Seize the ray with Vapor Apparel
By Ford Walpole
All day sun and sand with sublimation printing and SPF protection. Images provided by Vapor Apparel.
The South Carolina Lowcountry is a paradise for a plethora of outdoor pursuits. Dressing appropriately is essential for remaining comfortable under the relentless sun. Vapor Apparel, with a headquarters in the Charleston area, is designed and manufactured to accomplish just that — keeping folks comfortable in an often all-too-warm climate.
Company president Jackson Burnett explains that the Vapor Apparel name reflects “the following core attributes: the performance of the garment, which turns water into vapor, cooling the garment and keeping you cool and dry; and our preferred embellishment technique, sublimation, which goes from a solid to a gas, permanently printing the garment with a print that will not fade, crack or peel.”
Comfort is not the only benefit of Vapor Apparel’s solar shirts and hoodies. The “entire line of solar shirts has earned the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. This is another positive event for a product that is growing the market for sublimation printers. Offered in an array of Sublimation Certified colors, the Vapor Solar Long Sleeve is officially recognized as an effective UV protectant.”
Presently, Vapor Apparel produces UPF 50+ sun protection shirts in short-sleeve and long-sleeve versions, hoodies and cover-ups. They expanded their line to include quarter-zip pullovers, board shorts and a sustainable collection of shirts for men and women. The company plans to add new pieces each season to continue to diversify. “We have plans for a full line of quarter-zip pullovers and midlayers for fall,” Jackson says.
“We’ve always been associated with the beach and outdoors,” he continues. “Our model includes a broad array of whatever you want to do outside: hunting, fishing, hiking, and boating.” Thus, appropriately, the Vapor Apparel logo is a “sun setting over the waves, “reminding you that with Vapor Apparel, you are protected by the sun!”
The Vapor tagline “Seize the Ray” is a nod to carpe diem, or “seize the day.” Jackson says, “Our brand message is: Get outside, wear our gear, and ‘Seize the Ray’!”
Vapor Apparel is based in Charleston, with a main office, print facility and warehouse in Hanahan. “We want to embody the Lowcountry. We really want people to embrace the Lowcountry and our culture and beaches,” Jackson says. Vapor’s distribution center is located up the road in Union; 70 employees work in Hanahan and another 30 in Union. “We not only make our gear, but we wear it, too!” Jackson adds. “Our employees love being outdoors!”
“We have mill partners in Bogota, Colombia; El Salvador; and Haiti — we like to keep it in this hemisphere,” he adds. On yet another hemisphere, Vapor Apparel Europe is a distribution partner with inventory and operations located in the Netherlands.
Vapor Apparel’s UPF 50+ shirts and accessories for men, women and kids are sold under their own name, as well as other popular brands. Altered Latitudes resort wear is a growing coastal lifestyle brand, and Little Brown Dog Apparel & Accessories is a favorite among Boykin spaniel enthusiasts, since the Boykin is the official state dog of the Palmetto State.
Besides beachwear and fishing shirts, Vapor Apparel makes cool and comfortable hunting gear, especially in demand these days with the recent opening of the South Carolina wild turkey season. The company has a partnership with Mossy Oak that sports camouflage solar hoodies, shirts and gaiters. These same garments also will prove ideal in the extreme heat of late summer and early fall dove shoots and deer hunts. In addition, Vapor recently began working with Tideline Outfitters to make the Lowcountry favorite Oystaflage shirts.
The challenge of COVID-19 presented a business opportunity for Vapor Apparel. The company began making neck gaiters, at one point shipping 40,000 gaiters a week. As the future brightens in terms of the pandemic, Vapor Apparel has refocused on producing shirts.
Employing a coastal analogy, Jackson provides an estimate of the company’s output: “It ebbs and flows; we are shipping anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 units a week, depending on the time of year.”
Social media influencers help promote the popular Vapor brand. These influencers include a fishing guide in Venice, Louisiana, a photographer in Hawaii and thrill-seeking adventurers who travel the world. “We have customers buying our gear from South Carolina to the Florida Keys to Spokane, Washington and Hawaii.”
Aside from his business success, Jackson reflects on the intrinsic rewards of making Vapor Apparel: “It is cool to go out on the boat and see our apparel all over the Charleston Harbor. It’s especially neat to travel to other cities and see our gear.
“For instance, I have spotted an Altered Latitudes shirt on a plane, and when I go to the Florida Keys, I see Vapor Apparel shirts. It’s also nice to know that people wear it to protect them from the sun. We get feedback from skin cancer survivors, customers with skin conditions and people who battle autoimmune diseases such as lupus.”
While encouraging clients to enjoy our natural resources, Vapor Apparel likewise promotes conservation of the environment. Jackson notes that “Vapor Apparel has kept one million water bottles out of landfills and oceans.” Vapor works with North Carolina-based REPREVE®, a company that makes yarn from recycled water bottles.
This year, the Cooper River Bridge Run is selling Vapor Apparel t-shirts made from REPREVE’s yarn. In addition, Jackson says, “we will be reclaiming water bottles at the run. These water bottles will be shipped to REPREVE to make yarn; in turn, Vapor will purchase that yarn to produce gear. Jackson is especially proud of this endeavor, since his entire family participates in the bridge run.
Jackson Burnett fits his role as president of Vapor Apparel as well as his gear fits his customers. “Textiles is in my blood!” he declares. His father owned Southern Weaving in the Upcountry. Jackson earned an undergraduate degree in textile management and an MBA from Clemson University.
“For years, I sold yarn internationally in Latin America. Vapor’s mill partner in Bogota, Colombia, was my best customer,” Jackson recalls. “Once I became involved in the sublimation business, I realized nobody was making apparel for sublimation. I started the business when my oldest daughter was three months old, and my wife, Miley, thought I was crazy!” Even so, she has worked with the company in many different roles since its inception and currently serves as director of operations support.
Partners at Vapor Apparel include Chris Bernat, Jack Burnett (Jackson’s father) and Kerry Kligerman, a former executive of New Balance who helped with the company’s rebranding.
Jackson outlines the company’s history. “In 2004, we started making performance apparel for sublimation. Back then, we sold blank apparel to printers. After five years, we started printing ourselves. For the first 15 years, we sold wholesale only.” More recently, Vapor Apparel has expanded its market by selling to the general public.
To experience the Lowcountry outdoors in more comfortable and protective Vapor Apparel, check out https://vaporapparel.com, https://alteredlatitudes.com, and https://www.littlebrowndogsoutherntradeco.com/.