. Give your sales data a review to determine your top customers. You want to target your best clients to make a part of your referral program.

Word-of-mouth has actually gotten bigger in our internet age. By telling others about your business, you’ll not only expand your sales to include these new customers, but also make your current customers happier and more likely to stay loyal.

“We just keep doing what we do with the same focus, care and attention to detail as when we opened 15 years ago,” Guariglia says. “That’s what makes Rowboat who we are: nimble, fluid, creative and committed. Figure out what makes your shop superior, and keep on doing that to prime the referral pump.”

Learn Why Adopting Sustainability Practices in Your Shop Is Profitable, in More Ways Than One

In the spring and summer, lots of us have sustainability on the brain. However, running a sustainable (and profitable) print shop is an effort you should focus on all year round—as you aim to reduce, reuse and recycle, as well as create shop processes that cut down on your carbon footprint.

“When companies start going green, one of the top reasons they do it is because they save a boatload of cash,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe. “If you’re a responsible shop owner, you adopt sustainability as a business practice in part because it makes you more profitable. It’s about reducing waste, extra steps, labor costs and mistakes. Sustainability is congruent with better business practices. People who say sustainability costs too much just haven’t done the research.”

The effort to go green also gets repaid in loyal customers and productive employees. “The simple question is, would you like to have a business in the future?” says Ryan J. Kemp, founder and CEO of Pueo Consulting. “Younger buyers and Gen Z are reluctant to support companies that don’t honor their values. The same goes for employees, who want to work for a company that’s doing good in the world. When you embrace sustainability, you build in resilience and ensure a future-proof company.”

As a print shop owner, you might be wondering about the benefits of running a more sustainable shop. We’ve got the goods from sustainability experts! Besides helping the environment, you’ll become more profitable and future-proof your shop. We’re going to take you on a deeper dive into how the apparel industry affects our planet, and some key ways to add sustainable practices to your print shop.

Does Apparel Really Contribute to Toxic Environmental Issues?

When you think of polluters and businesses contributing to environmental problems, you probably think the oil and coal industry, or plastics manufacturers. However, the reality is that the apparel industry contributes significantly to pollution, coming in second only to the oil industry. 

Let’s talk specifics:

  • To manufacture the fabrics that go into clothing, 150 million trees are cut down each year.
  • To make one cotton t-shirt, it takes almost 800 gallons of water. To make one pair of blue jeans, it takes almost 900 gallons of water.
  • The clothing industry releases toxic chemicals and dyes that find their way into water systems, polluting local habitats and communities.
  • While we associate pesticides with fruits and vegetables, it’s used most of all on cotton crops that get turned into t-shirts and other clothing.
  • The heavy irrigation used in cotton farming leads pesticides to be dumped into rivers and groundwater, polluting our drinking water and food, earning cotton the designation as the “dirtiest” crop.
  • While cotton’s problematic, that doesn’t mean that other fabrics aren’t as well. Polyester and other synthetic fibers make up 60% of all clothing. Many of these (including polyester) are made of oil derivatives and have a high level of microplastics, which release when the clothing is washed.
  • The economic impact of the fashion industry is also widespread. More than 40 million people are living in “virtual slavery” by being forced into sweatshops. Many of these individuals are children forced to work long hours, with little compensation.

“When you look at the overall picture of what it takes to make a garment from scratch, to the decoration, to shipping to the customer, there’s a lot of room for waste,” says Brayden Jessen, CEO of Zome Design. “From wasted water or chemicals on the crops that produce the fabrics, to the wasted materials cut to make the garments, wasted threads, inks or chemicals to print or embroider a garment, and the waste in packaging and shipping to the end-customer. There are many hands touching every final product. If each company in the supply chain is mindful of the environment, even just a small change can have a huge impact on the final decorated garment.”  

Don’t Ignore the Demand for Sustainable Fashion

If you’ve studied anything about Millennials, Gen Zers and their buying habits, you know their strong social values often fits what companies they support. “Sustainable fashion” is a term many of them are already familiar with and follow. 

“If you’re a responsible shop owner, you adopt sustainability as a business practice in part because it makes you more profitable. Sustainability is congruent with better business practices. People who say sustainability costs too much just haven’t done the research.”
Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting & Shirt Lab Tribe

If you’re still not convinced this is becoming a major trend, then consider this 2020 statistic from The Business Research Company: “Around 66% of respondents said they consider sustainability when purchasing a… product.” 

Others, including Sandra Capponi, co-founder of Good on You, have pointed out that COVID-19 has made people more aware of the issues around “fast fashion,” as opposed to sustainable fashion leading them to change their buying habits. But the bottom line is this: The demand for sustainable fashion is set to increase from $9.8 billion to $15 billion by the end of the decade.

“The sustainability of a garment is only 50% of the equation, though,” Atkinson says. “Be careful of greenwashing. How was the shirt made? Printed? Packaged? Transported? Those aspects can be ‘dirty.’ You need to know the story and make the case that the shirt is a more sustainable choice.”

Looking for eco-friendly apparel styles made in a sustainable and Earth-friendly way? alphabroder can help. Check out their new Sustainable Style Finder & Sustainability Glossary.

The Sustainable Style Finder & Sustainability Glossary will help you learn more about sustainability, learn what makes a style sustainable and help you find the sustainable styles your clients want.

Sustainable Materials, Sustainable Manufacturing and a Responsible Mindset are now searchable filters on and You can explore by product category or by brand, or all products.

Learn more about this initiative and find styles that you can pitch to your discerning clients today here.



How Decorators Can Make Their Shop an Earth-Friendly, Sustainable Powerhouse Brand

As we’ve said, shops that view sustainability as a cost rather than an investment haven’t researched enough. Here are some ways to get started.

1. Start With Low-Hanging Fruit: Shop Operations

The easiest way to move toward sustainability is to change the way you run your shop. To make your business “lean and green” focus on the three “R’s”—reduce, reuse, recycle.

“When you start going down a sustainable path, it’s all about reduction: labor, energy, time, costs and errors,” Atkinson says. “It’s your choices in your shop, like installing hand dryers in your bathroom. Then, you don’t need to buy paper towels and you’ll spend less time cleaning. It all adds up.”

Reduce: Look closely at your work processes and figure out where you can streamline your workflow. Observe areas like reducing your energy consumption. Put your lights on a motion detector switch. Also, talk to your power company for an energy audit to learn (and fix) your shop’s biggest energy-draining culprits.

Reuse: Where can you reuse materials in your shop so you don’t waste money or supplies? For instance, most shops have unused or misprinted shirts. Use them in place of shop towels or give them out as promotional items. Also, look at other items you throw away and see if you can repurpose them inside of your shop for other uses.

Reuse your boxes!

When we have embroidery mistakes, we create patches to cover the logo,” Jessen says. “Many times, this is an even higher perceived value to the end-customer, while also saving a garment from ending up as brandfill.”

When Zome Designs has garments that can’t be saved, they use them for testing decoration methods. “When you receive a new order, you never know exactly how it’s going to decorate,” Jessen says. “Instead of having to order several extra new garments, we take a garment already in the shop, test all over it, and that saves new garments that would otherwise go to the end-consumer.”

Recycle: Find a good recycling company to partner with, and then create a recycling program that lets you sort and recycle everything possible—everything from common items like paper, cans, and cardboard, to more uncommon ones like computers, chemicals and equipment. Zome Design has blue recycling bins all over the shop to encourage recycling and make it easy for employees.

2. Consider Your Shop’s Carbon Footprint

One of the functions of Kemp’s company, Pueo Consulting, is to help businesses determine their carbon footprint and then find ways to offset it. “For example, if your company produces 6 kg of CO2e per t-shirt, you can look at different ways to offset it and lower that amount, like better energy generation and water consumption or waste disposal,” he says. “Or, you can help fund a global tree-planting project to offset your carbon footprint.”


We also advocate rooting your values to employee productivity and KPIs, so you can implement a broader policy and integrate it through your business processes for additional savings and benefit.”

On many levels, a print shop can make small changes to offset its carbon footprint. Atkinson suggests asking questions like: Did we remember to add our decorating supplies with our apparel order? Can we order our inks in five-gallon buckets instead of one gallon? Can our staffers carpool, take public transportation or work from home more often? Instead of getting on a plane to visit a client or attend a trade show, can you use Zoom?

Tip: Printing United offers tools to measure your operations to see your shop’s real carbon footprint.

“One issue we see is companies often add a person as the head of sustainability who doesn’t really have much expertise in that area or their view of sustainability is quite limited,” Kemp says. “Part of your investment toward a more sustainable operation may be to partner with a consultancy of experts with diversified experience to help you embody that sustainability ethos into your company DNA: set up processes, create an entirely integrated model and train your employees.”

3. Look at Your Printing Processes & Preventative Maintenance

If your goal is to be more efficient and print better, you’re starting off in a sustainable mindset. Atkinson points out that if you improve your printing process, you’re avoiding rework and saving costs. “If you can make better screens, use half the ink, and print more in less time, that’s sustainable,” Atkinson says. “If you’re double-hitting your underbase printing on black, it’s not sustainable. Sustainability is a craftsmanship journey, as well as discovering a leaner way of working.”

“When we have embroidery mistakes, we create patches to cover the embroidery logo. Many times, this is an even higher perceived value to our end-customer, while also saving a garment from ending up as brandfill.”
Brayden Jessen, Zome Design

Another part of this is measuring your time and results. “Otherwise, how do you know if you’ve improved something?” Atkinson says. “When you make tweaks, things get better, stay the same or get worse. When you chart and post your results, your employees get excited and get involved in making positive changes.”

Zome Designs also uses earth-friendlier decorating supplies like water-based screen printing inks that don’t need specific solvents and harsh chemicals to clean up. The shop also has a specially designed drainage trap in its screen reclaim room to catch the sludge before it goes down the drain. For embroidery, they use Madeira’s Polyneon Green thread line. “If you can choose a sustainably sourced garment, match it with sustainably sourced decorating supplies, this is each part of the supply chain doing a small part to help affect a garment’s overall impact,” Jessen says.  

Also, in the vein of printing processes, any business owner will tell you that you have to take care of your equipment, or it’ll die at the worst possible time. But it can also be important for the environment. Plan to: Talk to your employees to ensure the equipment they’re using is working at peak performance. The idea here is that your machines should not be draining energy needlessly, working so hard that the process takes longer, or leaking steam, oil, or other possible pollutants.  If you’re thinking about investing in new decorating equipment, get the skinny on buying new equipment here.

4. Get Certified

Another practice to consider is to get an industry-standard certification for your business. This means that you’ll see what other shops are doing and have an independent auditor give you feedback on how to make your company more environmentally friendly. 

For instance, you can work towards your certification with the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership via Printing United. With this program, an auditor will analyze your shop’s workflow, and then tell you what you need to do to reduce your carbon footprint and earn your certification. You can then use this certification to build a marketing plan promoting your business as environmentally friendly.


Atkinson, who’s taken two shops through the Printing United certification, says to prepare for hard work for about a year. “It’s worth it, but you need to start with your why and get your employees on board,” he says. “If they’re not excited about it, you’ll fail. You also need to build in time for them to work on their processes, or it won’t work. Figure out early on who’ll be responsible for the different steps and how much time you can dedicate to the effort.” 

5. Find New Packaging Materials or Mailers

If you have an online store, chances are you’re sending out a lot of single-use mailers that end up making a lot of trash. There are a couple of steps you should take to prevent this. One is to make sure the mailers you use are recyclable and encourage your customers to do just that. But, another great idea is to invest in biodegradable mailers. These can be composted and broken down so that no refuse gets left behind. “Again, it’s all about your choices,” Atkinson says. “Is your cardboard recycled? How are you packaging your apparel? Do you polybag your t-shirts? Do you use hang tags?”

6. Try On-Demand Printing

In the past, the way the industry worked is that you designed a t-shirt or similar product, printed up hundreds or thousands of them, and then put them in a warehouse to await being ordered and sold. This led to the need to power and maintain a separate warehouse along with the waste of unsold products that eventually have to be destroyed or recycled. 

“The simple question is, would you like to have a business in the future? When you embrace sustainability, you build in resilience and ensure a future-proof company. You create loyal buyers, and also attract and keep great employees.”   Ryan J. Kemp, Pueo Consulting

Now, digital printing and customization allows for more options when it comes to printing on demand. “On-demand printing is highly sustainable,” Atkinson says. “Before, we’d print 1,000 shirts and sell 400. What happened to the 600? Now, we can put a design online, and sell and print 400, with no waste. We only decorate the shirts we sell. That’s the essence of sustainability.”

More decorators are evaluating whether adding a POD revenue stream to their shops makes good business sense. If you’re curious about adding printing on demand to your shop, read The Rise and Staying Power of POD.

Zome Designs uses alphabroder’s MPACT contract decorating free-freight program, which allows the shop (and their contract customers) to order as few as one blank and have it shipped to them for free. “This enables us to offer on-demand embroidery, heat transfers and sublimation for our online store customers,” Jessen says. “There’s no wasted inventory on our shelves and we only produce what’s actually ordered.”

Find the Right Supplier Partners

It’s important that you work with responsible vendors so your business can become more environmentally responsible. “Today, business is about stakeholder capitalism,” Kemp says. “If your print shop relies on t-shirt manufacturers, you can’t claim you’re sustainable if those manufacturers aren’t.  We start at the end of the stakeholder chain, with the shirt wearer, and work all the way back to how the shirt manufacturer treats the cotton farmers. It’s false marketing to call a product sustainable if it’s not. Younger consumers want more transparency to tell a beautiful brand impact story.”

Here’s a list of questions you should ask your potential suppliers:

  • Is your apparel durable and high quality? Keeping clothes out of landfills and in the hands of those who’ll wear the garment until it’s threadbare is the goal.
  • What material is the clothing made of?  Look for linen, organic cotton, or hemp, or blends made from recycled materials
  • How much does the apparel cost?  If they tell you the material or the clothes they sell are inexpensive, you have a reason to want to ask more questions. Ethical and sustainable fashion can cost more. A lot of fashion brands that reduce their social and ecological impact also sell clothing pieces at a higher price.
  • Who made the clothing? To check if a brand is ethical and sustainable, ask where and how their clothes were made. Unfortunately, not all apparel brands and retailers are transparent with this information.
  • What are the vendor’s or brand’s values? See that their values reflect your own before you do business with them.
  • Is it certified by third-party organizations? To guarantee solid working conditions and environmental standards in every step of the supply chain, look for certifications from third-party organizations. Certifications and quality marks are important to ensure that textile products are manufactured with responsible use of resources and the least possible impact on people, animals, and the environment.
  • How much does it cost you to ship the apparel? When you’re working on a big apparel program or an online store where you might print thousands of shirts, try to order in bulk. “You won’t be bringing in one shirt at a time, so how can you reduce the amount of orders and energy it takes to move things to your shop?” Atkinson says. “It’s about the choices you’re making in the big picture.”

So, Again, Why Does Sustainability Matter?

“Remember, the biggest myth is that it’s all about the shirt, since it’s so much more than the shirt you’re decorating,” Atkinson says. “That’s just one small part of it. It’s layers of an onion: How can we do it better? What are you willing to do in your shop?”

There are several reasons why sustainability matters including:

  • It helps create a positive future based on our actions today.
  • It lets you streamline your business and become more efficient.
  • It allows you to market your products to a whole new target group—the environmentally and socially conscious.
  • It keeps your business current as the government will eventually start regulating industries to prevent further destruction of the environment.
  • It’s the ethical thing to do.

Be Proactively Sustainable in Your Shop & Feel Good About the Rewards

These days, the news is rife with stories talking about how our current environmental crisis is reaching a tipping point. When you throw in social injustice and unrest, it may seem like we’re living in truly chaotic times. But by taking a stand for your business’s values and working on sustainable processes and products, you may help stem the tide and make your corner of the world a better place.

A lot of getting started is your shop’s why,” Atkinson says. “Is it to help the environment? Be more profitable? More efficient? Have less rework? Move jobs through the pipeline faster? Stop thinking about why you can’t do it and think about why you can. Don’t climb the whole mountain at once. Start with one thing, and you’ll get there faster than you think.”

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