Apparel Insider writer Rachel Kinnard interviewed Melmarc sales executive Justin McKibben about the $3 Basic T-shirt program.
ON THE MARC
The post-recession climate could hold a hidden silver lining. Across the fashion industry, the economy has accelerated business innovation and adaptability. Complex methods of manufacturing and consumption are failing. Higher levels of competition are fostering smarter, more sustainable production methods. Manufacturers who want to stay competitive in a market demanding lower prices for higher quality must think ahead in terms of efficiency and expertise.
Bringing product to market quickly has become increasingly important for graphic tee shirt companies. Retailers are holding onto their open-to-buy budget late into the season, placing high volume orders with quick turnarounds–a costly challenge for many brands. Melmarc, a textile printing company based in southern California, is adapting its business to the accelerating speeds of the graphic tee shirt business. The company expects to drive the new frontier of graphic tee shirt manufacturing with a program launched this fall. Thirty years in the making, the $3 Basic Tee Shirt Program was designed for customers like Stussy, LRG, Billabong, Levi’s, and JCPenney. Justin McKibben, Melmarc Sales and Marketing Manager, describes the new program as a direct response to the changing dynamics of the graphic tee shirt market.
In addition to the shorter time span for production and delivery, McKibben says customers are looking for an “elevated product.” Yet despite the market challenges facing graphic tee shirt sales, production remains a complex process. “Typically, a full package company isn’t making it easy for their customer to buy from them,” says McKibben. “It’s relationship driven. It’s ‘I know a guy who knows a guy.’ Efficiency is the most important philosophy of this business because it’s so labor intensive. If we can’t make it simplistic for our customer, it’s not going to work for us either. Melmarc is providing a solution to many problems of the typical brand, retailer, and manufacturer.” McKibben says graphic tee shirt brands are looking for “an elevated product, a simplistic way to buy it, and a specific price range that works for their type of business.”
Melmarc views the new program as the first step in what they hope will be a revolutionizing manufacturing concept. The last four years of globalization, economic strain, and shrinking turn-around times have led to their current innovation. The $3 Basic Tee Shirt Program collapses the production of graphic tee shirts into an easy-to-buy package. McKibben says, “We’ve taken the sourcing, inventory management, product development, production, packaging and logistics completely out of [their hands] so [the companies] can focus on design, merchandising, and selling. Our core business is to help manufacturers and retailers simplify their graphic tee business, elevate the product, and cost engineer it for their specific tier of business.”
Melmarc competes with overseas production, but McKibben believes that the advantages of its program outweigh the customary benefits of overseas manufacturing. The large volume customers, producing 1200 pieces or above, are looking for a price range between $3.00 and $3.50 for a finished product (including the blank, printing, private label in the neck, bagging, and ticketing). Melmarc’s $3 tee shirt program meets the prices of overseas production and provides quicker turnaround for its customer. McKibben thinks companies which continue to produce overseas with multiple manufacturers mistakenly believe that the tee shirt still needs to be highly customizable. According to McKibben, “the reality of the business is that customers buy graphic tees for the graphic, how the product feels, and the price.”
The re-evaluation of production and efficiency might end up bringing jobs back to domestic workers. According to McKibben, “A lot of manufacturers and retailers used to have their graphic tee shirts made in Mexico, South America, Central America, Asia, or the Middle East. Lead times take longer in those places and a significant amount is coming back to the states. A key advantage of being in the states is we can be fast because the largest consumer base is here.” Bringing production to the states means avoiding time and money spent on coordination between independent manufacturing contractors. “We employ over 400 people here in Orange County. Price is one way to survive in this climate, but the other way is to make it easy for the customer to make and buy graphic tees. These companies have whole businesses to run, they don’t want to spend all their time on graphic tees.”
– Rachel Kinnard