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Kornit: Expect Smartphone-Level Disruption from Digital Printing

Digital textile and apparel printing has the potential to change the way goods are produced the same way smartphones changed the way people communicate.

That bold statement was made by Tim Hallett, North American marketing manager at Kornit Digital, who backed up his claim in a detailed discussion at the Lenzing seminar series at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.

“Our production methods have remained the same for many years, while the world has passed us by,” Hallett said Wednesday at the venue, where the Avanprint USA digital textile printing show debuted alongside Messe Frankfurt’s Texworld USA, Apparel Sourcing and Home Textiles Sourcing Expo.

[Read more on digital printing: Avanprint USA Premieres Touting Digital’s Accolades]

“When it comes to production methods, we have to catch up to the expectations of the market,” he told attendees. “The fashion and production gap are quickly becoming a wider set. Consumers are expecting instantaneous gratification. When you’re wrong from the inventory standpoint, it can cost you money. What we’re talking about…is closing that gap in the textile industry. It’s not an evolution, it’s a revolution.”

Hallett stressed that consumer awareness is greater than it’s ever been, from environmental, eco-friendly products and causes to the desire for personal expression. Plus, social media has given businesses and consumers a completely different platform on which to operate, from product inspiration and development to e-commerce.

“Today, it’s about immediate gratification,” he said. “We can create graphics and change out artwork almost immediately. In order to meet these needs, we have to change the way we look at the product. With digital technology, we’re able to do that.”

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Hallett said Kornit’s existing customers can print and produce 5 million garments a month, 60,000 garments in a single day. He noted that when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, a digital printer spent all night printing – “an immediate reaction to a single event” – instead of the old method of printing T-shirts ahead of time under both teams’ names and having to discard the loser’s T-shirt for a loss.

He said Kornit machines are printing on T-shirts, dress shirts, home décor, accessories and shoes. Machines can print on all different types of fabric and designs, and its roll-to-roll machine also prints direct to fabrics, all using water-based ink.

“We’re able to take a digital file and go from file to finished goods in minutes, without requiring the company to have printed stock, all done in an e-commerce environment,” Hallett explained. “What we’re talking about is changing the process from supply and demand to demand and supply. Instead of preparing for what we think is going to be the next big thing three months from now, we can sell it before we even manufacture it. You can go online and design a T-shirt and we can have it printed for you in three or four days. It’s a virtual supply chain. It’s taking rapid prototyping and moving it into the textile environment. That gives companies a great deal of flexibility in what they can bring to their end customers.”

He noted that traditional methods of printing requires a range of pre-treatment not needed in digital printing.

“We need digital fashion to be able to supply what the market is demanding,” Hallett summarized. “It allows for faster time to market with infinite design possibilities. We have 7.5 million colors available with digital printing. We are developing global digital printing networks, where just like Amazon, we’re able react to consumers in a timely manner.”

He said digital printing has reduced fixed costs elements, making it much easier to determine margin and lowering inventory so companies don’t have cash tied up in unused merchandise or goods. He said Kornit’s return on investment estimate is nine months from implementation of equipment.

“Digital printing gives you the ability to actually make money in a very tight marketplace,” Hallett added. “Moving to digital is the way to go.”