Collaboration and Community with Marshall Atkinson

Making Friends with Competitors: Collaboration and Community with Marshall Atkinson

Jeanene Edwards

Jeanene Edwards is the VP of marketing & merchandising for Fruit of the Loom/JERZEES Activewear. She has over 20 years of experience working with global apparel brands.

Jeanene Edwards, VP of activewear marketing and merchandising for Fruit of the Loom and JERZEES interviewed Marshall Atkinson on connecting and collaborating with other decorators.

One thing that any business-savvy person in businesses from apparel decoration to IT will tell you is that you need a way to differentiate yourself from competitors. But differentiation doesn’t have to mean cut-throat competition.

Learning how to leverage your competitors, make friends in the industry, and work together will help your business grow. Marshall Atkinson, a consultant for the decorated apparel industry and founder of Shirt Lab, weighs in on the unique characteristics of the decorated apparel community in an interview with JERZEES.

“This is such a great industry because people are so willing to share and give you those answers. That's why I love this industry. We have such a great community," Atkison says, "You’ll find that you can learn a lot from each other."

One of the great things about the decorated apparel industry is that it functions as a community on and offline. Particularly, online places like Facebook, LinkedIn, and T-Shirt Forum help decorators ask questions and learn everything from marketing strategies to dye-sublimation techniques.

When asked how he found a business opportunity with Shirt Lab and Atkinson Consulting, Marshall Atkinson said, “It’s one of these things I’ve seen online, in groups through Facebook or LinkedIn and forums, people keep asking the same questions they were asking 10 years ago. How do I print with white Ink? What's a good shirt to use that I can re-label? How do I do something? There’s a lot of answers posted online, but not a lot of these answers are the correct ones.”

These online spaces can be beneficial for some and hard to tackle for others due to the simple fact that there is so much information available.

Atkinson’s years in the industry developed a passion for helping businesses grow and wanting to answer these questions for shops accurately. “It’s a way to help people out, and I’ve always enjoyed that. What's funny is, I am constantly learning. I might learn more from my customers than anything else because everyone approaches things differently,” said Atkinson.

Learning from other shops, industry experts, or people online can be helpful in figuring out what works and what doesn’t since each decorator is different and each shop has a distinct audience. Atkinson is a problem solver. “I love coaching, teaching, and solving their problems. What’s fun is sometimes they bring up things I don’t have the answer to, and then I have to do the research,” said Atkinson.

Researching on your own can be useful in finding new products, understanding consumers, and crafting a business plan and tips to develop high-quality decorated apparel. No one knows the answers to everything all the time. Even the most skilled of decorators have to troubleshoot sometimes. Take a close look at your shop and discover what the strongest parts of the business are. Learn where it can improve. Research to see what works for other local area decorators or ask online forums for advice. Test out the answers and see if they work and if not, try something different. Taking the time to know where the shop can improve is vital to maintaining a positive workflow.

“By having these conversations and these opportunities to ask a lot of questions, you can solve these problems for people, and that shop’s performance is elevated. They can do things faster, cheaper, and more efficiently so that everyone is winning,” said Marshall.  

Collaborating with others from local area shops to trade show events or Facebook groups can be helpful in learning a new trick to printing on fleece or printing intricate artwork without troublesome fibrillation.

Atkinson encourages decorators to look for collaboration opportunities, get out of the shop, and go to trade shows and learning events. "When your focus is on learning new things, what you’ll find is everyone has the same problems,” said Atkinson.

Coming together to learn from each other is a powerful tool that shops can use to better their business, increase the quality of their garments, and improve efficiency. You don’t have to compete with other decorators. Learn from them and grow in your own way.