13 Ways to Dress Up Business with Promotional Apparel
It’s no secret that we here at Print+Promo love print. But that doesn’t mean we’re opposed to inviting other product segments into our monthly discussions on what’s trending—especially when such items can be surefire moneymakers for distributors.
Take, for example, the $5.51 billion promotional apparel sector. Maybe you’ve already thought about adding T-shirts to your list of capabilities, or, perhaps, you’re interested in learning about other garments. No matter where you are in the process, you probably have questions. What’s hot? What’s new? Why does my coworker walk around the office shoeless in crazy socks? While we can’t answer that last one, we can tell you how to be his go-to sock provider.
We’ve put together a collection of tips covering four major apparel categories, courtesy of our sister publication Promo Marketing. Check out what the experts had to say.
ON ATHLETIC AND PERFORMANCE APPAREL
1. THROW BACK TO THE CLASSICS
The intersection of lifestyle apparel and athletic clothing has taken over the performance market. This type of apparel has come to be referred to as “athleisure” apparel, and if you’re not designing promotional athletic apparel with this trend in mind, you’re behind.
“Workout clothes have to now be functional in a casual, everyday setting as much in the gym,” said Eric Simsolo, director of business development for Next Level Apparel, Gardena, Calif. “In reverse to that, you see jeans, leather jackets and polos being switched out for tailored sweats, hoodies and so forth. Because of this, people want clothes that have the perfect combination of form, function and fashion.”
Marcus Davis, product development manager for Hanesbrands Branded Printwear, Winston-Salem, N.C., agreed that athleisure’s dominance persists, and as a result, new retro styles are popping up.
“Crossover between athletic apparel and lifestyle apparel goes both ways,” he said. “Athletic wear looks more like lifestyle apparel. Lifestyle apparel performs more like athletic wear. The same retro and varsity styles you see at retail are showing up in performance wear. Classic silhouettes like ringer tees and baseball tees are style favorites.”
Davis also revealed that the ability to layer is very important for athleisure, so end-users can seamlessly go from sport to sport and from indoors to outdoors.
– From January 2019’s “Don’t Sweat It”
2. SEEK OUT SUSTAINABLE
Along with athleisure’s impact, eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives are also pushing the boundaries of athletic and performance apparel.
“Sustainability is becoming more and more relevant in athletic wear,” said Jamie Allen, marketing director for HTT Headwear, Murrieta, Calif. “Even though this option has been around for years, the industry only slightly touched on it. With new, more affordable ways to make apparel from a sustainable product, suppliers are able to offer this now at a more affordable cost. We are in a time of awareness, and I believe the millennials are more or less taking action and making sustainability a priority in how they choose their athletic wear.”
– From January 2019’s “Don’t Sweat It”
3. CONSIDER THE END-USE
Simsolo has observed some additional design features growing in popularity. He mentioned that athletic wear, in the traditional sense, conjures up images of shiny poly fabrics used in ’90s track pants, and jersey materials with holes in them.
“Now, the fabrics have become more technical, have different sheens to them, different textures in them, and some luxury retail athletic brands even have intricate stitching and laser-cut holes,” he explained.
He also added that sublimation-friendly fabrics are critical for performance apparel, so that the garment can be decorated but won’t weigh the end-user down, especially during intense, sweat-filled SoulCycle workouts.
– From January 2019’s “Don’t Sweat It”
4. FOR GOLF, KNOW THE PRODUCT, BUT PLAY THE GAME ... LITERALLY
To gain new golf apparel clients and give existing ones exactly what they need, distributors need to be unafraid to take risks. Andrea Routzahn, senior vice president, portfolio and supplier management for alphabroder, Trevose, Pa., said that might mean new designs, color blocking and color considerations. As the year unfolds, consumers will be taking to the 17,067 golf courses across the country, granting apparel what we hope will be many moments in the sun.
“Patience and perseverance,” Amber Lara Becerril, vice president of national marketing and customer apparel for Pro-Celebrity, Arcadia, Calif., noted as necessities for those who are hoping to grow their reputation as golf apparel presences, and for businesses considering having an identity as a golf apparel provider.
“Take your team out on the course, know the game so you can master the techniques to create apparel you would be proud to sell,” she said. “Visit the shops, introduce the new product line and sponsor a local tournament to build a name for yourself. [Most importantly,] follow through on all you’ve committed to.”
“All retails brands, golf included, will need to address changing demographics and purchasing-decision drivers,” Routzahn said. “Brands that stand for something will become more and more important. Great apparel and accessories at great price points are no longer differentiators, but costs of entry. Brand identity, engagement with core customers and a great value proposition will increasingly become the focus and driver for success.”
– From March 2019’s “Changing the Game”
1. GO CORPORATE
In sporting T-shirts with such frequency, end-users are walking proof that “everyone owns a favorite T-shirt, if not many,” according to Joey Knight, director of sales and marketing for Paramount Apparel, Bourbon, Mo. While constantly standing out as vivid expressions of pride in any number of areas, T-shirts have also become a frequent element of companies’ apparel purchases for their employees, with McDonald’s and Red Robin calling on them to replace polo shirts for their hires.
“As the years go by, tees have become way softer and lighter in weight,” said Mary Bostwick, director of marketing, customer service and inside sales for Delta Apparel, Duluth, Ga. “I have noticed the trend in fabric weight comes and goes, as do colors. Currently, lighter and softer are the fabrics most requested. We do, however, have a segment of customers looking for the standard heavier 100 percent cotton tee, which we see a lot in uniform requests. Another trend in uniforms are the performance tees, which have moisture wicking and anti-microbial properties needed in industrial settings, like food service, lawn care
“Corporate America uses T-shirts in a variety of ways—grand openings, celebrations, appreciations, new events—the list is endless,” said Bruce Jolesch, president of PXP Solutions, Dallas. “Candidly, some are kept more than others, again for myriad reasons. There are, now more than ever, a variety of different
fiber contents in shirts, from 100 percent cotton to 100 percent polyester, to blends, to cotton/spandex, to organic cotton and so forth. Some of it is driven by the client, and some of it is driven by the price/budget for a project.”
– From February 2019’s “Tees Made Easy”
2. CREATE A BRAND
Given that end-users’ needs are always expanding, trade printers must be on top of trends so as to distinguish themselves from among a growing number of T-shirt suppliers. The same goes for distributors. Just about everyone is selling T-shirts, so you need to provide expertise and value that set you apart. Our experts had some tips for that.
“One way to separate a company is by branding the shirt with a private label, so instead of saying Bella+Canvas, for example, it says Mercedes-Benz, Home Depot or Ford, or a brand name,” Jolesch advised. “People will keep those garments longer, but it is more than just a T-shirt. You have a variety of customers—employees purchasing a shirt off their company’s website because they like the fabric or they like what the shirt says, or how it wears or the private label—and when someone makes a purchase, they tend to keep it a longer time. Private labeling and better fiber content are two ways to create a brand, not just a T-shirt.”
– From February 2019’s “Tees Made Easy”
3. FIND THE PERFECT FIT IN WOMEN’S STYLES
Style goes beyond just appearance. It also has to do with the fit and feel of an apparel piece. If a T-shirt or blazer doesn’t fit correctly—if it’s oversized or too tight—it won’t matter how nice it looks. People just won’t wear it. And with so many body types and personal preferences, fit remains a huge challenge.
“Fit is still the biggest hurdle when selling women’s apparel,” said Routzahn. “Size is a number, but fit is very personal. You can have three women with the same overall body dimensions, and their size selection may be different based on personal fit preferences. Sampling for trying-on purposes is always a good idea whenever possible!”
Jennifer Oleksik, design and merchandising manager for LAT Apparel, Ball Ground, Ga., agreed that fit is a high priority, and advised stressing that to clients.
“The apparel industry has evolved, and now, more than ever, a great-fitting women’s garment is important,” she said. “The best advice I can give to a distributor is to educate your customers on the importance of providing product that women want to wear and will feel comfortable wearing. Fit and fabric are going to make a woman feel confident in her clothing, and by providing styles that are specific to women, you are satisfying that need.”
– From August 2019’s “Fashionably Great”
1.TURN TO RETAIL FOR INSPIRATION
For Jeff Wright, senior apparel designer for Storm Creek, Hastings, Minn., the most obvious reflection of retail influence is the way technical features and styles once reserved for outdoor activities are making their way to everyday wear. For example, he sees lightweight, packable jackets and vests replacing sweaters and being worn as part of a layering system. “Items like this offer terrific warmth without weight,” he said.
“We continue to see technical and lifestyle designs getting blurred together, giving apparel an added twist,” he added. “Technical fibers find their way into fabric constructions that typically would be made with natural fibers. Then, those fabrics are styled in outdoor/active silhouettes and details. Conversely, active/technical fabrics find their way into traditional sportswear silhouettes, such as four-way stretch polyester woven button-front shirts. Workwear and military-inspired designs continue to influence the marketplace as well.”
– From April 2019’s “The Style Guide”
2. THINK BEYOND COLD-WEATHER DRESSING
Soft, lightweight fabrics, such as triblends and polyester, remain popular in everyday wear. That’s no surprise, but what may be is the emergence of fleece as a casual apparel staple, with high fashion driving most of the shift.
“Fleece is no longer just for layering or cold-weather dressing,” said Summer Barry, creative and marketing director for Bella+Canvas, Los Angeles. “We are seeing fleece on the runways as statement pieces. Fleece is fashion, and our industry is seeing more and more customers requesting fleece over basic jersey.”
– From April 2019’s “The Style Guide”
3. BRUSH UP ON DECORATION METHODS
Aside from style trends, it also helps to know what type of decoration is popular and how to decide on the proper process.
“From a merchandising and design standpoint, when selling outerwear and jackets, making sure appropriate decoration methods and placements are used [is important],” said Breanna Woicekowski, merchandiser for Vantage Apparel, Avenel, N.J. “[An example would be] not showing decoration in placements that could be restrictive like over pockets or near zippers.”
Blue Generation President Eric Rubin, meanwhile, said sublimated prints and custom logos—which the Long Island City, New York-based supplier began offering in hood linings—have exploded in popularity. He also mentioned that triblends, heavyweight fleece and lightweight fleece remain popular fabrications.
Shoo Passey, director of global product design and development, and Nathan Cordier, regional sales manager, both for PCNA, Pittsburgh, explained that embroidery and transfers are the most popular decoration methods for Trimark, PCNA’s apparel division. They also recommended looking for fabrics with performance features.
“The flexibility, function and durability of a synthetic yarn are key for effective protection from the elements,” said Cordier and Passey. “The key trend this time of year is the focus on hydrophobic fabric, which is great for wet or damp environments. So, in the fall/winter when rain and snow are prevalent in most regions, it’s the fabric that’s most sought after.”
– From September 2019’s “Weather or Not”
1. GET TECHNICAL WITH BAGS
Everyone has a phone, but people are now carrying additional tech items everywhere they go, too—computers, tablets, headphones and more. That makes bags designed with tech in mind especially valuable, as they’ll likely see plenty
“Our customers are increasingly interested in bags with tech features,” said Carrie Lewis, marketing and communication manager for BIC Graphic, Clearwater, Fla. “Incase is one of our newest brand partners, and their bags are specifically designed to transport technology in style. We currently carry Incase backpacks and are excited to add totes to our Incase products offering next month.”
Aside from storage space, built-in tech features are also big. Last year, luxury fashion brand MCM collaborated with backpack maker WizPak on an upscale bag with an integrated speaker system. Similar bags are available elsewhere at retail and in promo, and are a good idea for brands looking to target younger audiences.
– From February 2019’s “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Totes”
2. SELL ON THE LONGEVITY OF HATS
Even before hats became Instagram stars, they were a powerhouse in the promotional industry thanks to their longevity and optimum brand exposure.
“A promo hat makes thousands of impressions over its lifetime,” said Allen. “That means more people see your cap with your logo more than any other accessory. Headwear is one of the most popular promotions because it is affordable and highly sought after.”
Tina Liu, marketing manager for OTTO International Inc., Ontario, Calif., agreed, pointing out the unique way hats generate impressions versus other popular promotional products.
“I think while writing instruments and drinkware are in the top spots [for promotional impressions], they are confined to the indoors of an office or the home, where the impressions are to the same people over and over again,” she said. “With headwear, this can be worn outdoors, where you can expose the impression to different audiences throughout the lifetime of the hat. Hats can be worn for consecutive days, but T-shirts, not as much.”
Meanwhile, Allen pointed out that every industry could benefit from a headwear promotion. In fact, HTT Apparel has supplied hats to everyone from food industry workers to pig farmers. Fitness studios, breweries, restaurants, trucking companies—you name it, hats have a place in the market.
– From June 2019’s “Caps Lock”
3. COMPLETE THE LOOK WITH FUN SOCKS
Socks are incredibly versatile in everything from application (office, casual, athletic), to decoration (understated or colorful), to material (nylon, cotton, polyester, etc.) That variety has helped socks evolve rapidly from plain everyday basics to promotional standouts. While fancy cars and luxurious houses will never lose their clout as status indicators, we can see socks as their peers, albeit with a far smaller price tag. More than anything, they’re a great means of expression.
“Every time we go to trade shows, we hear ‘Socks are hot right now,’” said Chloe Ayres, marketing manager for Sock Club Enterprises LLC, Austin, Texas. “That is certainly true, but it has also been true for the past four years. We think socks are growing in popularity because they are a practical, useful, unisex promo item that allows for a lot of creativity. They also are pretty much one-size-fits-most and very easy to stock and ship.”
Both Ayres and Kelly Yarborough, CEO of Sock101, Lee’s Summit, Mo., explained that consumers’ enthusiasm for casual attire has benefited the advance of socks as a wardrobe constant, with the former stating that “this means fewer suits, fewer ties, fewer stockings and more opportunity for dressing creatively and with personality.”
“With the workplace going more business casual, socks became the new tie for guys,” Yarborough said, giving a nod to employees’ desires for individuality. “Funky socks became a way to show that little personality and have fun with it. Plain socks are done and funky is the new norm. It isn’t going away any time soon.”
Socks don’t have to be a standalone item. In fact, Ayres encouraged distributors to bundle them with a T-shirt promotion.
“Now is the perfect time to join the world of promotional socks, because there is so much room to grow,” she said. “We like to say that any time you would make a T-shirt for a client, you could sell them a sock, and it’s really true. There are so many different sizes and styles of socks, and literally everyone wears them.”
– From July 2019’s “On the Right Foot”
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.