Customer Focus/Product Development.


SELKIE open water swimming.

Open water can be frightening. Slate grey craggy cliff faces plunging into a frothy tumult; angry swirls of murderous ocean can conjure a primeval fear where the dark, the cold and the unknown danger below the surface become things to avoid, rather than that place to find yourself.
The brutal truth is that open water can kill you; in a number of ways.
To most people this is reason enough to avoid it but to a growing cohort of adventure seekers, outdoor athletes and extreme sensation junkies, swimming in the open water is as alluring as a creamy iced bun.
A SELKIE man or woman knows this.
A SELKIE man or woman has experienced that moment when the extreme cold water threatens to shut down their physiology and they have found that dark place where they knew they should be scared but they felt safe.
They found the edges and they have formed their tribe.
All tribes have their history and SELKIE’s genesis has an authenticity firmly rooted to open water swimming.
Jeremy Laming is one of the founding fathers. His tall lean physique is typical of a triathlete where muscular endurance is more important than mass. He is ‘rangy’ in a way a boxer needs to be to pick off his opponents from the outside while avoiding a dirty clinch. He has been tested in the ring with over 100 amateur boxing fights on his resume and he connects the calm fear he experienced during those walkouts to the feelings he experiences now when swimming alone in open water.
Jeremy’s passion is infectious. His mission is to recruit more adventure seekers into the SELKIE tribe and his modus operandi is to put on regular events in order to attract more people to his world.
The annual Henley Classic is an inland open water event which takes place at the end of June each year just before the Royal Henley Regatta. This event is a celebration of ‘mid-summer’ and a great event to cut your teeth or wet your fins as long as you can make the 2.1 km upstream distance.
But SELKIE is not just about these events, it is becoming a lifestyle and a lifestyle needs a brand and an identity.
Shirtworks were approached to help them conceptualise and then realise that identity with T shirts.
This required an intimate understanding of the SELKIE philosophies and it required a psychoanalysis of the man driving the SELKIE vision.
Who is that person that likes to test themselves time and time again? Who is that person who finds joy in discomfort? Who is that person who searches for a personal victory through adversity…?
…and what do they want to wear?
Distilling this into a concept is no easy task. Shirtworks used branding and design experts LDMcollective to help them shape the ideas that would turn into T shirts. The time frame was short with only 3 weeks from initial brief to launch event.
The approach was to start with a broad base of ideas and then narrow down to 3 or 4 designs for the launch.The initial themes were going to be nautical, a focus on the athletic requirements of open water swimming and a nod and a wink to the masochism that tribe members must surely possess at the core of their psychology, in order to participate in the challenges the open water provides.

The initial concepts

The distillation process was a rapid one. A discussion about what was working and what was not narrowed the field down to colour options for 3 designs.

Design 1: OWA

The single colour ‘Open Water Athlete’ designs would be printed with a discharge in for the dark colours and a waterbased ink for the white garments.

This ensures a soft feel which gives the impression that the print is part of the weave of the fabric.

For the navy garments we used a clear discharge base with 3% bleach activator. This ensured the garment was only partially bleached where the print occurred and provided a tone on tone effect.

White discharge was used for the grey mens T shirt. Again to provide that soft feel which you do not get with plastisol ink.

Design 2: Mermaid

The ‘mermaid’ design was printed digitally due to the complexity of the design and the small run requirement for launch.A decision to drop the darker colours was made as it was decided that this design worked best on a white/vintage white garment

Design 3: Fish

The ‘Fish’ design was printed with a mixture of discharge inks, for the oranges on darker colours, and then plastisol for the white text and lighter grey fish.

This provided a ‘matt’ finish for the waterbased inks then ‘shiny’ finish for the plastisol inks which produced an interesting contrast.

If you look closely at the image above, you can see the weave of the shirt coming through the orange ink. This is the effect that ‘discharge’ printing offers where the dye in the garment is bleached out during the print process. Discharge inks contain an ‘agent’ which removes the garment colour at the same time as laying down the pigment in the ink. This results in a very soft feel compared to the slightly thicker deposits required for the plastisol inks.

This is a great option for garments which are 100% cotton and which have large blocky print areas.

These inks are slightly more difficult to work with as they tend to dry out in the screen and matching to exact pantone colours is nearly impossible unless you are prepared for a long R&D process and lots of rejects.


Relabelling for additional branding

Additional branding adds value to your product. The term most accurate here is ‘perceived value’ which is ‘marketing’ terminology for the augmentation of a product to a point which justifies an increased selling price disproportionately high compared to the actual cost of that augmentation.

The customers’ perception of the value of the product is enhanced by a low cost augmentation.

This increases your margin and profits and makes essential and perfect sense if you a developing a brand.

There are a number of different relabellingoptions. SELKIE decided upon some external labelling with a hem tag. This was a ribbon type configuration with a small fold at the bottom to be secured on the inside of the shirt. The colour scheme of orange and blue is always consistent for this brand which does influence the colours that need to be considered for the printing.

All of the garments chosen for this project were from the Stanley Stella range.

These offer excellent quality; soft print surfaces and subtle detailing that add value to the final product.

They are organic and Fair Wear which aligns well the SELKIE brand ethics.

When printed entirely with waterbased inks these garments are also eligible for Soil Association approval.

These items will soon be on sale at

What this project demonstrates is the versatility and expertise of Shirtworks which no other T shirt printing company can offer.

If you are developing a brand then there is a message which needs to be established, there are technical garment details that need to be considered.

If you need any advice, contact our sales team on or 01865 242434.

Author:Arron Harnden

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