With the increasing number of digital fabric printing solutions now on the market and their high quality, affordability and ease of use, there is growing opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter the market, starting their own businesses and providing unique services for their brand and designer clients.
Raspberry Creek Fabrics is one such business. Founded by Justin and Diana Rammell, a lawyer and designer, respectively, by trade, not only has the company been able to grow its fabric printing business, but in the process has even patented some of its processes. This interview should act as inspiration and encouragement for other entrepreneurs—including recent graduates from textile and apparel programs—to follow their dreams as well!
As background, Raspberry Creek Fabrics, located in UT, USA, produces custom fabrics on-demand using digital printing technologies, a sustainable approach to producing apparel fabrics. The company is also primarily using Western Hemisphere mills, and partners with some local cut-and-sew shops if customers want that service. Also new for the company is an integration with Etsy and a booming wallpaper business.
Cary Sherburne (CS): Can you provide us with an update on some of the new initiatives you have undertaken and successes you have seen?
Justin Rammell (JR): We had kind of a revolution here in the last year. We have been able to automate our printing with full web-to-print automation from our Shopify website that takes orders right through color management, RIPping, does some sizing, adds labels, and ends with the fabric ready to ship to the designer or end customer. This automation opens up the world for us to be able to process orders faster and is the basis for continued improvement. Whether an order is 50 yards or one yard, we don’t touch it. It flows through the system in the same way.
CS: I also understand you opened a marketplace? How is that going?
JR: We now have more than 500 designers who have contributed about 55,000 designs to the site in the past year. That’s an explosion for us. We have so many designs for customers to choose from. And the automation also has allowed for customers to scale the design to any size they like.
CS: That’s a lot of choices. How do you help customers navigate this vast array?
JR: We do have some challenges in helping customers find a design. But there are some things we are doing to mitigate that. For example, we implemented a 3D modeling feature. What that does is enables designs to be displayed on different products. If you visit our product page, you can see a design on a dress, on a pair of shorts, on a blanket. We worked with a video game development company to make sure that the flat fabric was able to be modeled in an appropriate way so that, for example, a swimsuit looks realistic. Designers upload their products, they go through the modeling software, and then our product page is updated without us having to really do anything. And our back-end solutions allows them to manage their products, see their orders, and get paid. Designers can have a fabric tab, a product tab, and a wallpaper tab to better organize their offerings.
CS: What else has the automation enabled?
JR: We have been able to integrate with Etsy so all of our products will be listed there. Any orders that come through from Etsy will automatically flow through our Shopify site and our workflow. That’s important for us to get more exposure in the marketplace. The other thing we are doing is enabling more panels. As an example, designers will be able to upload an entire quilt panel or blanket panel in addition to step-and-repeat fabric.
CS: Aside from fabric, I understand you are having success with wallpaper as well.
JR: Yes. We have about 6,000 wallpaper designs available now. Wallpaper is the hot thing right now, and we are printing wallpaper every day. Wallpaper is printed in two-foot widths.
CS: As you look ahead, are there new products you are thinking about offering?
JR: We are looking at ways to offer more products with the printing equipment we have. That includes offering more panel features and we are also looking at direct-to-garment. Also, if you take a look at our Instagram, we have a lot of cute Christmas images that could be put on a T-shirt, and customers can buy coordinating fabrics to do different sleeves, pants, etc., for a coordinated look.
CS: In terms of sourcing, where do you get your base fabric?
JR: We were sourcing most of it from overseas, mostly China. But that has a couple of disadvantages: the long turnaround time, and also we have noticed with the overseas mills a deterioration in quality over time. You start out buying fabric, and it’s nice and white, and it has all the stretch and spandex in it that you want. Then over time it gets a blue tint because they haven’t been changing the water and it’s not as stretchy anymore. Increasingly we are using US mills. It’s a faster turnaround time, and they are doing a good job of keeping a consistent quality level. These things are important for short-run B2B (Business-to-business) customers. We sell to a lot of boutiques, and to moms with small apparel companies making baby clothes and things like that. They want to make sure if they reorder something next year, it will match. When you’re ordering from a company overseas that maybe is changing the fabrics or running it on a different printer, you’re going to notice color changes. With our systems, we maintain the manufacturer’s ink, we keep things very color consistent, and so our customers are getting that reliability they are looking for.
CS: Do you have plans to add cut-and-sew?
JR: Not internally. We do work with some local cut-and-sew houses if our customers need that. We are hyper-focused on apparel fabrics, and that’s a differentiator for us.
It sounds like exciting times at Raspberry Creek! Other entrepreneurs may have different experiences or models, but digital printing does open up many possibilities for small businesses to thrive.
About the Author
Cary Sherburne writes for What They Think and other publications, and has written several feature articles for AATCC, especially concerning digital printing and new technologies.