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What to Price Sublimated Shirts

By Jimmy Lamb

The return on investment for a sublimated polyester shirt can be much higher than a printed cotton shirt, but a pricing strategy can be challenging.

Though it does have a few limitations, sublimation delivers stunning full color images on white and light-colored garments with ease. It’s also a huge selling point that it’s one of the only decoration processes that won’t fade, crack or peel when laundered.

In reality, a sublimated t-shirt is far superior to any other form of decorated fabric, but to the naked eye it looks a lot like everything else out there. The average customer cannot tell the difference between sublimation, screen printing and DTG. Thus, the consumer expects the price of sublimation to be equivalent to other forms of decoration.

So why is that and how do you overcome it? Let’s go back in time and look at the evolution of polyester as a starting point.

The History of Polyester Garments

Back in the 70s, 100% polyester garments took the world by storm. Billed as a durable, maintenance-free fabric, it seemed like an ideal solution, but it lacked a lot in terms of wearability (it was hot among other things). Eventually polyester lost out to cotton when it came to comfort and breathability, thus leaving behind a legacy of negativity. And for many of us that have been in this industry for many years, the word polyester does leave a bit of a bad taste in our mouths.

Polyester Improvements in Today’s Market

The polyester of today and poly-performance fabric are a far cry from the stuff of yesteryear. Interestingly enough, many poly-performance garments even have the look and feel of cotton, which is another step towards separating the poly of today from that of the past.

From a technical perspective, moisture wicking fabric is composed of tiny cells that allow perspiration to be pulled away from the skin and transferred to the outer surface of the garment where it can be evaporated away. A simple reference is Under Armour®.

Pricing Your Poly-performance Apparel as a Premium Product

Poly-performance apparel is unique and offers features that other products do not, so the costs are logically going to be higher when compared to standard garments.

For example, a 100% cotton or 50/50 white t-shirt can be purchased for $1.00 to $1.50 (depending on weight, style and brand). A typical poly-performance t-shirt will run $5.00 to $6.00 depending on style and brand. Thus, when you are selling performance wear, you must position it as a premium product.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to sell a performance t-shirt against a cotton t-shirt as if they are equal products – they are NOT. And keep in mind that some versions of poly-performance t-shirts look and feel like cotton (a plus) but they should not be treated as an equal to the basic 100% cotton t-shirt.

Perception is everything, especially when it comes to sales and marketing! You must focus on elevating the perceived value of the product to the level for which it deserves, especially when dealing with t-shirts.

In fact, avoid using the word t-shirt at all as it is associated with low cost. Many of your clients have bought single-color screen-printed t-shirts at one time or another for less than what a blank poly-performance shirt cost. And in many cases, it was a large volume order which further contributed to the low price. Thus, the second the t-shirt leaves your lips, the customer has a vision of a low-cost product. Stick with “performance apparel” as much as possible to help keep the perceived value higher.

Always position your products from a point of quality, performance, and longevity. Sublimation on 100% polyester will not crack, peel, or fade. Poly-performance fabric has been proven to be more comfortable and all-season than 100% cotton. Both the fabric and the decoration will last practically forever. And you can always use Under Armour® as a benchmark for retail pricing, as their t-shirts typically start at $24.95 in retail stores across the country. Keep this in mind when you do your own pricing!

Build Your Sales Strategy

Now that you understand the advantages of sublimated polyester apparel, you are in a better position to build your sales strategy. Calculate your costs for producing a high-quality shirt, probably in the range of $7.00 to $8.00 depending on your operational costs and the substrate cost. Then look at market influences and the size of the order when working in your margins. All-the-while remember the advantages and value of your product! You cannot and should not compete against screen printed t-shirts – they are not in the same category as what you are offering. You must be able to convey this to your customers and stand behind your product.

Remember that a screen-printed t-shirt will start to crack and peel after multiple washings and will be lucky to make it through a year. Meanwhile a sublimated polyester shirt will look like new after a year. And for that matter, many years to come. Ultimately, the ROI (return on investment) for a sublimated polyester shirt is much higher than a printed cotton (or 50/50) shirt.

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