David Bowie penned a song about it, Ralph Lauren made a career out of it and, most importantly, your customers want more of it. We’re talking about fashion—a welcome addition to the $5.51 billion promotional apparel sector, where beefy tees once ruled. Interested in dressing up a little business of your own? Our sister publication, Promo Marketing (PM), has been hard at work reporting on this industry over the last year. From sizing demands to color trends, check out PM’s bargain bin of tips:
1. Take a trip to the local mall.
Want to know what’s new in tees? You’re better off looking to the rack at Macy’s than the runway in Milan. “Consumers are looking for shirts that have the same style, features and benefits of what they are finding at retail,” said Rachel Newman, director of marketing and sales for Hanes Branded Printwear, Winston-Salem, N.C. “That includes lighter-weight fabrics, more fashion-forward styling and interesting fabrications. It also means styles that span both casual and performance—T-shirts that can be worn to work out and then to eat out.”
– From February 2015’s “Cross Your Tees”
2. Remember, there’s no “I” in customer.
Success in the T-shirt market hinges on how well you can keep up with trend shifts. Yes, the market is huge, but that means there’s lots of competition. If you’re only focused on selling the stuff that was popular last year while your competitors have moved on to the newest styles, or you’re hoping to push your own style agenda on clients, you could lose out on sales.
“A big tip is to know and understand your market,” said Nathan Lucrisia, MBA, marketing director for Atlantic Coast Cotton, Gainesville, Va. “If you personally like a beefy tee, but your market likes lightweight, thin V-neck T-shirts, then sell to your market and don’t force a product that is not in demand in your market.”
Newman agreed. “Understanding what defines success for your customer is first and foremost,” she added. “Whether that is style, color, gender-specific sizing, quality, comfort, rapid replenishment—what factors are driving their decision[s]? You have to provide value to your customer[s]. Present products that truly fit their needs and services that set you apart. Increase your value.”
– From February 2015’s “Cross Your Tees”
3. Have a back-up plan.
With so many different style trends, complex sizing demands and new cuts, selling women’s apparel can be intimidating for the uninitiated. The good news? A little research goes a long way. Mark Seymour, vice president of sales and marketing for Next Level Apparel, Gardena, Calif., recommended giving options. Bring a basic example that captures what the customer requested and an additional piece that goes beyond the initial vision. “A customer had a challenging logo with lots of color and wanted a basic women’s crew tee. We suggested the 6610 CVC Crew made from a 60/40 cotton/poly blend using a soft-hand plastisol print,” Seymour recalled. “We also recommended the 6044 poly/cotton V made from a 65/35 poly/cotton blend matched with a sublimation print,” he said. “They chose the 6044 because they preferred the neckline and loved the soft-hand treatment.”
– From May 2015’s “What Women Want”
4. Color in the lines.
According to Margaret Crow, director of marketing for S&S Activewear, Bolingbrook, Ill., shades of jade, mint and teal are performing well. “With that core color is a family of beach-inspired blues, yellows and corals,” she added.
Margo Scavone, director of marketing for Philadelphia-based Bodek and Rhodes, agreed, and also noted the steady popularity of classic white. “A great-fitting, super-soft white tee never goes out of style for men or women,” she said.
As for decoration, a few looks are trending. Jeff Scult, owner of Golden Goods USA, San Francisco, pointed to tonal prints with pop color accents, smooth glossy prints and rayon-based fabrications.
– From June 2015’s “Fashion Sense”
5. Mix and match.
T-shirts and tanks aren’t just for warm months. Layering, a longtime popular trend where a tee or tank is worn with a button-down or outerwear piece, keeps tees and tanks saleable even when cooler temps prevail. “A comfortable tee or tank is an essential layering piece no matter what time of year it is,” Scavone explained.
Scult expanded on this point. “[Trendy tees and tanks] are becoming staple, year-round, layering pieces under high-fashion blazers,” he observed. “Items and silhouettes that were typically workout or sleepwear are now becoming fashionable to wear on the street.