The common marketing belief “the riches are in the niches” proves especially true in the case of the custom uniform and workwear market.
Why? As long as schools and businesses exist, the need for uniform apparel for work, school, and special events will never die. Most importantly, these orders are much more common and larger in quantity than personalized decorated apparel orders.
If you’re thinking of starting an embroidery business or adding embroidery to your existing custom apparel business, here’s what you should know about embroidering in the uniform and workwear market.
- Most uniform and workwear apparel orders consist of left-chest logo embroidery. Luckily, these are some of the easiest orders to complete once you learn how to streamline the process. Most commercial embroidery machines can embroider a left-chest logo in seven to 10 minutes depending on the stitch count of the logo. To make the embroidery process more efficient, place your design and hoop your next garment while you’re embroidering the first. As the second garment embroiders, you can remove any hoop marks acquired during the embroidery process and hoop the next garment. This is assuming you have a single-head machine. Generally, most commercial embroidery machines come with two of the same-sized hoops, but you can always buy more if you want to increase efficiency. The more hoops you have, the faster you can pop in your next garment.
- You’ll need to master embroidery on flats, especially polos and button-ups. When embroidering flat workwear and uniforms, such as polos and button-ups, run your machine at about 800 stitches per minute, assuming you have a commercial machine with a maximum speed of 1,000 or 1,200 stitches per minute. Even when embroidering flats, never run your machine at its maximum speed, as it can cause faster wear and tear and may compromise the quality of your design or cause more frequent thread breaks. Running your machine at maximum speed is like driving your car at full speed-pretty risky. Mastering embroidery on flats means you need to perfect your hooping. When selecting your hoop size, remember to always use the smallest hoop your design will fit in. When hooping your garment, make sure the backing covers the entire area of the hoop. This is uniform apparel-it’s worn and washed frequently-so feel free to use an extra sheet of backing on these garments. After hooping, make sure the fabric is flat and tight, but not stretched. If it’s hooped too tightly, you get unwanted pinching and puckering of the fabric around the design.
- Be ready to embroider caps. Although a challenge for some novice embroiderers, caps are highly demanded in the uniform and workwear market. While caps require a whole other series of articles, here are some general tips:
- Hoop your cap tightly against the cap hoop
- Make sure that the front of the cap does not have any puckering (This will decrease the loss of registration and potential needle breaks)
- Consider embroidering at a lower speed than embroidering on flats
- The cap is a curved surface and harder to embroider than a flat item
- If your machine runs up to 1,200 stitches per minute, try embroidering caps at 600-650 stitches per minute
- Pro tip: Consider thicker and stronger needles when embroidering on structured caps to increase embroidery quality and reduce needle breaks
- The right tools will make your life easier and your profit potential larger. While standard hoops are capable of fulfilling an average order of polos, investing in specialty hoops will broaden your embroidery capabilities. Many customers like a little extra embroidery on the sleeves of polos, which is a great opportunity to generate more revenue from a particular order.
- Proper design placement is key. Most left-chest logos should not measure more than 3.5″ wide. You can cut out the actual size print-out of the design from your embroidery software to give you an idea of how the design will look relative to your garment. Generally, for a women’s polo, you should mark a point at about 5-7″ down from the area where the shoulder seam and the collar meet, and about 4-5″ from the center of the shirt. Then, place the center of the design at the intersection of the points. For a men’s polo, mark a point at about 7-9″ down from the area where the shoulder seam and the collar meet and about 4-5″ from the center of the shirt. You may use a water-soluble pen to create the marks and spray it off with water once you’re done embroidering. Inexpensive placement aids make it easy to place your design on the garment,
- Sampling actually works. There’s a reason sampling is one of the oldest but most effective marketing tricks in the industry: It just works. If you’re unfamiliar with how it works, all you need to do is create a few samples for local schools and businesses. Show up, tell them about your services, give your contact info, and, of course, ask for their contact info to follow-up. If your work is good, they’ll most likely think about you the next time they need custom embroidery. You can even take sampling to another level by keeping up with businesses’ or school’s events. When they have a trade show or a field day at school, you can remind them of your services and even offer a special discount for them in honor of their event.
Check out Ricoma’s blog for more embroidery insights.