Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hockey Jersey Training Camp - Day 7 - Where to Get Your Jersey Customized

Day 7 of Hockey Jersey Training Camp has our next "drill" dealing with the all-important question, Where to Get Your Jersey Customized?

Now that you have decided who to put on your jersey and obtained your patches, the next step is to decide who to trust with your jersey.

For us, having jerseys customized has been the most frustrating, annoying, difficult and least fun part of this hobby. Clearly buying jerseys already customized will save you many headaches and a lot of expense, but it will naturally limit you to mainly a narrow group of the obvious star players for the most part.

You will likely be able to get your 1994 New York Rangers jersey with Mark MessierBrian Leetch and Mike Richter, but for those of you who want Stephane MatteauAdam Graves or Esa Tikkanen - good luck finding one of those on demand when you feel urge to buy one, and that's the beauty of buying a blank jersey.

A blank jersey is an opportunity to control a lot more of the process, choose a player out of the ordinary and is the most fun, interesting and rewarding aspect of the hobby in addition to the "thrill of the hunt" when you are finally able to track down that incredibly obscure and hard to find Ukraine National Team jersey you've wanted for eight years.

The decision on where to send our jerseys begins with Exclusive Pro Sports, located in Rockford, Illinois. EPS does work for clients both large and small, and could easily dismiss the individual collector as too small for them to bother with, but their owner has made a commitment to always maintain doing work for the people who got them where they are today - the individual collector.

Due to the amount of work they do, they are not always the quickest to get your jersey completed, but when it does arrive, the accuracy and quality of the work are top rate. The more obscure a jersey is and the more off beat the request, the more likely we are to send it to EPS, as their ability to follow directions and pay attention to detail is unsurpassed.

Take a look at this jersey for example. It's unlikely anyone has this number font used by Adidas from the mid-1980's on file. Add in the fact Adidas used a fuzzy, heat sealed flocked, not felt, material for the lettering.

Russia CCCP 1987 jersey photo RussiaCCCP1987F.jpg
Russia CCCP 1987 jersey photo RussiaCCCP1987B.jpg

Compare that to the game worn Czechoslovakia jersey we sent them as an example, and you can see why we are so impressed with the quality of their work.

 photo Czechoslovakia1980sR2F.jpg
Czechoslovakia 1980's R #2 Jersey photo Czechoslovakia1980sR2B.jpg

One huge plus to dealing with EPS is their uncanny ability to produce the correct colors and material for nameplates. In the approximately 200 jerseys we have sent EPS, they have created nameplates for mesh jerseys from the late 1980's, airknit, ultrafil and dazzle cloth in a virtual rainbow of colors. Take a look at this jersey. They even created the unique "number plate" out of airknit to match the nameplate rather than the more easily obtained twill we were expecting them to use!

 photo MontrealCanadiens08-0912-13B-1.jpg

Other aspects that make EPS stand out are that they sell name and number kits so you can do your own sewing if you are able and their stripping and customizing service, where they can remove by hand old names and numbers from a jersey, clean off glue or stains from the previous lettering and re-cutomize your jersey to the new player of your choice, a service few if any others are willing to want to deal with.

Here are a couple of more examples of why we are devoted to EPS. Take a look at this Ukraine jersey. The light blue shade of this jersey is not a color of air-knit fabric you can buy, not even EPS. So what did they do? They custom dyed a piece of white jersey material to exactly match the body color of the jersey to create a nameplate. There's no one else out there with that kind of capability that we have ever heard of! Look at the quality of that work! The nameplate is of the same material as the body of the jersey, rather than something "close and good enough", the color match of the nameplate is absolutely dead on, again not "that's as close as we can get", and then it needed to be long enough to hold the 12 character name we chose, which was then sewn down as straight as an arrow! If there were an Academy Awards for jersey customizing, this effort would win hands down.

ukraine jersey photo: Ukraine 2002 jersey Ukraine2002F.jpg
ukraine jersey photo: Ukraine 2002 jersey Ukraine2002B.jpg

Here's a final example where EPS when above and beyond. This rare Jokerit Helsinki jersey arrived with nothing more than the team crest and Karjala sponsorship on the front. While we created the Carrols patch with our "Make Your Own Patches" method described on Day 6 of Hockey Jersey Training Camp, EPS did the rest, including not only making the drop shadowed number out of single piece of twill, but also reproducing the custom Karjaja sponsorship logo on the back of the jersey out of a heat sealed material to perfection with the exact font and dimensions.

Finland Jokerit Helsinki 1991-92 jersey photo FinlandJokeritHelsinki1991-92F-1.jpg
Finland Jokerit Helsinki 1991-92 jersey photo FinlandJokeritHelsinki1991-92B-1.jpg

The photos do not do justice to the quality and complexity of the work on the drop shadowed back and sleeve numbers either. Notice on the back how the teal and magenta show through the hollow drop shadow. What that meant for EPS was each of the many small segments of twill that created the drop shadow had to be sewn down on both sides, creating 2 to 3 times as much sewing work when compared to a standard number, which would only need to be sewn around the perimeter.

 photo FinlandJokeritHelsinki1991-92N.jpg

It this kind of simply awesome craftsmanship and attention to detail and ability to follow our instructions exactly with a keen eye for detail that has earned Exclusive Pro Sports our business time and time again.

We have also tried other customizers with good results as well. Gameday Sports Archives, located in Toronto, Ontario did some quality work for us and was willing to send approval pictures to us prior to sewing in case we had any tweaks we wanted to request. They do not carry the depth of material for nameplates as EPS, but do stock the basic colors in the correct fabric. While they do charge a bit extra for nameplates the same material as the jersey, that is offset in our case by the fact they will sew patches on that we provide at no additional cost.

They also were quite flexible and cooperative. Twice we changed our minds on what we wanted done to a jersey, once due to a player leaving a our local team while the jersey was in GSA's possession and once due to finding additional photos which showed a players first initial on his nameplate that we were unaware of when we sent the jersey in. In both cases the customization was redone and came out looking great. If we did not have to deal with sending packages across the Canadian border, we would use them more often, as their turnaround time was quite good, something that will score a lot of bonus points with us based on some of our horror stories of the past.

A newcomer to the customizing business is Vintage Minnesota Hockey. Started due to the same dissatisfaction with the quality of customizing we have faced, VMH will take on any challenge and is great to work with, as they are also willing to supply approval files of their artwork prior to cutting the twill, and the quality of their sewing is outstanding. As a smaller operation, they also do a very impressive job of finding material for nameplates, including once coming up with one EPS could not!

VMH also offers unique services such as adding fight straps to jerseys, name and number kits, embroidery options as well as their exclusive line of Minnesota related jerseys we documented on Day 2 of Hockey Jersey Training Camp. They've been on your side of the hobby and fully appreciate the attention to detail and accuracy you want and provide the customer service you only wish the others would.

We have to take a moment to endorse Tripe Threat Sports in Mokena, Illinois. They offer customizing of NHL jerseys as well. While we have only used them for a few hockey jerseys, we have regularly sent them all of our Chicago Cubs baseball jerseys and can vouch for the accuracy and quality of their work, as well as their turn around time.

IceJerseys.com not only sells jerseys, but will accept your jersey to be customized as well. Their work is hand sewn and they make a point of using fabric, not twill, nameplates. They also stand by their 100% satisfaction guarantee.

We have also heard recommendations for Jersey Express out of Buffalo, New York and their reputation in the collecting community is a positive one. We have purchased a customized jersey from them when the CCM Vintage Line first came out and were quite pleased with it.

SportsK.com, located in Michigan, is another name that has come up with positive feedback among collectors and is worth considering, as well as House O'Hockey in Pittsburgh, who are preferred by several Penguins fans when asked for their recommendation.

Another approach other collectors have taken is to research who does the actual game jerseys for the various teams around the country at the NHL, minor league and even college levels. We have actually gone this route a few times, but have honestly had mixed results, finding some to be dead-on accurate, and others surprisingly inaccurate and arrogant in their attitude toward the individual client. Perhaps with an NHL team for a client, they feel they don't need for or want single jersey orders, not realizing the passion of a jersey collector can amount to a significant number of orders over the long run, as the majority of collectors focus on their favorite team and would want to send their jerseys to the same place as the pros.

Feel free to add your recommendations or warnings about customizers in the comments section below.

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