NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—Sublimation-ready apparel manufacturer Vapor Apparel is building its first North American manufacturing facility.
The company is in its 11th year of making blanks for sublimation products, but the new facility will focus on the company’s cut-and-sew business, according to Christopher Bernat, Vapor Apparel’s chief revenue officer and owner. Bernat co-founded and co-owns the business with Jackson Burnett, who serves as its president.
“(The cut-and-sew) segment of our business has grown rapidly in the last two years,” Bernat says.
The new facility is 30,000 square feet and located about two hours northwest of the company’s headquarters in North Charleston, S.C. It is scheduled to open this spring and will eventually be built out to the building’s total of 48,000 square feet, Bernat says.
The new site will be located in Union County, South Carolina, part of the state’s Piedmont region and traditionally the home of the state’s textile industry. The area has seen a significant decline in textile employment in recent history however, according to Allison Skipper of the South Carolina Department of Commerce. She says the state as a whole lost some 60,000 mill jobs and 12,000 other apparel-related jobs between 1998 and 2008.
To fill the gap, the state began heavily recruiting advanced technology companies, Skipper says, but it has recently begun to see some of those textile jobs coming back, including 114 positions from Vapor Apparel.
“I don’t recall a time that we’ve had a cut-and-sew announcement like this, so that’s significant,” Skipper says.
‘Made in the USA’
Since its founding in 2004, Vapor Apparel has partnered with a manufacturing company in Bogota, Colombia, to make its blanks. Vapor Apparel manages that company’s sublimation business in North America and Europe.
In 2013, Vapor Apparel began to offer screen printers and design houses access to its new cut-and-sew, made in the U.S.A. program, which was based in North Charleston. It was initially geared toward the outdoors and athletic markets but quickly drew interest from the promotional products and advertising industries as well. The company recognized that many print houses look to outsource their sublimation needs rather than invest in the equipment necessary to do it themselves.
At the same time, Vapor Apparel had to deal with a new rule passed by the U.S. Congress regarding sourcing requirements for items sold at National Park Service retail sites, such as gift shops and park headquarters. The new rules mandated a larger percentage of products sold in those shops carry the “Made in the U.S.A.” label. Given that Vapor Apparel had sold blanks into the NPS market for years, the ruling was big news for the South Carolina company. These factors led to the decision to invest $1.4 million in a new facility, Bernat says.
“The plan (for the new building) has been in development for about a year based on the growth of cut-and-sew and demand for made in the U.S.A.,” Bernat says.
Blank accessories for sublimation, such as gators, ear warmers, and fleece caps and baby bibs, will also be made at the new facility, he says.
The Union County facility is scheduled for an April opening and the 114 jobs are expected to be created within five years, the company says. Currently, Vapor Apparel employs about 50 people, although the number goes up or down on a seasonal basis, Bernat says. The facility in Bogota will continue to provide blanks for many of Vapor Apparel’s customers, but Bernat anticipates that the new U.S. facility will stay plenty busy.
“We have been myopically focused on sublimation for 11 years,” Bernat says. “We’re here; we’re growing.”