Fashion, Function and Fit on Trend in the T-Shirt Market

5/22/2018 | Product Feature By Sherry L. Baranek

Who doesn’t love a T-shirt?! Not only are they versatile—with the ability to be dressed up or down—a favorite T-shirt can provide endless hours of comfort to the wearer. Studies show that almost 60 percent of American consumers own a promotional T-shirt—providing ample opportunities to publicize a name, logo, or cause with lasting staying power. This year, premium fabrics with textures are trending in styles such as ringer, football, jersey, and oversized.

Color is a huge trend in the T-shirt market, according to Summer Barry at BELLA+CANVAS. “Customers are looking for unique, retail-inspired colors to help differentiate their brand,” she explains. “Muted colors like mauve, peach, dusty blue, and military green have been very popular. Heather CVC and Triblend fabrications continue to be popular as there is an appetite for subtle dimension.”

Fashion is in the forefront at alphabroder. According to Katie Meenan-McCullough, one of the biggest industry trends over the last few years—in terms of sales percentage and market share growth—has been in the items offered by the company’s more “fashion”-influenced, retail-inspired brands. “We’ve noticed there is a growing demand for fashion and retail type products along with a more contemporary fit. Items that are constructed of combed and ringspun cotton are growing much quicker than many other categories. Whether it’s 100% combed, ringspun cotton for that extra soft shirt or it’s a combed, ringspun cotton/poly blend for some additional breath-ability, the added value these shirts bring to the market has really caught on with the end users.”

Meenan-McCullough continues that the younger demographic has been driving this trend, as they have really embraced the value in these type items. “The college and university market, vacation resorts, fan and spiritwear, concert merch, fundraisers, and giveaways are all areas that have reflected this growing trend.,” she adds.

Another popular T-shirt tend is vintage, retro-inspired styles, S&S Activewear’s Megan Zezzo asserts. “Whether it’s a football tee, old-school jersey, ringer tee/tank, or that favorite oversized garment washed tee, these time-honored silhouettes are having their heyday once again,” she states. “These styles are perfect for a wide variety of audiences—from restaurant and sports bar uniforms and retail items to promotional giveaways to client game day gifts.”

Expanding on these sentiments, Lauren Cocco of Vantage Apparel adds, “Better, premium, and performance T-shirts are popular as customers are looking for quality products with fashion, function, and comfort in mind. Features like soft hand, ample coverage, and surface interest—such as textures or heathers—are key.”

The demand for T-shirts is as strong as ever. Zezzo of S&S Activewear maintains that the demand for fashion T-shirts has been increasing over the past several years—especially since the pricing has exponentially decreased for ringspun/softer T-shirts.

According to alphabroder’s Meenan-McCullough, the company’s customers continue to see added value for these types of products. “More and more of our customers are asking for something different in addition to the basic items that have been the backbone of our industry for years,” she comments. “Because of the retail influence in our space, our customers are really focusing on what added value they can provide to their customers who are looking for something different with T-shirts.”

More customers are moving away from cheap-carded, open-end promo tees and toward garments people are actually going to wear, Barry at BELLA+CANVAS emphasizes. “It’s becoming more apparent that it’s important to invest in quality when dealing with any promotional items and we have been championing this message.”

To that end, BELLA+CANVAS has introduced two women’s tanks that Barry says have been well-received thanks to the “awesome” price point. “BELLA+CANVAS has always been known for our fashion silhouettes and on-trend women’s styles,” she says. “This year, we launched two new tanks in our Airlume combed and ring-spun jersey—the 6008 Jersey Racerback and 6003 Jersey Muscle Tank.”

Over at alphabroder, tri-blends continue to gain traction as one of the newer categories because of the fashion-influenced theme, Meenan-McCullough notes. “For customers who like to be on trend with the ‘next big thing,’ tri-blends can take the T-shirt up few notches with their extremely soft feel,” she states. “The ringspun cotton/poly/rayon blend, gives the shirt a ‘silkier’ smooth feel.”

Vantage Apparel’s popular items include the Velocity Color-wash, 100 percent cotton T-shirts (Style 0270), which are available in dark grey, Nantucket red, and weathered navy. “These shirts are casual, comfortable, and super cool,” Whitney Robinson notes, “and create an ideal canvas for vintage-inspired logos and throw-back campaigns.”

Distributors wishing to sell T-shirts to their clients should remind them of the long-term value T-shirts have to offer—especially when it comes to higher end tees. “When trying to get a customer to convert to a higher quality good, make sure to remind them that the value they get out of the items has to do with the number of impressions that garment gets,” BELLA+CANVAS’ Barry emphasizes. “Something comfortable and well-fitting that will be worn again and again. On the other hand, cheap carded, open-end tees will be worn once and end up in a drawer.”

Offering tees in combination with another item—such as a cap—is another excellent selling suggestion. Vantage Apparel’s Robinson notes that the combination possibilities are endless and will only serve to enhance brand exposure.

Zezzo at S&S recommends that distributors include a piece of an item they would like to present to the client in an order they placed so they can see what their logo would look like. “Don’t be afraid to try something outside of the box like a lightweight fashion forward or even drop tail slouchy V-neck,” she comments “You never know what could come of it and it shows the client that you’re forward-thinking and invested in helping them elevate their brand.

“If sampling is not an option, utilize an online design software to drop the client’s logo on a unique item (these designers are available on most wholesaler’s websites)” she continues. “Send the client a thank you for their recent order and include the mocked-up image as an idea for them to think of for future orders.”

Distributors should emphasize to clients how T-shirts have an abundance of options, according to Meenan-McCullough at alphabroder. “As the T-shirt market continues to offer new trends, customers continue to have more options to set themselves apart. By having different levels of price point, design, fabric feel, and total value proposition, it allows a more meaningful conversation with end-users, providing the appropriate products that aligns to their budget and brand-awareness.”

“When you think in terms of Cost-Per-Impression (CPI), there isn’t anything that competes in the promotional products industry,” she continues. “If your customer is looking to get their brand out there and reach the most people, think about how often you wear that super soft T-shirt. We all tend to wear our favorite T-shirts again and again and again—to the gym, grocery shopping, out to the mall. Think about how many people are seeing that shirt every time it gets worn and think about how often someone’s favorite shirt gets worn. That shirt is getting a ton of exposure for your brand!”

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