The Future of Fleece
Whether it's being made from recycled materials, having any number of advanced performance features for athletics, or merely featuring strategically placed pocket to hold an MP3 player, it's obvious that the cutting edge of apparel technology is present in fleece apparel. This connection to high-tech design exerts a visual influence, pushing many pieces to appear more modern and fashion-forward through functional additions like ventilated fabric blocks, numerous pockets and even an overall lighter fabric weight. Of course, fashion-forward, high-performance items tend to be adopted by fashion-forward, performance-demanding crowds, who in turn seek out more stylish and modern clothing with even more features, which then makes for more advanced apparel, which leads to a more savvy crowd, which …
We can all see where this is going, and while it may seem daunting, there is no need to worry. Following the styles of a high-tech, high-fashion item like fleece is no different than any other: pin down the trends in its appearance, ways to tailor the product for a particular market, and the nuances of printing on the item, and everything else should come easily.
In regards to style trends, with fleece it's all about sleekness and modernity. "While there are more basic styles that will always do well … we're seeing growth in fleece jackets that have a more modern style to them," said Danny Tsai, vice president, merchandising, for Irwindale, California-based Tri-Mountain. "Things like additional pockets, a sleeker silhouette, contrasting colors and the like that you are probably used to seeing more on jackets are becoming more important to incorporate into both the fleece and vest categories."
Tsai noted that part of the reason for this shift to more modern designs was the rising demand for lighter-weight fleece items, such as apparel made from micro or poly-knit fleece. "These fabrics have the effect of making items look sleeker and more modern, while still preserving the warmth that customers inherently want from these items," he explained.
FITTING IN AND FILLING OUT
While a light weight and sporty flourishes are currently the defining trends of fleece styles, there is a great variety of range in how they are incorporated into specific pieces. As with any apparel item, it is best to consider who the end-users are, and incorporate popular styles as appropriate.
Products meant for athletic markets will likely hew closely to lightweight, modern designs, making use of techniques like color and fabric blocking to create a sporty look. "You might also find additional construction details in an athletic piece, such as stretch binding at the cuffs, or hidden seam pockets to keep the sleek appearance of the garment," said Gina Barreca, director of marketing for Vantage Apparel, Avenel, N.J.
Unlike their sportier counterparts, corporate pieces will tend not only to have a more basic silhouette, but also be heavier in fabric weight. Fleece meant for cold weather or outdoor work, heavier still. "Due to the nature of the work environments, a workwear jacket may need to be a heavier weight in order to withstand the outdoor elements," said Jessica Strain, sales and marketing administrator for Dri Duck Traders, Overland Park, Kan. So while sleek and modern may still be in for such markets, it is in a more reserved or basic capacity.
MAKING A MARK
Embroidery and screen printing are certainly viable choices for putting a logo on fleece, but if you're looking to try something different, consider laser-etching. "We are seeing more and more of the laser burn/etching process on our Nano-Fleece collection and the results are phenomenal," said Strain. Barreca seconded laser etching's value. "The micro-fleece category is great for embroidery, laser etching and laser appliqué decoration methods," she said. "Vertical laser etching placements (down the chest or sleeve area) are very popular on the jacket styles." She pointed out as well that laser etching allows you to decorate over seams and zippers for unique placement options, and that fleeces with medium color tones will show the best contrasts. "[It's] a very-cost effective means of decorating while at the same time giving the garment a fresh, new look," said Strain.