From T-shirt manufacturing to helping start-up businesses

NOTHING is free in business: One has to work hard for it. That was the first business lesson that CustomThread Inc. Founder and CEO Eric Sy learned at a tender age of 17.

This was after his father charged him P600 for driving him to and around Divisoria as he scouted for a supplier for a school project.

That was when Sy took on the challenge by his professor of whether he can put up a T-shirt business. Thinking everything can be bought from the famous cheap shopping mecca in Manila, he asked his father to drive for him.

He was able to find supplies, which he delivered to his professor. Sy said he was overjoyed to earn P600 for that first deal, the same amount he needed to pay his father.

From this business project at the University of Asia and the Pacific, Sy pursued his passion to build an organization and to work with like-minded people.

“As part of our curriculum in entrepreneurial management, I put up the Sy Fashion Enterprise, a trading company. From that first small transaction, I became the T-shirt guy in school,” Sy said. “Students came to me for their specified, designed shirts.”

Sewing up

In his senior year, Sy put up a web site called SFE.ph, “the first custom apparel web site in the Philippines that is also interactive.”

“Meaning that, aside from the product catalog, we had requests for quotation features. So from there, top corporations started contacting,” Sy said. “I was using wireless phones in school and they would be calling, perhaps thinking I was a big company back then.”

Upon graduation in 2010, Sy weighed his options: to join the corporate world or continue his business. He chose the latter and, as they say, the rest is history.

From a small home office for two years, Sy established a small T-shirt factory in a 400-square-meter bungalow so he could start printing on his own. From there, the company grew and rebranded to “CustomThread.”

Sy said the company’s mission is to solve the “pain point” of customers: knowing what they really need and want with good quality that suits their budget the soonest they need it.

“Normally, it takes 24 hours for the quotation alone, sometimes as long as three days,” Sy said. “I fixed that part so that clients get the clear picture of their requirement and the price the soonest possible.”

“Having standardized this and having become a solution provider, our vision is simple: we want to be the household brand for custom apparel,” he added. “The moment people think of T-shirt printing, corporate and customized wear, I want them to think about us. I want CustomThread to be synonymous with quality, trusted brand.”

Stitching asset

Sy said he makes sure the raw materials they use are of top-notch quality. He said the company was able to achieve this by strengthening research and development.

“From creating a new standard for customer service in custom apparel—from inquiry, apparel design, sales processing and high-tech production to logistics—CustomThread provides convenient service, consistent quality and efficient platforms: CustomThread.com and Fundr.ph.”

According to Sy, the former platform is for business-to-business services, where people can browse through products like shirts, jackets, bags, umbrellas and caps.

“They can also create their design mock-ups through the site so that our team can offer them accurate quotations.”

Meanwhile, Fundr.ph caters to graphic designers, music bands, nongovernment organizations, fund-raisers and other institutions who want to create and sell shirts online without requiring inventory. They simply have to create their Fundr shop, upload their design and share it to their friends.

“We handle the customer service, delivery and all the backend work while the shop owner earns,” Sy explained.

He added the company started saturating the Philippine market by helping every company with their apparel and uniform requirements. He said he intends to establish partnership with other manufacturing companies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and other markets.

Different thread

Sy credits his “hardworking and innovative team” with contributing to making the company different from its competitors.

“They give our users the control on creating their clothing from scratch, the freedom to change every detail of their orders.”

He also credits advancements in technology.

“We have created user tools and design apps for an easier and trouble-free experience for our clients—whether it be design creation, collating orders, or asking for quotations, we have it through our web portal.”

Sy added the company incorporated the technological innovations to production, “making sure that everything is in sync by using different programs and new machines.”

“Through these processes, we are able to recreate designs accurately, as well as provide apparel with excellent quality.”

He explained the company taps good leaders as staff.

“The ones I have are [working] for the benefit of the company. We communicate a lot. I share with them my thoughts. We chat every day,” Sy said. “I believe in work-life blend balance. That way I instill in them that they own a piece of this fashion-tech company.”

He said it took him two years before he found the right people for the company.

“Since then, CustomThread has been a work in progress,” Sy added. “From a one-man team, we’re now over 100 employees with bigger headquarters, where we now have more machines for customizing apparel.”

Weaving success

With the aim to be less dependent on manual labor, the company’s current 1,400-sq-m factory has some of the world’s best printing machines, including a Tajima Embroidery Machine, a SEFA Sublimation Printer and the Kornit Avalanche, which can print 200 multicolor shirts in an hour. In this way, production will be more standardized and forecasted, Sy explained.

“Slowly but surely, we are catching up on manufacturing technology,” he added. “We have also raised the standards in manufacturing by integrating the system from supplies, production to sale to supplier.”

The young businessman, notably, also makes sure he pays it forward.

While CustomThread has yet to launch its corporate social responsibility program, Sy claims the company has benefited some 200 groups, individuals and start-up businesses through its Fundr.ph platform.

For all his achievements, Sy said he has learned another lesson: Success is not the key to happiness; rather, happiness is the key to success.

“You have to be truly happy to be successful.”

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