How Branded Polos and Business Casual Apparel Fit Into the New Normal
As the COVID-19 pandemic has placed “normal life” on hold, downsizing the significance of certain parts of our identity stands to resonate as a common activity. Given the work-from-home existence that many employees and executives have adopted, apparel selection could find itself among the topics receiving reduced attention, because one does not necessarily need to think too much about what to wear after leaving the bed.
Though we might argue that business attire as a whole has experienced a change as professionals adjust to domestic settings, this doesn’t mean that discussions on it must join whatever objects that people have been discarding during their spring cleaning sessions as relics of the past. In fact, such apparel still resonates as a conversation starter for individuals like Gina Barreca, who sees items like branded polos and business casual apparel as meriting ample consideration. Promo Marketing connected with Barreca, the director of marketing for Vantage Apparel, Avenel, N.J.; and Juan Sanchez, midwest regional sales manager for Cutter & Buck, Seattle, with the two acknowledging that while uncertainty plagues so many considerations about how to move forward with life, apparel can still prove a vital element of how suppliers and distributors make and sustain connections with customers.
The Present State
During the pandemic, many people have been calling on social media as a source of levity, especially when the subject turns to fashion, or, should we say, the lack of it. Numerous individuals have mentioned their affinity for remaining in pajamas, and while it would seem that sleepwear has become a sensation as people work from home, that is not to say that business-friendly threads are suddenly out. Virtual interactions are increasing as workplaces look to stay connected with employees. Essential businesses remain open. And other businesses still need to reach out to customers. All of these businesses still have a need for branded apparel for staff.
“Putting brands in visible spaces when you’re conducting online meetings is so vital during this period,” Barreca said. “While it is obvious that you will be showing up for these interactions, it’s important to ask if your brand showed up, too.”
The sentiment contained in that clever bit of reasoning could come to take on even more significance if the nation continues to find itself essentially paralyzed as leaders plot how to tackle the coronavirus. It is still quite possible—perhaps even easier than one would have expected pre-COVID-19—to build brand awareness through one’s wardrobe, and as people ponder their pitches when contacting would-be clients or intensify other bonds, that opportunity to show pride in a place of employment could pay big dividends.
“Clients are looking for comfort in their apparel—less restrictive, ease of movement, flowy and relaxed,” Barreca said. “Fabrics with spandex or engineered to stretch are also preferred—think more mobile and less restrictive. These types of styles are perfect for the new work-from-home dress code.”
“Business casual discussions have been interesting ones to follow for some time now,” Sanchez said. “Workwear has lightened up to the point where people don’t have to feel bound to certain styles or feels. Performance fabrics have become huge, and wovens have proven to have great reliability.”
He and Barreca said that the increasingly relaxed vibe that surrounds business casual clothing makes this an interesting time to explore its possibilities. Yes, life appears grounded in many ways now, and people have needed to reassess the livelihood of their businesses and the tenets that make up their presence in their given fields, but apparel always instills in wearers a sense of comfort and, with regards to branded goods, connection.
“Apparel is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, categories in the industry,” Sanchez said. “Therefore, when you’re considering what to put on, it can be pretty fascinating to see how something external can give us that internal boost.”
If someone has become a work-from-home employee, or if an individual performs duties in the public eye, Barreca, in giving a nod to attire’s importance to society, believes that “from the waist up is especially important.” Allegiance to that mindset in professional settings, as well as non-work-related interactions, has helped Vantage Apparel to tab polos as the biggest part of its business. And heeding the public’s call for innovation has given the company an edge in a number of ways, including through its consideration for the environment.
“Sustainability is huge, and we shouldn’t be surprised when it becomes more so,” Barreca said of a trend that poses no trouble for industry figures to follow. “Sustainable apparel is becoming more readily available with innovations to yarns, materials, manufacturing and marketing, because brands and clients want to make better environmental purchases.”
To assist such earth-conscious enthusiasm, Vantage Apparel has made its Earthwise collection a key point of its operations, with Repreve premium recycled polyester at its core. Each shirt, including two polos, keeps 10 plastic bottles from landfills and oceans, further enhancing not only the company’s commitment to sustainability but also admiration for the fact that consumers, particularly younger people, are “buying better.”
Sanchez and his Cutter & Buck peers have also adopted a highly defined tactical approach to style releases. Having picked up on the trend that has seen contemporaries go with fewer styles yet deeper inventories, they have come to laud polos and business casual items as torchbearers for apparel’s future. And now that COVID-19 has forced everyone to revamp, or at least deliberate over, operations, that push for a less-is-more mindset regarding styles might become even more prevalent. But Sanchez does not see that as a cause for alarm as businesses court either continued bonds with familiar customers or new ties with others.
“There’s so much potential involved in this particular part of the industry,” he said. “And how you go about becoming a mainstay in it relies in a big way on how much you pay attention to what others are doing and try to go beyond that.”
The Work Ahead
While business casual as a category seems like an easier sell with respect to seasonality, polos, while accustomed to enjoying added recognition in the spring and summer, have plenty of year-round applications. “Clothing has a long shelf-life, it tends to involve higher-priced items, it always represents a useful purchase, and it’s capable of being passed along,” Barreca said. “These are solid points in favor of distributors’ need to consider how getting involved with this industry could give them a bigger presence, especially if we’re talking about polos, which are able to be purchased in small quantities.”
With untucked styles and business uniforms also taking off, she expects for there to be an interesting blend of relaxed and distinguished-looking apparel choices for people to make, with the latter being a playground for showing off refreshed looks. Think eateries that are making curbside deliveries during the pandemic, Barreca said. These are locations that the industry can call on to give polos and business casual a boost, but they’re not alone. Additionally, as trends intensify and new fabrications develop, the time appears ripe for further innovation to occur, and for businesses to think of the branded apparel as a way to show workers that going to an office or representing companies from their homes is a chance to show unity and individuality simultaneously.
“Sometimes, there are boxes that are hard to cross off when you’re thinking about how to stand out,” Sanchez said of making one’s way in the apparel category. “Through polos and business casual options, though, the task is not as perplexing, because you’ll be dealing with items that are proven winners and appear even more ready to retain their significance to our lives.”