Soften the Sell
It may be between seasons; it may be chilly with the air conditioning blasting; or it may be so frigid outside that a heavy jacket just doesn't provide enough warmth. In all of these cases, fleece is key to staying warm. End-users can wear fleece year-round to stay comfortable inside or outside, at work or while working out.
Promo Marketing spoke to Alia Shah, merchandiser for Ash City USA, Lenexa, Kan., and Terry Chen, general manager for Landway International, San Francisco, about what you should know about this popular apparel fabric.
Fleece provides versatility to end-users. "It can be worn during multiple seasons as a mid-layer or an outer layer," Shah said. "It provides warmth without too much bulk."
Chen agreed, adding that fleece is not only a casual piece, but can also be paired with professional attire. He noted that fleece is tied with polo shirts in terms of popularity in the promotional market—as fleece garments are found in most closets. "Of course this means maximizing advertising impressions and high ROI," he pointed out, referring to its frequent use. "Value makes fleece very popular because of its relative low cost for the outerwear category. Landway's wholesale price on fleece ranges from $9 to $13, which is similar to many polo shirts in the market, but [fleece] has a higher perceived value."
WHO WANTS FLEECE?
Versatility plays a role again when it comes to types of end-users. Fleece could make a good fit for almost anyone, Chen said, indicating events, staff uniforms and client giveaways are popular choices. "Every industry from tech, medical, sports, beverage to automotive from all across the country finds uses for fleece." he said. "Fleece—both cotton and synthetic—is as Americana as you can get with outerwear."
Shah added possibilities, like trade shows, team wear, car dealerships and retail, and elaborated on its usefulness for end-users, regardless of where they live. "Fleece can replace heavy outerwear if the end-user is in a mild temperature environment, or if they have to move around a lot, it may be a more comfortable and practical option," she explained. "It can also act as a mid-layer to throw over a T-shirt if they need extra warmth."
ALL ARE NOT EQUAL
Fleece can vary in weight, density and overall durability. Chen explained how Landway makes its soft fleece. "We use double [the] number of yarns in our fleece, which doubles the density and achieves better color consistency," he said.
Shah noted that adding extra features, like wicking, will depend on the intended use. "If the client is looking for performance features, you may offer them a fleece piece that includes moisture-wicking and active-inspired features, including storm cuffs with thumbholes," she explained. "If your client is looking for warmth and comfort, an anti-pill fleece jacket will keep them warm and protected."
Anti-pilling is also important when it comes to durability, Chen noted. "We want fleece to look the same even after machine washing and drying for over a year," he said.
IMPRINT OF CHOICE
Chen suggested embroidery as the go-to imprint method. "The color of the threads and slightly raised logo makes the fleece look even more rich," he said.
Shah agreed that embroidery is traditional for anti-pill fleece, but suggested another option for activewear fleece. "For a brushed-back performance fleece piece, heat seal looks great and offers a more updated/active look to the garment," she said.
So what is new in the fleece genre? Both the look and feel of fleece are changing. In terms of appearance, major retail brands are leading the way with bold colors. In addition to heathered colors expanding beyond gray, bright fleeces are gaining attention. "Folks in the promo industry are looking for colors other than the traditional black, navy and charcoal. … People want to wear current, in-style colors," Chen said. "And not just traditional bright colors, like red and purple, but new color shades that show off performance and confidence, like electric blue, lime green, deep burnt orange."
Shah also mentioned that visual interest and performance features are defining this year's fleeces. "Mélange (French word for 'mixture') fabric has been used in our fleece pieces this season, including the North End Performance Fleece Jacket, Victory, which adds a professional and presentable look to an active piece," Shah noted. "Moisture wicking has also been added to many of our fleece styles, including within the North End Color-Block Fleece Jacket, Strike, making it a perfect go-to style to keep you comfortable all day long."