Seeing The Light Of Day
NOT TOO LONG ago, the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team got invited to the White House. The resulting photo, which should have been a source of parental pride for years to come, soon became the stuff of media buzz legend. “You wore flip-flops to the White House?!,” proclaimed an e-mail sent to one of the four players who, while posing in the front row, was captured wearing the offending sandals. But the choice of footwear shouldn’t have surprised anyone—it’s merely a sign of the times.
In general, the public’s attitude toward clothing styles has become more and more laissez-faire over the years. Suits, once a corporate mainstay, now read as “stuffy” and “old-school.” Hemlines continue to defy gravity, although laws forbidding indecent exposure eventually should curtail that trend.
As something that, years ago, would have caused a national outrage, 2005’s flip-flop debacle sparked a halfhearted debate at best. Capitol Hill might disagree, but the standards for what’s “appropriate” and “acceptable” are, on the whole, loosening up.
COMING OUT PARTY
Much to the joy of the promotional products industry, comfort and sleepwear items are joining flip-flops in redefining conventional standards for tolerable everyday wear. And if past precedents are to be believed, there’s no telling just how long this trend will prevail. Take the rise of jeans from working man’s must-have to all-encompassing style staple. While it’s safe to say Levi Strauss himself couldn’t have predicted today’s designer denim fetching prices in the hundreds of dollars, nary a crystal ball could foretell that flannel and jersey would become daytime fare, either.
“Sleepwear is in a phase similar to blue jeans in the 1980s. Jeans were considered a working-class look rather than a fashion statement,” noted Luiza Raposo, marketing assistant at Atlanta-based Boxercraft. She added, “Calvin Klein turned that around with popular ad campaigns that created a strong brand.”
In the spirit of Klein’s branding efforts, the acceptance of comfortwear on the streets is extending the marketing reach of promotional products buyers, as well. When logos are no longer restricted to the confines of the home, “End-users can be sure their brands are taken seriously because sleepwear is now being taken seriously as a competitive and fashion-forward apparel category,” Raposo affirmed.
But the growing business opportunity is less about strategy than times (and generations) that are a-changing. Not only is the junior market a particular area of opportunity for comfortwear, but they also can be considered the opinion leaders, said Byron Reed, director of marketing at MV Sport/Weatherproof, Bay Shore, N.Y. “They wear it everywhere. … If it’s good quality and fun, they’re going to actually use it, so you get your brand around a lot more,” he maintained. Reed went on to identify high schools, cheerleading camps, universities, and fraternities and sororities as institutions especially interested in comfort and sleep styles.
However, it’s important to note the corporate sector also has a place for this type of apparel, Raposo reported, and not just the airlines, travel agencies and hospitality industries that typically come to mind (although these are large buying segments). She said, “Personalized sleepwear lets a client know you have thought of even the most personal, small detail.” This type of attention is almost subliminal. Raposo finds even the relatively staid financial sector has used sleepwear to put clients’ minds “at rest,” knowing their personal money matters are in good hands.
CLOSING THE DEAL
Although appeal and visibility go the distance, there are a few ways distributors can increase the selling potential of comfort and sleepwear even further.
1) Broaden the offering. Reed suggested approaching customers with something different, such as a T-shirt/lounge pants combo. Or, for example, if promoting a trade show where attendees will be staying in a hotel, robes make great gift ideas. “It wouldn’t be something you’re probably going to pass out at an event, but I do know a lot of people put items in a hotel room and the robe would certainly be appropriate for that,” he affirmed.
2) Hook them on a feeling. The very reason for the existence of lounge and sleepwear is comfort. Double-brushed, European-style flannel and soft cotton/polyester blend fleece are but a few of Raposo’s offerings. “Its lightweight and comfy feel is a top reason much of sleepwear apparel is made of this material,” she said. Because the fabric is a huge part of whether or not these styles will live up to their distinction, Reed maintained bringing samples is a must. “It gives [the item] a value that you’re not going to see in a picture,” he said.
3) Give patterns presence. Plaid might be the traditional offering, but numerous other designs are coming on the scene in a big way. “Our whole push this year in all our categories is, it’s about pattern when you’re getting into that [junior] age market,” Reed said. This direction is fashion-forward, so expect to see polka dots, florals and animal prints on 2008’s comfort and sleep lines.