Longworth Industries Goes 100 Percent Tagless

The "pea in the mattress" factor - that's what a woven label inside a base layer T-shirt can be to an Army ranger carrying a heavy pack on a 20-mile hike.
Longworth Industries, a Candor, NC-based manufacturer of performance apparel, has eliminated that discomfort by going 100 percent tagless, not only for its specialty store customers such as Peter Glenn, Sports Chalet and Woods & Water, but also for its growing military and law enforcement business
While tagless labels have become the norm in higherend performance apparel, this isn't necessarily the case with the military. "The military is more price-point oriented, so for next-to-skin garments they were wearing with their uniforms, this was relatively new to them," says Trey Harris, Longworth's director of marketing.
Longworth has been making performance apparel for the ski, outdoor, hunting and fishing industries for 25 years, primarily micropolyester, moisture-wicking antimicrobial base layers.
All garments are knitted, cut, sewn and marketed exclusively in the United States by the company's 120 employees at a 32,000-square-foot facility in Candor.
Sales of the company's two labels, PolarMAX, used by oudoor sports enthusiasts such as skiers, snow boarders and runners, and XGO for military/tactical, law enforcement and hunters and anglers, increased 11 percent in 2007. "We make performance next-to-skin apparel for everyone from the Boy Scouts to the Navy Seals - anyone who is outdoors for any reason," says Harris.
Systems At A Glance

  • Patternmaking: Assyst Bullmer
  • Cutting: Gerber Technology
  • Materials Planning: IBM
  • Shipping: UPS
  • Payroll, Planning & Scheduling: Magnal
    Tagless is selling point
    Going tagless was a natural fit for Longworth, which started with its best-selling product, a men's doublelayer long-sleeve crewneck, using transfers from Unimark. Initially, one Trekk HT300 heat transfer machine was purchased, and the company had a single operator working it.
    Over the next few years, tagless was phased in through the entire line. A total of six machines, all with dedicated operators, now apply transfers to virtually all garments produced.
    "It became a second nature concept - being next to skin, comfort was a huge factor," says Harris. "It's something we use as a selling feature, and we have gotten a lot of positive response."
    The initial investment in equipment of approximately $35,000 paid for itself in less than two years with increased sales due to perception of higher quality and comfort, Harris estimates, and there is no doubt that the tagless labels have boosted sales.
    "We have gotten a lot of positive feedback. It has definitely been an enormous selling feature with our military and government sales," he says. "We have been in competition with other shirt vendors that were not tagless, and that was a major factor in their purchasing decision. It showed them we were going the extra mile for quality."
    As for Longworth's outdoor retail customers, they've come to expect tagless. On one occasion, when prototype pieces were rushed to market with temporary woven labels, customers immediately complained. "We had to assure them that it was just until the actual transfers came in," says Harris.
    Trial and error process
    The technique used to apply transfers needed to be fine-tuned to avoid burning, wrinkling or leaving pressure marks on certain fabrics. "At times, we would put the transfer on a garment and it looked good, then later it would wash off or the fabric would wrinkle," says Tim Whitley, director of manufacturing. "We could get it to stick on anything, but it was trial and error to keep it from burning or to get it to adhere."
    After a lot of experimenting, every one of Longworth's fabrics was able to hold the transfer, even a stretchy fabric with spandex that was easily scorched and crinkled. A fuzzy fleece and a waffle- textured fabric were also tricky, and ended up requiring heavier weight transfers.
    The company does all its testing in house, to determine the correct temperature, pressure and dwell time needed to get transfers to adhere to each particular garment. "There is always that discovery period where you are trying to figure out optimal methods for application. Then we go through the spin cycle," says Harris. If the transfer still looks good after 25 washes, it's considered "good to go."
    New products also tagless
    Over the past three years, Longworth has expanded its product line with some new flame-retardant products, which now constitute the bulk of its military sales. "These have been a real high priority for military procurement, to give soldiers an extra level of protection under their uniforms," says Harris.
    While other manufacturers sell flameretardant wear made with regular polyester thread and woven labels, which still comply with UL requirements, Longworth decided to go a step further to make its garments as safe as possible, by using flame-retardant thread and transfers with flame-retardant clothing.
    After 12 years of doing business with the military, sales to it now constitute at least 20 percent of overall branded business. At first, orders were small and sporadic, but Longworth now has a more broad-based distribution into the market, selling its garments via online and catalog retailers as well as via directto- military sales.
    In response to the increased demand, a new line, XGO Tactical, was developed specifically for military and law enforcement, with base layers for cold and warm weather offered in four weights of micro-polyester moisture-management anti-microbial base layers, from a 4 oz. mesh silk weight to a 9.5 oz. stretch fleece.
    The military's Special Operations Forces units test all XGO products, and their feedback is used to make designs even more comfortable. "We are really methodical about doing performance positioned seams and technical flat seaming. Something as simple as a tag or improper seam can really grind on you after awhile," says Harris.
    Other new developments are a hybrid wool product in the PolarMAX line, combining the breathability of merino wool and the moisture management of microfiber polyester, and a co-branded program with the Boy Scouts. All of the new products will be tagless, of course. "Even for the lowest price point product we make, we still do an internal tagless label," says Harris. "And we plan on staying that way."
    This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds