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Music Festival, Movie Festival or Technology Conference? YES!

Posted by Jay Busselle on May 15th, 2019

About 6 weeks ago, I participated in an exciting event that has proven to showcase the best emerging technologies, startup ideas and digital trends. This is where Twitter went to announce its launch in 2007. In 2011, Apple unveiled the iPad 2 here. And in 2012, Pinterest won the impressive “Trend of the Event” award given to the most innovative company at this “festival.”

What kind of festival? Music festival? Film festival? Renaissance festival? It wasn’t a renaissance festival. It was South by Southwest (SXSW) or as so many seasoned attendees and locals call it, “South By!”

Equipment Zone was able to exhibit with Next Level Apparel at the South by Southwest technology tradeshow in Austin, Texas this past March. Did you know that Next Level Apparel is the official t-shirt of SXSW? They are!

That’s a big deal! Mark Seymour, CSO of Next Level, asked me if we could print live and on demand during the trade show in the NL booth. My answer was, “HELL YES!” I knew about SXSW but never had the chance to attend. It had been described to me as a music festival meets a movie festival, wrapped in a technology and gaming conference. It looked like a typical trade show. It had isles and banners and carpet with booths. It was so much more than a traditional apparel, sign or promo industry trade show that I would normally attend.

One of my main concerns was this show is open to the public. I knew that 8 out of the 10 questions we would get about the DTG printer were going to sound like this:

Attendee: “You can print anything on a t-shirt?” Me: “Almost anything.” Attendee: “Can you print a picture of my (________)?” Fill in the blank!

A picture of my car, my cat, my pet iguana, my grandkids, my girlfriend… and on, and on.

Of course it is possible to print one of something in full color. That’s precisely the powerful opportunity all owners of DTG printers should be leveraging. The apparel decoration star of the show would be the Epson F2100 DTG printer. However, Equipment Zone isn’t in the business of selling custom printed tshirts with pictures of cars, cats, iguanas, kids or whatever. We are in the business of selling Epson wide format printers for sublimation, solvent, photo and direct-to-garment printing. I quickly realized we should have a client of ours exhibit with us. That way when people wanted custom printed cars, cats, tacos… whatever, we would have a positive answer and a natural contact. We needed a company who had experience with DTG printing, owned the Epson F2100 DTG printer and who was comfortable printing live and on demand. We also needed somebody that was near Austin, Texas and would be willing to leave their shop for 4 days and transport their printer. I knew a guy!

Brett Bowden is the owner of Printed Threads in Keller, Texas. I found out that Brett and his company often print live, onsite at all kinds of events and concerts. Brett likes to call it a “print activation” and it’s one of the things that make them a big deal in the greater Fort Worth Texas area. After a short discussion, I found out that he and some of his staff would already be in Austin printing live at an event for 2 days before the official start of SXSW. It was a pre-SXSW event for one of their clients. I couldn’t believe it – I almost fell over! For them to also pack up their direct to garment printer and stay 3 more days wasn’t going to be cheap or easy. It was a big risk. Gratefully, Brett said yes. ☺

Brett (not shown above – that’s Seth!) has deep convictions about the feelings people have when they experience live printing. When I asked him about it he said, “Live printing brings excitement to an event! People love crafts and to see how things are made. Our company is driven by the craft of making and printing. We love making memories for people! At South by Southwest this year we were able to bring excitement to multiple brands and their fans went home with a product that we printed right in front of them. Live printing creates a deeper connection to the brand and a memory that the fan will keep for a very long time.”

After the typical runaround, conflicting directions and figuring out where to park and where to unload our gear at a very busy convention center… we were finally all set up. The show was expecting 70,000 attendees over the course of 4 days. In some ways this is similar to any other trade show but the diversity of exhibitors and attendees is something I have never seen before. We were exhibiting in the same convention center as technology companies, social media companies, businesses who specializing in online marketing and digital trends. There were several robot manufacturing companies. That’s right, I said robots! There were audio engineering companies, a guitar company, a vintage bicycle business, a few universities and lots of small startup companies looking for funding partners and pitching their new products and services. There were a few giant aerospace companies and even countries like Brazil, China, Germany, Great Britain, Korea, Mexico and others. Being surrounded by cause-driven artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, innovators, thought leaders, speakers, entertainers and creative problem solvers creates energy and produces the buzz of SXSW. #WOW

Speaking of entertainers, on my flight from Phoenix to Austin with the Fonz! That’s right, the actor Henry Winkler was on my plane. I said hi and he said hello back to me! Guess where he was going? Yep, SXSW! #Whoa #HappyDays

Working with Mark and his team from Next Level as well as Brett and his crew from Printed Threads would have been a blast anyways. But being at SXSW with them and seeing this explosion of culture and ideas was an impressive and awesome experience I won’t soon forget. Here’s what Mark said, “We love being at SXSW!! When we were invited to be the official t-shirt supplier 4 years ago I knew it would be a great opportunity to meet our fans and influence new ones, but I had no idea how much bigger than that it would become. We continue to look for new ways to make the Next Level experience shine during SXSW, and including this live DTG experience was always a part of the vision. We took the first step. Just wait and see what we do next year! A sincere shout out and thanks to all that helped make it happen.”

Besides the love of killer tacos, movies, music and technology; I quickly realized there was another obvious common denominator. I’m not exaggerating when I say 80% of the attendees and 50% of the exhibitors were wearing decorated apparel – specifically tshirts and hoodies! We were in t-shirt nirvana. Everywhere you looked at the event or out in the streets of Austin, there was branded merch and sweet swag!

I had a chance to ask Brett about his previous experiences at SXSW. “South by Southwest has been an important scene in the music industry for a long time. I remember being in a small band with the biggest hopes of making it there. I remember playing my first show at SXSW and seeing Butch Vig in the audience!” Butch Vig is a famous musician, songwriter, and record producer, best known as the drummer and co-producer of the alternative rock band Garbage. He also was the producer of the album Nevermind by Nirvana. Brett continues, “South by has grown exponentially since then. To get noticed as a band, a tech brand, or a film, you really have to stand out amongst all of the talent. Having an attraction or something that makes the experience more enticing is extremely important. I’m no longer a guy in a band or someone important in pop culture, but I do understand the fact that those people need to be seen and I can help them kick up some dirt.”

I’m thrilled to report that attendees were very attracted to the inkjet technology of the Epson F2100 DTG printer and to see it print live. There were lots of photos and videos taken of the printer in action which is something we don’t see very often anymore at a typical apparel decoration trade show like ISS or NBM. Watching those reactions was fun. Our own Terry Combs said, “It was so cool! It was like introducing the digital printing technology for the first time, again.”

Yes, we had several people ask us if we could print a picture of their cats, dogs and I wasn’t kidding about the iguana.

Yes, we felt lucky to be at SXSW with thought leaders like Next Level Apparel and Printed Threads!

YES! We had a killer time and we’re planning on going back ☺