By Melissa Donovan
One reason many entrepreneurs in the fashion industry choose to implement digital printing technologies in house is because it caters to their customer demands. And what are those demands? Generally short-run, limited collections. While that’s all well and good—the sheer number of design files that must be processed on a daily basis can become overwhelming. Online fabric store and in-house fabric printer, Raspberry Creek Fabrics, LLC of Salt Lake City, UT recently met the challenge head on by instituting automated systems at several levels.
Diana Rammell, co-owner, Raspberry Creek Fabrics, was having trouble sourcing fabric—specifically prints—at local stores for kids clothes. Around 2010 she decided to begin offering a wide selection of exclusive prints for home seamstresses, outsourcing the printing to a screen printer in Los Angeles, CA.
In 2017, the company decided it was time to bring printing capabilities in house. Today it employs a Kornit Digital Allegro pigment printer and an EFI Reggiani NEXT dye-sublimation device. It runs both with a staff of six full-time employees, along with some part-time support.
While many customers at Raspberry Creek Fabrics simply purchase a roll of digitally printed fabric to create their own designs, it also caters to small business clients that require pattern cutting.
To meet these needs, it relies on a cutter from Zund America, Inc. Interestingly enough, while the automated cutter had been on Justin Rammell, co-owner, Raspberry Creek Fabrics, wish list for years, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that he pulled the trigger on the purchase.
“When the pandemic struck, we seized on mask manufacturing. We feared that our normal business would disappear. Fortunately, our customers still wanted to sew and we did not slow down. But the mask business required a cutter, so we put one on rush and paid the air freight. We had things in production very quickly. Our Zünd was cutting around 2,000 masks per hour, each one unique to the customer’s order,” he explains.
Rammell credits the Zünd installers’ professionalism and promptness for getting the cutter into production mode so fast. “They know their systems inside and out. They are quick to answer questions and find solutions.”
The cutter allowed Raspberry Creek Fabrics to expand beyond its original home sewer base. “We want to serve retail and small businesses by offering them complete solutions. By doing custom fabric printing and cutting on the same site, customers save on freight between different facilities. And by utilizing local sewing companies, we let those experts handle that work for cost efficiency, yet retain the cost advantages of a one-stop shop,” explains Rammell.
Today the Zünd is used for small business clients creating apparel items like leotards, golf shirts, quilting panels, and swimsuits. Runs vary but range from one offs to into hundreds of units.
The automation element of the entire process from print to cut is what makes it all possible. Individual custom items are nested, batched, printed, and cut without any manual intervention. Each item is labeled for quick fulfillment.
“Digital printing and cutting means that each item can be unique and that the workflow charges forward without delays in form or template changes. Operators can be trained quickly on the Zünd and fulfill orders in multiple workflows. In fact, the operators doesn’t need to deal with the files at all. They scan the job and off it goes,” admits Rammell.
Customers respond positively to the quality of the products on the Zünd. “The precision and speed mean that cutting fees are low when compared to manual cutting. They are happy to have one less thing on their plate,” he continues.
Take a Step Further
With the Zünd cutter in place and clientele coming from different segments, Raspberry Creek Fabrics faced a new challenge. Processing many different design files from order to RIP to sizing was creating a time-consuming workflow.
After years of working with various RIP and automation companies, the company developed its own automated workflow. In March 2022 it was granted a patent for this new software automation system.
As explained in the press release announcement, the solution addresses the issue of automating printing thousands of step-and-repeat designs on over 30 fabric bases with orders ranging from a half yard to over a hundred yards. During Raspberry Creek Fabrics’ research, it learned that current automation systems create the impositions upfront before the RIP. Those systems see a five yard order, create a graphic file that is five yards long, and output a monster file to the RIP. Those 100GB+ files stalled out every system in the path.
Raspberry Creek Fabrics’ system is a full web to print solution for step-and-repeat fabric orders. It RIPs the smallest possible file size for each order. Then, captures the RIP output and inserts XML sizing information. Using XML, the printer workstations step and repeat the design, printing the order, sized automatically. After RIP, orders wait in the cloud, batched by fabric type. Print operators select a fabric type and jobs roll into hot queues automatically. Orders flow seamlessly from the ecommerce website directly to the printers.
“This system allows us to put unlimited designs on our site for printing and brings extreme efficiency,” shares Rammell.
There are plans to expand the capabilities of the solution. One feature, providing surface pattern designers with the capability to upload and manage their own offerings on the Raspberry Creek Fabrics website—for a percentage royalty.
Another feature in development is integrated cutting. Identifying a pain point for many home sewers, Rammell points out that while lots of people love to sew, few love to trace and cut. “Pairing Zünd with our automation software, we will have these features live very soon.”
Next Level Automation
Raspberry Creek Fabrics was at the forefront when it integrated digital printing capabilities into its business years ago. Now it’s taken its automation next level by incorporating a Zünd automated cutter and developing its own software automation system.
Both additions are a positive influence on the company. With the software solution, Rammell says it made a dramatic change in the business and growth potential. The Zünd cutter enabled Raspberry Creek Fabrics to offer more solutions to more customers—growing the business beyond the traditional home seamstress.
“Some competitors seem more interested in the home décor and personalization products, which is great, but we want to serve those home seamstresses looking for a fulfilling hobby and are dressing to impress. We want to keep our focus on that,” states Rammell.
Jun2022, Digital Output