Perfect Performance: A Supplier and Distributor Talk Athletic Promo Apparel
As 2020 begins—and the gym starts to fill up once more—everyone is making strides toward their goals for the year ahead. With a new year also comes new apparel trends, of course, so we wanted to find out what’s happening in the athletic and performance category. Promo Marketing spoke with Mary Bostwick, director of marketing, customer service and inside sales for Delta Apparel, Duluth, Ga.; and LeighAnne Allen, director of accounts for INM Marketing Group, a distributor based in Addison, Texas, to see what was popular to close out 2019 and what to know for the new year.
What athletic and performance apparel trends will carry over from 2019? Bostwick said that there’s still a major focus on cotton fabrics.
“Lightweight, cotton heavy fabrics are still super popular, [and] the old slick fabric high poly content are still around, but the soft cotton feel has a growing fan base,” she said.
As for Allen, she said two decoration options were popular as 2019 closed out.
“Tonal and textured imprints were super popular in 2019,” she said. “Also, we saw a lot of layering of different imprint methods, [for] example, embroidery over laser.”
Allen also expected vintage looks to remain in demand. This is something that we’ve noticed more often in promotional apparel, so we’re not surprised to see it continue into the new year.
Another key with athletic and performance apparel: It has to be able to, you know, perform.
“Performance is how the product responds to the elements,” said Bostwick. “Does it keep you cool and dry when you need it the most? We firmly believe that the B2B end-user will respond to a performance product that wicks as well as feeling like their favorite tee they have had in their closet for years.”
Allen shared an example of how INM Marketing Group worked with a supplier to create the perfect athletic and performance apparel piece for a promotion. Essentially, the client needed meeting attendees to switch clothing from corporate attire to something more relaxed and suitable for colder temperatures.
“An NFL team that we work with was hosting their corporate partners [at] their practice facility for a workout with players,” she said. “The end-users were going to change clothes from their meeting attire and needed a pullover to put on in the colder climate. We worked with Trimark to get an athletic quarter-zip and utilize two decoration methods—HXD of the team’s logo on the left chest and the event logo transferred on the back yoke. The pullovers were a huge success, [and] all attendees really liked them—so much so that one of the partners ordered [them] with their logo for another event.”
Allen believes end-buyers are looking for two main things in athletic and performance apparel: trending decoration and corporate comfort.
“First, they want to mimic what they are seeing on the NFL sidelines in terms of decoration,” she said. “Right now it’s very vintage looking. Second, because workplace attire is moving more and more casual, our clients are wanting the professional-looking athleisure—items that are comfortable but also stylish and professional.”
And just who is buying this category? Bostwick had some insights.
“Delta sells a lot of performance product to promotional product companies [that are] looking for a better, softer shirt with the tech properties to show their customers looking for a way to elevate their event,” she said. “While the performance products cost more, the benefits are worth it.”
“We have seen opportunities in the uniform space, anywhere people are moving or working—roofers, plumbers, food service,” she continued. “Another has been the nonprofit race and walk events. Sponsors love the cotton feel performance shirts [have], as the participants will wear the shirt multiple times, helping provide a greater ROI.”
One potential challenge in this product category? Getting buyers who are used to purchasing a certain type of athletic and performance apparel to switch to another style, even if it’s a better one. But that’s especially important as new styles and fabrics emerge. Bostwick’s best advice is to send out samples and let buyers see for themselves.
“With customers being accustomed to the 100 percent poly with the slick feel, converting them to the newer cotton-rich products can be challenging,” she said. “Explaining the shirt functionality and providing a sample can change the old thought process and move the customer to the softer product.”