Let's Go to the Mall
T-shirts are the foundation of the wearables industry. We've been writing about them for years, and you've been selling them even longer than that. By now, we know T-shirts really well. We know that polyester doesn't have to be scratchy and heavy, that imprint options differ depending on the fabrication of the shirt, and that the basic crew-neck tee will never go out of style.
That's all well and good, but what happens when your client wants a T-shirt to outshine its competition or win over a new consumer market? How do you tweak your T-shirt promotions so you are not recycling outdated ideas?
You can find inspiration by heading to the shopping center closest to you and visiting stores geared toward your client's target market. Does Ann Taylor have a special display of scoop necks? Perfect for that "Women in Business" event your client is throwing. Is American Eagle showcasing thick necklines? Good to know for that middle school promotion you are planning. Is Rag & Bone stocking up on tight tees for men? Good thing you saw that before doing the standard beefy tee for that fraternity party. The list goes on. But before you go anywhere, read the tips on the following pages.
1. Wearability matters more than fashion or cost
Adding the word "fashion" to a product name does not make it fashionable; the use by the person wearing it will do that. Jeff Scult, co-founder of San Francisco-based Golden Goods USA, prefers to focus on the impact on the wearer rather than the idea of fashion. "As a 20-year branding veteran, for me the word 'fashion' is just an ambiguous attribute that sounds superfluously fancy," he said. "[I] would rather focus on the consumer benefit that is tangible." He added that creating a shirt that an end-user wants to wear all the time is more beneficial to your client than blindly following the latest trend or picking the lowest-cost tee. "The Q&A of 'What's the cheapest shirt in your closet?' 'It's the one you wear all the time' is the secret sauce to promotional marketing success," he said.
2. Gain inspiration from retail trends
Ashley Nielsen, marketing coordinator for S&S Activewear, Bolingbrook, Ill., pointed out that basic, crew-neck tees remain popular, but retail trends are gaining popularity among end-buyers with larger budgets. "Those [shirts] that are more retail-oriented and fashion-forward are really what customers are wanting as long as they are OK with the higher price points," she said.
Scult agreed. "We are constantly evaluating societal and fashion trends to recommend new approaches of cut patterns and color ways," he said. "For instance, we just introduced a relaxed fit women's collection that is now trending, and washed colors that meet seasonal preferences are suggested to our clients."
3. Sell outfits, not T-shirts
Nielsen suggested ways to bundle tees with other promotional wearables. "A great way to bundle T-shirts is to sell them with another product, specifically headwear or fleece," she said. "Bundling products together really drives home the promo and gives customers the option to wear everything as an 'outfit' or wear the items separately."
4. With imprints, "light" matters
Not light as in light colors, but as in actual weight. "Regardless of what material or technique you are using it's important to use a process that isn't going to be too heavy for the product, otherwise the decoration won't turn out as you had hoped and certainly won't withstand multiple washes and wears," Nielsen said. She offered examples. "Sublimation is great when you have a higher polyester fabric," she said. "Silk screening is done on higher cotton fabrics."
Another way to overcome heavy, stiff art is to use organic inks. "We only use super soft organic inks where you can't tell where the T-shirt stops and the printing starts," Scult said. He added that Golden Goods also has room for hem tabs, locker patches, embroidery, foiling, and a custom inside neck.
5. Men and women have swapped T-shirt styles
10 years ago, all men's clothing was baggy and about five sizes too big, while women's clothing was as tight as possible, belly-baring and about five sizes too small. Somewhere along the way, men and women swapped sizing values. "For women, that means a lot of the styles are becoming looser fitting and for the men it's almost the complete opposite," Nielsen said. The shift has been subtle, but notable. (Don't worry, women aren't wearing parachute pants and men aren't sporting crop tops. Yet.)
6. Never forget the power of samples
Scult mentioned that sending samples to your clients is the best way to convince them to purchase a higher-end tee or splurge on that organic ink imprint. "We send free T-shirt samples to not just have in their hands, but wear on their back to understand what all the fuss is about," he said.
7. Know how your client wants the shirt used after the promotion
Scult suggested asking end-buyer what they want users to do with the shirt after the event or promotion. Do they want end-users to wear it again or donate it to Goodwill? If you can make the T-shirt a favorite of the user, then your client gets more impressions and you get a repeat order. "A T-shirt is just T-shirt, until it becomes your favorite thing to pull from a warm dryer and wear again and again," Scult concluded.