There’s a lot going on in the apparel field, including changes in color, fabrics, fashions, textures and decorating techniques. One factor that can’t be ignored is the cost of cotton. Cotton prices have skyrocketed to their highest level since the Civil War, mostly due to high demand in Asia and disappointing crops in several countries.
However, according to the Advantages Promotional Products Usage Survey, 53% of buyers say that shirts are the most effective products, so it’s more important than ever to stay educated about apparel. Here are some of the key trends to note as we head into the first quarter of the new year.
1. Jewel Tones
If you’re looking to add value and class to your promotional campaign, invest in deep jewel tones. Rich tones, such as amethyst purple, ruby red and sapphire blue, have a bold, lush quality. It is ideal to pair jewel tones with neutrals, particularly black and white.
Purple is leading the pack now. “Purple has been huge over the last year. Bright lavenders are an extremely hot color at retail right now. Bright jewel tones continue to be popular both in retail and in corporate apparel,” says Joanna Whitling, merchandising buyer at GatewayCDI (asi/202515). “Some of the shades of purple are starting to become a little more muted, like lilac and eggplant.”
Lauren Cocco, merchandiser and decoration specialist with Vantage Apparel (asi/93390), sees that purple is a more popular jewel tone among women. She suggests that blue jewel tones, like sapphire, work well for men and women alike.
Pitch jewel tones to your corporate clients. They can be paired neatly with navy, black or brown, some of the traditional colors that are suggested for executives. Of note: The color purple, currently one of the most popular jewel tones, represents leadership, good judgment and trustworthiness. For your clients who are focused on retail, they can trust you to find a great selection of jewel tones in designer brands.
There’s no denying it: Burnout is still hot. “Blends used in burnout and other washed tees are very trendy. They may look vintage, but they feel super-soft and comfortable,” says Janine Toner, marketing coordinator for Broder Bros. (asi/42090). “The distressed look that comes from pigment-dyed and burnout tees is all the rage, especially with younger audiences. Plaids, military-inspired garments and sheer tanks and tops – which are perfect for layering – are also really fashionable right now.” Aside from being trendy, distressed wear also looks and feels comfortable.
Toner notes that distressed fabrics are mostly used in T-shirts, tanks and hoodies. Military caps and camo T-shirts, hoodies, hats and outerwear are the most common military-inspired garments. Military jackets for women offer a great alternative to the basic blazer. “We’re continuing to see a military influence in wearables – bold lines, strong shoulders and epaulettes,” says Amber Lee, marketing coordinator for CSE (asi/155807). “Jackets and shirts that have the military detailing will continue into spring.” A key element in pulling off the look is to counteract the masculine feel with a feminine touch, ideally with leggings or skirts.
The burnout style is a leading look for fashion tees. To achieve the look, T-shirts are chemically distressed so that portions of the material are so thin that they’re almost see-through. The sheer feel of the tee matches up with a big trend in apparel nowadays – layering lightweight tees. “The burnout process is interesting and it’s great for layering, which continues to be a strong trend,” says Cocco. In addition, she points out that using natural appliqué fabrics like cotton twill give a piece a distressed, vintage feel. “Applique is still a trend in lettering and patch-type looks. It’s a great way to add interest and dimension to a design,” she says.
Vintage, distressed styles like burnout tees work great with various decorating techniques, including rhinestones and allover prints. Think young when you pitch the burnout and distressed look. Reach out to nightclubs and schools to tap into a younger market.
3. Performance Fabrics
At a time when people have enough on their plates, it comes as no surprise that performance and worry-free fabrics are becoming more and more in demand.
Most notably, fabrics that resist wrinkling, staining and fading are popular –especially for sport shirts and wovens. On the texture side, smooth cotton and stretch fabric blends are more durable and resist stains and wrinkles. “With such hectic work schedules, people prefer clothing that is easy to take care of, as well as fashionable,” says Toner. “These fabrics help customers with the daily maintenance of their clothing, as most people don’t have time to iron their clothes on a daily basis or worry about how their clothing will hold up after a couple of washes. There is also a significant cost savings with cutting down on trips to the dry cleaner, which can really add up.”
Performance fabrics in outerwear continue to be popular and fashion-forward, namely in soft-shell jackets. “The biggest thing is that they are incredibly functional. If you get the right style, it’s affordable and lightweight,” says Mike O’Connell, owner of Moko Loko Merchandising (asi/466637) . Whitling echoes the functionality of performance fabrics. She has seen an increase in their popularity among her corporate clients, due to moisture-wicking and UV-blocking capabilities. “The trend started with polo shirts and specialized golf apparel, but has now moved into more traditional categories like outerwear, T-shirts and headwear,” she says.
Also, the popularity of performance fabrics has a lot to do with lifestyle. “Customers want to feel comfortable. Being active is becoming a lifestyle, so they want to wear polo shirts that wick, don’t show perspiration and have UV protection,” Cocco says.
Make sure to point out how the attributes of performance apparel will help your clients in their lives. These items will appeal to modern-day men and women, so target working professionals. Think also about young adults who are just out of college. “You’re seeing performance wear for the corporate jobs in the younger generation. They see those items in their college stores, so they look to wear them for work,” says Whitling.
4. Simple, Clean Lines
Maybe we can blame (or thank) Jon Gosselin, but it’s time to bid farewell to the era of Ed Hardy. Apparel is moving away from overly embellished and into more subtle, sensible looks. “Full-neon colored shirts seem to be on their way out. We’re seeing more neutral shirts. There may also be a trend of cleaner-looking tipped polos,” says Toner.
No one can deny that simple is in. “I see basic styling as being important right now. You’re seeing the male button-down with one pocket,” says David Bebon, CEO of DBEBZ Apparel.
Lee notes that there’s a lot less bling. “We’re seeing a focus on fresh, clean looks. In the past, there’s been so much embellishment, detailing, grommeting and foiling. Moving into 2011, we’re seeing less of that at retail. There are more muted colors and more clean, classic lines,” she says.
The same goes for screen printing. While allover prints are still popular, they will be toned down a bit. “You’ll see a subtle background design and a hint of color. They won’t be as bold and vibrant as we have previously seen,” says Cocco.
When you’re developing a campaign that involves some simple, basic shirts, make sure to emphasize how you’re in tune with the world around you. Since your clients are retail shoppers, make a note of how the fashion world is shifting to a simpler style. You’ll be able to show your clients that you’re on top of your game.
5. Specialty Inks
Decorators are looking into the appeal of conservative color prints. “Going into 2011, less is more,” says Mary Strapason, director of sales and marketing for Apple Imprints Apparel (asi/36553). “The focus has always been on getting the most colors on the shirt. Now, it’s more about using specialty inks.”
One popular screen-printing ink creates a 3-D imprint; it’s best used on heavier T-shirts and fleece, not sheer tees. By using newer inks, Strapason points out that decorators can print from the base of the shirt. “It’s more fashion-forward. You can use color-changing inks, glow-in-the-dark inks and more. The more specialty inks that are used, the more value there is for the apparel,” she says.
Funky inks are very appealing to the music industry, so think about highlighting the unique qualities of these inks in your next event, bar or concert campaign. Aside from being a great platform for a logo, the apparel’s value will increase with the exclusive inks.
6. Laser Etching
One of the ways that the subtle look in apparel is being achieved is through laser etching. In this method, a logo is displayed via a laser burning off the top layer on polyester pieces. “Leaving a dimensional look is a great way to add value to an item,” says Cocco.
Laser etching gives some variety in terms of logo placement, whether it’s vertical, over seams, on hems or on pockets. “Laser etching works best on most synthetic fibers, microfiber polyester knits, performance polos and polyester camp shirts,” she says. “It’s most popular on fleece because it gives a layer of dimension and actually burns the surface fabric.”
Since laser etching is perfect for fleece, think about using it for winter promotions, whether it’s for a sporty educational campaign or a holiday fundraiser. When you’re pitching to a client, make sure to think creatively regarding logo placement. Instead of displaying a typical horizontal message across the chest, steal the spotlight with a dimensional vertical logo.
7. Tonal Embroidery
Tonal, color-on-color embroidery is one of the hottest ways to display a logo. Like in the past, the left chest is popular for logo placement, but more logos are showing up on back yokes. “Embroidery is going more tonal. It’s cool, hot and design-forward. You can get a French blue shirt with French blue embroidery. You can get a tone on tone, color on color, sold on solid. They are matching and blending with the garment,” says Bebon.
O’Connell echoes this decorating advice. “As far as logos go, you should be tonal. Black on black or black on gray,” he says.