Cross Your Tees
The baggy look has yet to return to the T-shirt market, where slim profiles still rule, but there are plenty of other changes to watch for. "The biggest change, in my opinion, over the last few years is the weight," explained Nathan Lucrisia, MBA, marketing director for Atlantic Coast Cotton, Gainesville, Va. "Heavier-weight shirts were desirable in the past, but now people want lighter, softer and better-cut T-shirts. Shirts that are heavy and make your body look like a box are a thing of the past—a more fitted shirt is the present. Tri-blends, ringspun cotton and V-necks are big today."
And then there is color. While brights and neons have dominated of late, Pantone's 2015 color of the year (typically a good barometer for fashion industry color trends) is Marsala, described by Pantone as "a naturally robust and earthy wine red." It's a departure from prior years—Radiant Orchid, Emerald, Tangerine Tango and Honeysuckle, all brights, were Pantone's last four colors of the year—signifying a potential shift to warmer, earthier tones.
That doesn't mean you should go and order 10,000 rustic-burnt-mahogany-colored T-shirts for your reserves just yet—Lucrisia expected Marsala's market impact to be limited, for now. But it does mean you should keep an eye on color trends and react accordingly. "With color, we focus on macro trends that we see impacting the broader consumer marketplace," said Newman. "In addition to core colors, vintage colors and neons continue to be strong palates across retail."
How to Succeed
Success in T-shirt sales hinges on how well you can keep up with these trend shifts. Remember that $5.51 billion figure we mentioned before? It's a double-edged sword. Yes, the market is huge, but that means there's lots of competition. If you're focused only on selling the stuff that was popular last year while your competitors have moved on to the newest styles, you could lose out on sales. "Styles, colors and fabrics in the decorated apparel industry are constantly changing," Newman said. "Customers are looking to promotional product distributors to help them choose the best product for their specific need. To do that, [distributors] need to stay current with what's being offered."