By Chris Meehan | Dec 04, 2016
Industry: Fashion & Arts
Products: Cut-and-sew services
Without the dye-sublimation printing and cut-and-sew sew talent of the Denver-based HookFish, you'd never see a "Professionals Collection" of sweatsuits like the ones recently debuted by Fruit of the Loom. "They're quite hysterical," says Huebner. Indeed, when the fleece sweatsuits became available Nov. 17 in styles like "The Business Time" and "The Corporate Cowboy," they made a media splash everywhere from Adweek to Time, with both magazines calling the suits ridiculous.
The company offers cut-and-sew services, along with dye sublimation, screenprinting, and embroidery. "The Fruit of the Loom project is probably one of the most technical projects we've done art-wise," Hebner says. "There was probably 150 hours of art time in this project. That is an insane amount of art time."
For comparison, Huebner says doing the artwork on a wrestling team's clothes -- the company recently launched a team sportswear subsidiary, LEAN Athletics -- might take five to six hours from start to finish.
But most HookFish projects involve in-house design. "Seventy-five to 80 percent of the time we do the design work," Huebner says. "If they're from Gaiam Yoga, they'll send test prints and we'll run it for them and send samples."
Dye-sublimated fabrics are becoming a bigger part of HookFish's sales. Explains Huebner: "2016 is probably the first year we did a higher percentage of sales in dye sub than in screenprints and embroidery." He says he expects the trend to continue.
The company contractis with a wide range of clients. "We work with some hunting companies, like dye-sublimating camouflage. We work with marijuana companies," Huebner says. "People bring us concepts and we decide whether or not it's something we can handle or want to handle -- we don't pigeonhole ourselves to just apparel. . . . We've done sleeping bags, hammocks, hunting decoys -- they're one of the most outrageous things we've ever seen."
He anticipates a lot of growth with his new sportswear subsidiary, which offers factory-direct clothing with high-performance, largely American-made fabrics. The company has gained traction selling directly to wrestling teams and is developing volleyball and lacrosse lines, and staffers are attending tournaments and going to coaches' conventions.
"We're going to focus on one sport at a time and develop each sport to a very high professional level," Huebner claims. "We'll source fabrics correctly, get our patterns done incredibly well and then start to target sports that we know are being overcharged."
The company has bolstered its sales and administrative workforce to seven, matching the seven skilled sewers it employs. With that it can typically turn around orders within three weeks, but can rush orders in as few as 48 hours at a high premium.
While the company prints and manufactures in Denver, it has outgrown its current capacity. One contract that requires 6,000 units a month and another recently signed contract, will require 3,000 units a month, so Huebner has had to look elsewhere to meet demand.
"There's only so much we can grow with American pricing," says Huebner. "Last year, we went into business with a maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico." The combination of U.S. and Mexico production will allow the company to always maintain about 10 sewers in Denver to fulfill minimum custom orders of 100 units.
Competing on price, he says, gets more difficult when he has to pay workers $12 to $15 an hour in the U.S. when others can pay roughly $1 an hour for labor in other countries. Regardless, Huebner says he's open to working with other cut-and-sew operations, like some rural Colorado ones that are starting up, "but the reason we do it in-house is because of the quality."
Challenges: "I think highly-skilled sewers are not in vast availability, especially in Colorado," Huebner says. "When you get into sportswear with technical types of stitching, it is not something that's incredibly readily available in Colorado."
Opportunities: LEAN Athletics is a big one. "We're going to grow the sportswear business," Huebner says. "That's the piece of the brand we're going to focus on in the next year or two, to become a direct manufacturing option for sports teams."
Needs: More space. "We're bursting at our seams now," says Huebner. "Trying to find real estate that's halfway affordable in Colorado is like finding a needle in a haystack. If there are any charitable people that read the article, we're looking for a nice landlord."