History in the Making
Sometimes understanding why a product is popular involves researching how and when it was invented. Recently the world has been so focused on new inventions (Twitter, tablets, e-readers) that we do not take the time to look at the necessities that have not been (and do not need to be) updated with technology. Mainly, outdoor gear like umbrellas and raincoats. In an electronic world, there is still no replacement for umbrellas and raincoats. Here is a look back at how these everyday products got their start and where they are going. Pay attention because knowing the history means knowing what you are selling.
According to About.com, umbrellas were first invented to provide shade from the sun, not the rain. In fact, the word "umbrella" derives from the Latin word "umbra," which means shade. The Chinese began waterproofing umbrellas with wax paper to shelter themselves from storms and the trend eventually made its way over to Europe. The collapsible and durable umbrellas we know today are relatively new in the overall history of the product, and we've moved far past simple wax paper for waterproofing.
"The best materials for umbrellas would be a water-resistant nylon or pongee," stated Meredith O'Brien, inside sales/customer care specialist for Storm Duds Raingear, Attleboro, Mass. (For those who do not know, pongee is a thin fabric made from silk or a silk substitute.) Additions like venting enhance the storm-proofing of umbrellas. "Venting adds an extra layer of material for the wind to flow through the umbrella helping it to not invert in heavy winds," O'Brien explained. She added that Storm Duds umbrellas have heavy gauge storm flex ribs and spreaders to combat wind as well.
Ancient umbrellas were fashion statements that were hand-made and hand-painted with delicate designs. The practice of decorating umbrellas is still widespread, but we have updated the methods. "Screen printing offers outstanding durability, color clarity and is the most cost-effective method to apply your logo [on an umbrella]," O'Brien said. She suggested heat transfers for more intricate logos. If you want to add to those intricate logos, try unique handle designs or bright fabric colors.
In the Trenches
The trench coat is the go-to rain jacket for corporate professionals. It is durable and timelessly fashionable. It is a staple of the retail world, and a good one costs hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of dollars. But, did you know that this classic raincoat actually started as a promotional product and then entered the retail world, instead of the other way around? As noted on the Heritage page of Burberry.com, the luxury brand invented the Tielocken in 1895 to outfit the British army in the most advanced waterproof fabric available at the time. The coat was later dubbed the trench coat because it was used in trench warfare. The uniform jacket then evolved into the fashion raincoat we know today.
Promotional raincoats have strayed from the pricey gabardine coats (a material Burberry invented) to accommodate lower budgets. Joy Shi, marketing associate for Tri-Mountain, Irwindale, Calif., mentioned nylon and polyester as good raincoat materials because they can easily be treated with waterproof coatings and seam-sealed to keep the wearer dry. "On ponchos, a waterproof PVC or EVA is the best material," added O'Brien. Despite the material change, promotional raincoats for uniforms or casual wear still put fashion first. Shi noted that updated accessories like earbud holes make raincoats stylish and modern. She offered the example of Tri-Mountain's Connecticut system jacket. "[It] features a convenient zip-out inner fleece jacket in addition to adjustable Velcro cuffs, inner cellphone pocket and a concealable hood," she said.
Along with these modern accessories comes modern imprinting techniques. Shi championed heat transfers as the best for rain gear. "For our styles that have been seam-sealed for water-resistance, an embroidery method would poke holes in the fabric whereas a heat transfer allows you to maintain the integrity of the waterproof treatment," she explained. She added that heat transfers in contrast colors make a raincoat stand out. She offered a case study of a distributor who did just that for an awareness program. "A recent order came for a fundraiser being held for breast cancer," Shi said. "The event was to be held outside where sleet was expected. The order was placed for our 1980 Refuge jacket, and because the jacket was to outfit the parking staff, who would be working outside valeting and directing cars, the organization had hot pink heat transfers made on the jackets to help drivers notice the staff."