Cross Your Tees
Ah, the humble T-shirt. Once the domain of greasers, grunge fans and metalheads, the tee has transcended niche to become the go-to garment for just about everyone. It is populist apparel—even the most serious, most business-y businessman throws on a T-shirt at the end of the workday. Beneath his button-down, Clark Kent wears the Superman suit. Beneath that? A Batman tee, probably. (Everybody loves Batman.)
All this is to say: If you're not already, you should be selling T-shirts. The market is absolutely gargantuan—in 2013, apparel generated $5.51 billion in distributor sales, more than the next three promotional categories combined—and T-shirts are its bread and butter. So whether you're just breaking in or trying to step up your sales game, here's what you need to know about the promotional T-shirt market.
What's in Style
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."
Hanes has fully embraced this T-shirt-as-all-purpose-attire mindset, adding to its product lineup several styles that blur the lines between weekend-wear and workout-gear. One style, the X-Temp collection, combines fashion-inspired features, like neon-heather colors, with performance traits like moisture-wicking fabric. Another, the nano-T, is made from lightweight fabrics and has a slimmer, contemporary fit that Newman said is popular with millennials and the collegiate market.
But retail style trends come and go, and just when you think they're gone for good, come back again. Baggy pants, for example—skinny jeans and slim fits all but killed them off, but GQ recently reported that loose-fitting men's pants are again making the rounds in European fashion.