Promotional Jackets: Style Trends and Sales Advice From Outerwear Experts
As soon as the calendar hits September, we’re ready to break out the hot chocolate, fuzzy socks and long sleeves. (It’s like we have radar that goes off when it detects the scents of pumpkin spice and crisp leaves.) We’re also ready to talk promotional jackets and outerwear. Which is good, because there’s a lot to talk about. Remember the Orolay jacket—the coat that went viral earlier this year and netted so many Amazon reviews it became known as the “Amazon Coat”? That just shows you how crazy people go for outerwear.
We wanted to find out from our very own experts what to expect in promotional jackets and outerwear for the coming months, so that you can help your customers find their very own versions of Amazon’s must-have outerwear phenomenon. We spoke with four suppliers on the topic of trending jacket styles that distributors should be aware of, what to know about selling outerwear and how to prepare for any sales challenges you may face in this category. Keep reading to learn what we uncovered.
Style, Fabrics and Decoration
We first asked our supplier experts to go through some of the top promotional outerwear trends they’re watching for the rest of 2019 and into 2020. As usual, retail styes are a good place to start.
“The retail market has a tremendous influence on outerwear trends,” said Eric Rubin, president of Blue Generation, Long Island City, N.Y. “We see strong growth in our micro-fleece polar fleece, especially in vests where the layered look has become extremely popular. Pairing up a gingham check shirt with a coordinating polar fleece vest color has become one of our strongest selling ‘uniforms’ for us this year.”
Layering remains a major trend, in general, so that makes sense. And vests are a smart option there, especially considering their revered status in certain young professional circles, like finance and tech.
Packable and lightweight jackets are also big in retail right now. Pieces that are easy to store (and fold up into essentially nothing) should have high value for end-users. And, according to Breanna Woicekowski, merchandiser for Vantage Apparel, Avenel, N.J., these styles are becoming top sellers. “Large buyers are looking for outerwear pieces that have nine-month use with added benefits such as packability, water repellency or reflective details,” she said.
Woicekowski pointed to quilting, functional features, stretch fabrics and Sherpa-like fleeces as other outerwear style trends to watch. That’s no surprise, as these are the features and styles already lining store shelves. And from a purely style standpoint, Marcia Cumberledge, vice president of merchandising for Cincinnati-based TSC Apparel, said bombers and nylon jackets are big in certain markets (especially band or concert merchandise) as well as at retail. “I see this trend continuing into 2020,” she said.
Aside from style trends, it also helps to know what type of decoration is popular and how to decide on the proper process. “From a merchandising and design standpoint, when selling outerwear and jackets, making sure appropriate decoration methods and placements are used [is important],” said Woicekowski. “[An example would be] not showing decoration in placements that could be restrictive like over pockets or near zippers.”
Rubin, meanwhile, said sublimated prints and custom logos—which Blue Generation began offering in hood linings—have exploded in popularity. He also said triblends, heavyweight fleece and lightweight fleece remain popular fabrications.
Shoo Passey, director of global product design and development for Polyconcept North America (PCNA), Pittsburgh, and Nathan Cordier, regional sales manager, also for PCNA, explained that embroidery and transfers are the most popular decoration methods for Trimark, PCNA’s apparel division. They also recommended looking for fabrics with performance features.
“The flexibility, function and durability of a synthetic yarn are key for effective protection from the elements,” said Cordier and Passey. “The key trend this time of year is the focus on hydrophobic fabric, which is great for wet or damp environments. So, in the fall/winter when rain and snow are prevalent in most regions, it’s the fabric that’s most sought after.”
As with any product category, there are some challenges and elements unique to selling jackets and outerwear. Foremost among them is price. These items are, by nature, more expensive than most other apparel items, especially if they’re of retail quality. And that higher price brings with it some additional hazards for distributors and decorators.
“The biggest challenge has always been price point,” said Cumberledge. “A lot of customers are hesitant because if they damage one or two in an embroidery run, it is a costly mistake (versus one or two tees when printing).”
Another issue is sizing. The ability to provide a range of sizes is important for distributors selling any kind of apparel, but jackets and outerwear may present more limited options than, say, T-shirts.
“Since outerwear and jackets have a high perceived value as a gift, it’s important that the piece fits well,” said Cordier and Passey. “Using a supplier that offers many sizes along with men’s and ladies’ options can help you outfit a large group of people with a jacket that fits everyone well. Added details and styling come into play here, which generally makes showing multiple styles to the end-user the best option.”
And, of course, the usual promo best practices apply. “It is important to know the customers’ end-user before suggesting the type of outerwear,” said Cumberledge. “Knowing the end-user and what they’re looking for will help determine the best outerwear selection for them.”
“Outerwear and jackets have the most longevity when it comes to promotional apparel because the user sees value in them,” added Cordier and Passey. “When deciding on what piece to select, make sure you are thinking about 1) how it will be used and 2) what branding makes the most sense for both the immediate and future needs of the user. This way, the brand will get the most impressions possible, because every time that piece is worn, their brand is getting visibility. That being said, it’s extremely important to choose a quality piece that will hold up year over year so the user can continue to wear it, and the brand can continue to get impressions.”