Easy Money-Saving Tips For Sourcing Decorated Apparel


Sourcing Goods

Apparel decorators have reliable vendors and well-stocked shelves (Inventory has improved since the pandemic). Our distribution chain is a fundamental dichotomy of manufacturers and distributors. For the gamut of basic and mid-range T-shirts, fleece wear, and golf shirts, the prime manufacturers include well-known national and international firms such as Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, Gildan, and Jerzees, among several other large, reputable firms. Due to their minimum order and capital requirements, Sourcing directly from these larger firms is essentially limited to buyers with massive warehouses and multimillion-dollar financial resources.

Branded Garments

Obtaining these branded garments is accomplished through a network of wholesale distributors, major national players such as Bodek & Rhodes and San Mar, and larger regional firms such as Imprints Wholesale in the West and New England Sportswear in the Northeast brands, among others. In addition to carrying the better-known consumer brands, these firms also offer their own branded apparel lines and wide outerwear selections. Most distributors also stock limited choices of caps, bags, and aprons, among other specialty textile product categories.

Young Man in wearing a black t-shirt
Direct-to-garment printing is excellent for clothing lines that don’t want to invest much money.


Standard pricing for most apparel categories among and between the wholesalers is relatively similar, though there’s considerable latitude regarding their proprietary offerings. Occasionally, all distributors conduct special sales to trim unsold inventory on selected items or categories for periods ranging from a few days to a few weeks, especially toward year-end and late summer. For creditworthy buyers, all provide reasonable credit terms. However, if you’re new in the decorated apparel business, you’ll likely be required to pre-pay via check or credit card or pay C.O.D. with cash or a certified check.

Most wholesalers offer free-shipping deals from the warehouse to your door when you buy a specific annual volume or meet thresholds of a specified amount (usually a few hundred dollars) on a single order.

Who can buy from wholesalers?

Many people wonder if they can buy from wholesalers to get decorated apparel. However, most suppliers only sell to businesses that have a proven track record in the trade, as documented by an industry-specific organization that monitors the activities and credit of trade buyers. Additionally, buyers need to provide proof of holding licenses to collect sales tax. Generally, the general public can’t purchase from wholesalers, because they don’t make their wholesale-to-the-trade pricing available to end-users online or otherwise. Only buyers with a password can access this information. Published pricing for end-user accounts is displayed at twice the standard trade price, while trade buyers receive a 50% discount on the prices shown to end-users.

Some apparel decorators merit built-in discounts below the standard trade price, usually in the form of “case pricing,” or having the ability to buy units at the case price but without being required to purchase entire cases. Additional discounts and concessions accrue to more loyal, more prominent buyers who satisfy stated purchase-volume or per-shipment-volume thresholds. The lowest pricing tiers include perks such as an added 2% discount below case pricing, free freight on all orders, advertising allowances or rebates, and for the very largest volume buyers in the trade, additional support in the form of yet further discounts, extended credit terms, and promotional and display allowances.

Free Shipping

Most wholesalers offer free-shipping deals from the warehouse to your door when you buy a specific annual volume or meet thresholds of a specified amount (usually a few hundred dollars) on a single order.

Almost all wholesalers offer their customers limited quantities of free catalogs and price lists for use with their accounts. More worthy buyers are awarded larger quantities of promotional catalogs with their customized cover imprints.

Build a Relationship with One Vendor

Whom you buy from is, of course, up to you. However, knowledgeable buyers learn in time that it pays to place as many overall general purchases — T-shirts, fleece wear, golf shirts, etc. — with ONE wholesaler and develop an alternative, smaller-volume relationship with a second vendor. That’s because gaining advantageous pricing or other exceptional leverage with any wholesaler means demonstrating a consistent pattern of loyalty and predictable purchasing volume.

A common mistake of newcomers and veterans who get into a perpetual lousy habit is to shop the wholesalers every week, every day, or, for some, on every order to save a few pennies on every garment. Achieving those per-unit savings is pretty doable, but making this procedure the rule in your buying practices rather than the exception means spreading your purchasing among too many vendors and not becoming a regular, valued — and noticeable! — buyer to any of them. Measured over time, this practice usually doesn’t save money. It costs money — and affects the unintended consequence of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Buying in the industry is done for the most part over the telephone, a declining preference, or online, as more and more companies do for most of their buying. Over 99% of all wholesalers’ orders are shipped to the decorator or contractor. Specific key customers, however, in major metropolitan areas avail themselves of direct deliveries offered once or twice a week by some wholesalers. At the same time, some folks pick up their goods in person at the warehouses.

A Word to the Wise While Sourcing Decorated Apparel

A word to the wise: Endeavor to deal with wholesalers whose distribution center is within one day’s UPS delivery if possible. It saves time, but more importantly, it saves on shipping.

Newcomers can be assured they’ll have ample opportunity to locate sources for their garment and accessory needs. Once a business has registered on various websites and had its e-mail address captured on search engines, it’s only a day or so before industry vendors begin to solicit the new enterprise’s patronage. While veterans have good reason to limit vendors’ e-mail access to those they care about, newbies are advised to communicate with all trade solicitors during their umbilical period.

Establish Direct-to-Garment Printing Partners

Once you have established a blank supplier, you must locate reliable decorators. As of November 2023, many embroiders and direct-to-garment printers have left the industry due to finances and lack of business. We recommend working with well-established decorators such as Northwest Custom Apparel, which has been stitched since 1977. They are located south of Seattle and have a 1-day ship from Sanmar in Preston. They specialize in embroidery, direct-to-garment, and heat transfers. Please fill out a contact form, and a sales rep will contact you.


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Antonio Massey

Production Team: Folder

Antonio Massey recently joined NWCA in June of 2022. His role on the Production Team has greatly improved our processes and productivity. Antonio is always willing to lift heavy boxes or help his co-workers during busy times. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his dog and mastering video games.


Alicia Wada

Shipping Clerk

Alicia Wada is passionate about helping her co-workers at Northwest Custom Apparel in any way that she can. She works in our Shipping and Logistics department. Alicia, who goes by Ali, has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. She lived in Japan for ten years and recently brought her family to America in 2019. She is interested in learning crafts and textile art from around the world.


Erik Mickelson


Erik Mickelson’s position as Manager is more than a job, it’s a passion. It’s always fun and exciting because he enjoys marketing, computers, and coming up with innovative ideas to help NWCA grow. He majored in accounting and finance at Washington State University, graduating in 1996, and returned to school to obtain his Master of Business from WGU, graduating in 2016. Erik continually strives to advance his education through podcasts, audiobooks, and industry tradeshows. He is married to a remarkable and caring wife named Wendy, a Registered Nurse, with whom he shares his many hobbies and a love for the outdoors.



Ruth Nhoung

Production Manager

Ruth Nhoung is our Production Manager and Northwest Custom Apparel is lucky to have her. Thanks to her vast knowledge of machine embroidery and dedication to creating a comfortable and supportive work environment, the production plant runs smoothly and customers are pleased with our work. She is a loving mother and grandmother and enjoys spending quality time with her siblings. She says, “I love everything about Northwest Custom Apparel: the people, the atmosphere, the work, and the customers. I love what I do and I embrace all of NWCA’s core values”.


Steve Deland

Art Director

Steve Deland has been our amazing Artist since 2017. He loves working at Northwest Custom Apparel because he appreciates the goal-oriented, progressive-thinking management style. He is most passionate about his art, which includes scroll saw woodwork, and his five grandchildren.



Taylar Hanson


Taylar Hanson is a highly acclaimed Saleswoman at Northwest Custom Apparel. She has a BA in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles from Washington State University. “Go Cougs!” The best part of Taylar’s job is getting to work with longtime customers who trust us to do the best work and take care of their needs. She is passionate about appreciating nature, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.


Nika Lao


Nika Lao is very knowledgeable in how the business is ran because she began as an Embroidery Machine Operator and has worked hard to become the excellent and personable saleswoman she is today. She enjoys the stress-free environment and the many chances to connect with her co-workers over potlucks, BBQs, and bowling parties. Nika is a proud sister of two highly successful brothers and can boast mastering three languages herself: Khmer, Thai, and English. She is an avid camper, enjoys going to farmer markets, and loves cooking.


Bradley Wright


Bradley Wright has been a vital team member of NWCA since 2017. As our accountant and knower-of-all-things, Bradley is proud to work closely with his wonderful colleagues. He studied at the University of Washington. These days he dedicates his free time to his new house.


Dominic Nguyen

DTG Operator

Dominic Nguyen recently joined our Direct-To-Garment department. He says he loves the family work environment at Northwest Custom Apparel. In his free time, Dom likes to listen to music, hangout with friends, and play video games. He comes from a very big family which can be very chaotic at times, but is always exciting.


Sothea Tann

Production Team: Trimmer

Sothea Tann recently joined the Production Team in 2022. She finds Northwest Custom Apparel to be a good working environment with helpful and friendly staff. In her free time, Sothea spends quality time with her family and, overall, focuses on a peaceful and happy lifestyle.


Brian Beardsley

DTG Supervisor

Brian Beardsley has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. He is our DTG Supervisor. Brian loves that he gets to work with high-tech machines in a fun atmosphere. He has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. He said, “I always wanted to create visually interesting assets in a variety of mediums”. In his free time, he enjoys building and painting models, playing video games, designing, and playing his guitar.


UT Tri Tran

Embroidery Machine Operator

UT Tri Tran loves Northwest Custom Apparel so much that, although she has already retired after a long career in machine embroidery operations, she is happy to return part time. She says, “I love the family style work environment and how everyone shares food, laughter, and fun on a regular basis.” In her free time she is dedicated to living a healthy and peaceful lifestyle with her friends and family.



Embroidery Machine Operator

BunsereytheavyHoeu, who goes by Theavy, won our Operator of the Year in 2021. She takes on many roles in the production team. She says, “These are not my co-workers, these are my family! I cherish all the memories we make together”. When she goes home to be with her family, she makes the most of her time with them by holding family get-togethers and even karaoke competitions.


Sreynai Meang

Embroidery Machine Operator

SreynaiMeang is a hard-working Machine Operator. She is most passionate about helping people. Sreynai, who goes by Nai, likes to exercise in her free time and talk with her family in Cambodia.


Kanha Chhorn

Embroidery Machine Operator

Kanha Chhorn has been an Embroidery Operator with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. She is delightful and always makes everyone smile and laugh. Kanha takes on additional tasks that allow us to exceed our customers’ expectations. In her free time, she can be found at her local temple or spending quality time with her family and friends.


Savy Som

Embroidery Machine Operator

SavySom is one of our Machine Operators who is passionate about embroidery and sewing. She enjoys working at NWCA because of its flexibility. She has two teenage sons and loves spending time with her family on the weekends.



Embroidery Machine Operator

SorphornSorm has been a Machine Operator since 2011. One of her four sisters works here as well. Her other relatives are in Cambodia. In her free time, Sorphorn studies English, listens to music, and enjoys exercising.


Jim Mickelson


Jim Mickelson, after a successful career with a major oil company, founded Northwest Embroidery in 1977. This was the first commercial embroidery in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, Jim has become the guru of embroidery never refusing to answer a question or offer advice to his fellow embroiders. Jim and his wife Leeanna raised four wonderful children who went on to successful business careers.

Northwest Custom Apparel
Northwest Custom Apparel
152 Google reviews
Janice Herron
Janice Herron
Love their amazing customer service! From ordering over the phone, through email, or in person at Northwest Custom Apparel, everyone is very helpful, and very nice! Always! We have been ordering our apparel for our local small business through them for many years! Thank you Thank you!
Morgan Pero
Morgan Pero
Excellent people, products and customer service!
Drew Halverson
Drew Halverson
Great product offerings/results, swift communication, and helpful staff. Highly recommend!
Tim s
Tim s
Northwest Custom apparel always does great work! We have been a customer for over 25 years and are always satisfied with the products we get!!
NW Custom Apparel treats us like we’re their only customer! Everyone is always so friendly and helpful. They’re great!
Randy Birch
Randy Birch
We us Northwest Custom Apparel for our work shirts and they are incredible. The staff is super friendly, the quality of workmanship is outstanding and they stand by the work they do. I love this place.
Heidi Christiansen
Heidi Christiansen
The company I work for has been buying custom apparel for the team members for years now. We love working with NW Custom Apparel because the process is easy, delivery is timely, and materials are high quality. Anytime I’ve ever had an issue, they’re quick to resolve it. We’ve purchased both embroidered items and DTG graphic tees. We’ve purchased blankets, shirts, jackets, hoodies, etc. Everything ends up looking super professional, and our team members always have positive things to say. Ally is always there at the warehouse with a smile and a friendly greeting when I pick up materials. She is so helpful and respectful. Taylar is a wonderful customer service rep. I’ve sent her some complicated orders—like 20 different items with all different colorways and styles or 150 items with three different styles—and she is so good at getting everything just right. I plan to continue purchasing from NW Custom for high-quality custom apparel.
Hoa DeBusk
Hoa DeBusk
Have used them for years. Knowledgeable team that is always so helpful in recommending options or creating designs. Great quality too for embroidery or digital prints. Very happy with them as a vendor.
Stacey Perez
Stacey Perez
We use Northwest Custom Apparel for all of our professional embroidery needs for the orthodontic office I work at. They do great work, are quick and have never missed a deadline. Highly recommend if you need any custom apparel needs.