By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
Digital printing technology offers versatility to a variety of businesses. For those in the apparel space, direct to garment (DTG) printers provide adaptability and efficiency at an acceptable price point and footprint.
In 1996, Steve Aoki founded Dim Mal and developed it into an influential independent record label, music, and fashion lifestyle brand. Responsible for launching the careers of seminal acts such as Bloc Party, The Bloody Beetroots, The Chainsmokers, Deorro, Keys N Krates, and countless others, the independently owned Dim Mal has consistently pushed new musical movements via its DIY ethos.
As a fashion leader, Dim Mak cultivates community by bringing together collaborators from all walks of life including the likes of Hiroshi Fujiwara, Sanrio, and Playboy, to name a few. With nostalgic references toward his youth, Aoki often includes manga, music, and games into the Dim Mak aesthetics. Aoki named his record label and subsequent fashion brand “Dim Mak” as a nod to Bruce Lee’s signature fight move—the touch of death. With a back catalog hundreds of records deep, a history of legendary live events, and a fully formed clothing line, Dim Mak continues its global mission of promoting boundary-pushing music and culture.
Aoki is an influential Asian-American DJ, record producer, music programmer, gammer, philanthropist, and record executive. As a solo artist, Aoki boasts a cross-genre discography that includes seven studio albums and collaborations with BTS, Lil Uzi Vert, Linkin Park, Louis Tomlinson, and Maluma.
The Dim Mak fashion brand sets itself apart with its focus on nostalgic collaborations. It aligns with entities that elicits an emotional connection. The vibe it is after is fun and effervescent, which it approaches from a music space.
Journey to DTG
The Dim Mak fashion brand offers streetwear, like t-shirts and hoodies. For its fashion drops, collaborations are key.
The company uses its extensive network to join forces to produce licensed apparel of nostalgic brands and culture icons, such as Sanrio and Naruto Shippuden. A variety of celebrities have been spotted donning the goods, including David Guetta, the Jonas Brothers, Sting, and Lay Zhang. Further, drops are often featured in the top worldwide publications including Forbes, GQ, High Snobiety, Hypebeast, and Vogue.
With a tight-knit crew, Dim Mak is dynamic and nimble. Brandon Sun, brand manager, Dim Mak Collection, heads the fashion arm of the company. Aoki and Sun work together to come up with designs for new drops. These designs often require multiple stages of approval, which is difficult to manage when designs have to be sent out for prototyping and approvals.
To ease the prototyping and approval process, the team knew investing in a DTG printer would make a big difference. After considering multiple brands, the company invested in a Ricoh Ri 1000, which it purchased through DTG Connection. DTG Connection is a group of DTG experts with a mission to provide customers with products, business strategies, hands-on support, and industry connections to guide them to success with DTG.
The Ricoh Ri 1000 prints full-color, 10×8-inch graphics on light garments in less than 28 seconds. The device features a high-accuracy carriage and table, minimum ink drop size of three picoliters, precise table height adjustment, and dressable platens. It delivers crisp, high-resolution images of up to 1,200×1,200 dpi. Additionally, an intelligent auto cleaning system and white ink agitation save time and make the machine easy to use and maintain.
Due in part to COVID-19 and its lean team, much of Dim Mak’s fashion label business is handled in Sun’s studio. This now includes DTG production, as the Ricoh Ri 1000 was delivered to his studio in February 2021.
One reason Dim Mak purchased the machine through DTG Connection was the customer service, which went as far as helping move the device up the stairs of an apartment building. Sun says his representative, Karl Tipre, partner, DTG Connection, was informed, kind, and open to negotiation, all on top of hand delivering the machine.
In practice at Dim Mak, the DTG device creates prototypes, confirms placements, and handles small runs for its apparel launches. Sun says the process is significantly better with the device as it saves steps in the production process.
Dim Mak’s fashion division completes a lot of small projects for the company’s record label, which often include promotional pieces. The DTG handles these in a turnkey manner for fulfillment. Additionally, the company is able to advise others in the same way and turnaround production runs faster.
One of the biggest advantages of investing in DTG technology is Dim Mak’s ability to work on passion projects. Aoki is creatively driven. Without the flexibility afforded by the Ricoh device, smaller projects as well as designs featuring elaborate prints would be cost prohibitive.
“These days, young streetwear designers are popping up with elaborate prints that you cannot achieve on a screen print machine. It would cost too much,” says Sun.
In addition to prototypes, jobs consisting of ten units or smaller are generally done in house on the Ricoh Ri 1000. After that, it depends on factors including the customer, staff availability, and complexity. With a few months under his belt, Sun is confident in his ability to run the Ricoh Ri 1000 and trains and oversees others to run the press when necessary. Larger jobs are still often sent out, but runs of up to 300 have been completed in house. He estimates that a job this size would take 50 hours or about a week to turnaround if done on the DTG because each unit, especially complicated designs, take about ten minute each considering multiple, jumbo-sized prints on dark garments.
For dynamic organizations like Dim Mak, the ability to quickly turnaround designs, prototypes, and short runs is essential to its success in the streetwear apparel market, especially as it focuses on collaborations that require licenses, sign offs, accurate placements, and color matching. Its DTG device helps streamline the process to enable more capacity to prepare for longer jobs and cost-effectively produce smaller runs.
Jun2021, Digital Output