Patagonia’s Merchandise Pivot Sparks Search for Sustainable Swag Solutions

When Patagonia exited the business of creating company swag, it was almost as if it was the end of an era of the unofficial uniform for finance bros everywhere.  

However, despite Patagonia’s involvement, the company swag often lacked appeal. These items felt mass-produced and lacked uniqueness. This sentiment extends outside of company swag, to individuals aiming to craft exclusive items, as they are hindered by a lack of resources to materialize their visions. 

Aside from the challenge of uniqueness there are other challenges, such scarcity of design options and the intricate process of translating creative visions into tangible apparel. 

During a conversation with PYMNTS, Zach and Austin Hurst, co-founders of 99GENS, delved into the insufficient alternatives, such as Fiverr, available to consumers who seek to create uniquely tailored items. They also addressed the challenges that non-designers encounter in the merchandise design process, which can result in the proliferation of superfluous products and subsequently contribute to sustainability concerns. These concerns often stem from lower quality standards and products not meeting expectations. 

“In the fast fashion phenomenon, we’ve seen low quality, itchy things that people can’t wash because they get torn in the washer in one pass. It’s just very destructive in a lot of ways,” Zach said.  

And as fast fashion exacerbates this issue, with the average American consumer annually discarding around 81.5 pounds of clothing

Problem With Mass Personalization 

Meanwhile, consumers grapple with the lack of diversity in off-the-shelf clothing designs.  

Driven by efficiency and large-scale manufacturing, the fashion sector frequently yields a limited selection of styles that neglects the wide-ranging tastes and inclinations of shoppers. Those in search of something genuinely extraordinary encounter a creative dead-end, nudging them toward tailor-made attire. 

This phenomenon is evident even in sizing. Retailers like Macy’s have finally taken steps to address the issue through its own private label efforts — the latest being “On 34th.” 

Read more: A Tale of 2 Brands: Macy’s Ramps Up Private Labels as Amazon Backs Away  

How Consumers Create Personalized Goods 

In order to escape the limitations of mainstream fashion, consumers undertake crafting their own distinctive clothing. This pursuit necessitates more than just a creative insight: It requires a firm understanding of design fundamentals and techniques for constructing garments. 

For those without design expertise, platforms like Etsy and Fiverr offer a lifeline. Collaborating with freelance and independent designers enables consumers to bring their visions to life, although this route comes with its own challenges. The quest for a designer who comprehends the customer’s creative essence can prove to be laborious and time-intensive. Then modifications might be needed, adding time and money. 

The intricacy of design work, revision cycles, and potential licensing fees can swiftly accumulate, rendering the pursuit of individuality a costly affair. Consequently, many individuals find themselves opting for small-scale trials rather than fully immersing themselves in their creative aspirations. 

‘One-Click Merchification’ Method 

Through 99GENS, Zach and Austin are looking to tackle the intricate processes of print file creation and eCommerce publication. The former, involving various guidelines and templates for each product, presented a substantial challenge.  

As an example, Zach said creating a single hoodie requires generating six separate files, each encompassing elements such as the hood, front pocket, sleeves, and front-back panels. 99GENS has successfully simplified this design process, accommodating 45 products with a portfolio that continues to grow. 

With 99GENS, Zach explained that the automation system is capable of instantly producing 116 print files. On the eCommerce side, the platform smoothly integrates with Shopify. 

Furthermore, Zach noted that 99GENS enables users to assume full control over the publishing process. 

“We publish all the items to a fresh store for them, and then they can manage all of that from our platform, so they don’t have to know what print on demand is, they don’t have to know what Shopify is. They just have to submit some art and start promoting their new fashion line or merchandise line,” Zach said.  

How 99GENS Addresses Why Patagonia Left Swag 

In the United States, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste, which accounts for around 85% of all textiles, finds its way into landfills each year.  

Consequently, engaging in mass production of items that consumers don’t particularly favor only serves to further exacerbate that figure. 

“We need to get back to this idea that you have a closet, you have a wardrobe, and you’re proud of what you have in there and it’s an investment and you’re going to wear it multiple times over and potentially even give it away and feel proud. If we can create high quality premium goods even extended to swag, we want to create something with a logo on it that you’ll still wear it out,” Zach said.  

Zach observes a trend among consumers shifting towards personalized fashion, and 99GENS can offer personalization but at a sustainable scale.  

“We’re moving into an era where people like to personalize and express their own fashion and with our technology, whether you’re a large corporation or a small local business with a team of three, you no longer need to place a minimum order of 250 pieces using a promo code just to have your custom shirts for your coffee shop.”