Take It Outside
From hayrides to campfires, pumpkin picking to jumping in that big pile of leaves on our front lawn, there are plenty of reasons to get outside in the chill of early fall—and even the cold of winter.
It’s around this time of year that we don’t leave the house without our favorite jacket (and a travel mug of hot tea). Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the jacket Ralphie’s brother had to wear in “A Christmas Story.” Nowadays, jackets—both promotional and retail—are designed to ensure the end-user remains both stylish and protected from the elements.
But that doesn’t make it an easy sell. With so much customization and functionality, it can be a daunting task to find the right fit for your client. To help you out, we spoke to three industry professionals—Norman Bishop, president of Bishop Custom Clothing, Vancouver, B.C.; Terry Chen, general manager of Landway International, San Francisco, Calif.; and Barry Lipsett, president and CEO of Charles River Apparel, Sharon, Mass.—who gave us these tips to help you warm up your sales this winter.
1. Think retail, look retail
Dubbed “the king of wearables” by Bishop, outerwear reigns supreme due to its functionality—and its visibility. The key to getting end-users to wear it (and build your client’s brand awareness) is to give them something they want to wear.
“We want our clients to feel like their jackets were created specifically for them and that their logo wasn’t applied after production, but incorporated during the design process,” Bishop said, noting logo integration is fundamental to create a retail look.
Draw from retail for color and fabric ideas, too. “Today, we are seeing corporate clients looking for more splash in colors and fabric texture,” said Chen, citing heathered colors and mélange fabric as current trends.
2. Combine fabrics
When it comes to outerwear, keep this in mind: The more, the merrier. Whether you want to create an original design or pull the best performance features from multiple designs into one product, turn to your fabric. “Our three-layer bonded soft-shell combines a water-repellent finish (durable water repellent) on the outer layer with a breathable membrane in the middle and a thermal fleece under,” Bishop explained. “So you have [something] that will keep you warm, dry and comfortable—all in the same jacket.”
3. Size matters
This isn’t a product you’ll find firing out of a T-shirt cannon. Outerwear has to fit right, user to user. “Forecasting inventory has always been the biggest challenge,” Chen said. “Whereas most other promotional products are one-size-fits-all, outerwear suppliers need to stock every size from XS to 5XL, and talls, too.”
Bishop agreed with Chen, naming sizing as one of the most overlooked aspects of outerwear. Every supplier’s sizing fits differently, so it’s important to get feedback on how the jackets should fit and what they’ll be used for. “Perhaps they are trying to outfit truck drivers or perhaps they are trying to fit a European division; these fits will be significantly different,” Bishop noted.
4. You can’t go wrong with the classics
If you’re looking for something to stand the test of time, you don’t have to look far. From peacoats to leather bomber jackets, some trends never go out of fashion. “These styles are timeless and they can be tweaked to fit the current fashion trends,” Bishop explained.
Synthetic polyester fleece is another one—particularly when warmth is a priority. As Chen sees it, synthetic fleece (e.g., polar fleece, micro fleece, etc.) is cost-efficient, easy to care for, has a high warmth-to-weight ratio and is here to stay.
5. Beware: Unisex is a tough sell
With the push for a retail-reminiscent product and careful monitoring of sizing, it should come as no surprise that unisex outerwear isn’t a big seller right now. “We are trying to get away from unisex styles, and lean more toward women’s cuts, fits, styles and colors,” Lipsett explained. “People want clothing to fit well and look good,” Chen summed up.
Bishop agreed: “Typically, women want to wear a jacket that has been designed specifically for a woman; a unisex jacket tends to be a men’s jacket that is more fitted to accommodate to a women’s silhouette.”
6. Decorate appropriately
The logo is a crucial aspect of any promotional product, but perhaps even more so for apparel and outerwear. The quality of a logo decoration can affect whether the end-user wears the product, so choose wisely. “The gold standard is embroidery,” Chen said, noting that it retains the best-perceived value for price and quality, and adds a 3-D aspect.
Both Bishop and Lipsett said that embroidery is the most popular, but noted there are other well-received options depending on the fabric. “Digital printing is becoming increasingly popular,” Lipsett said, due to its ability to print multiple colors and print on difficult fabrics, like rainwear. Bishop added that heat transfer would also work better on a waterproof breathable fabric than embroidery.
7. Don’t fall into the summer slump
During the hot summer months, people don’t tend to think about outerwear. But for suppliers, distributors and end-buyers, it should be when they think about it. Don’t fall behind—get outerwear programs underway early. “The transition from summer to fall oftentimes catches people off guard,” said Chen, noting outerwear’s difficulties in terms of preparation and delivery. “They take longer to make—especially when custom is involved—and the time between, say, September to December is a very short window for manufacturers.”
8. Check the weather
Don’t get caught without your proverbial umbrella. Make sure to consider the weather your client and their end-users are likely to encounter, so the outerwear can be most cost-effective and used most often. While both Chen and Lipsett said that waterproof, breathable jackets are some of the most popular in the industry, Lipsett said weather rating is often overlooked. “A product can be one of many different types of ratings—water-repellent; waterproof, where the seams are sealed for maximum protection; and waterproof breathable, where it’s important the fabric can actually breathe,” Lipsett explained. “When it gets overlooked, it affects the quality and the price of the apparel.”