SURVIVAL OF THE Fittest
FROM THEIR INCEPTION as appropriate-for-daytime-wear wardrobe standby (or inappropriate, depending on who’s doing the judging), T-shirts have been the put-upon younger brother
of the apparel clan. Slacker. Underachiever. Slob. Uniform of the basement-dwelling video-game player, or worse, the go-to garment for sweaty work outside or on a treadmill.
Yet, in the last 10 years or so, there’s been a bit of a shake-up in the hierarchy. T-shirts grew up. In fact, they became king.
In an effort to emanate a more offbeat vibe, many designers began adding them to their collections, emblazoned with rock-and-roll icons and/or ironic witticisms. Likewise, in a nod toward the inherent versatility of the T-shirt, still others sent models down the runway sans the bells and whistles with a more classic, on-the-boat-in-the-Hamptons take on the piece. They were usually paired with a cropped blazer of some sort, for the record.
In the promotional products arena, the coup of the T-shirt might have, true to form, happened slightly later, yet in the past few years especially, its evolution has been exponentially catching up. The metamorphosis has been chronicled annually in the pages of this very publication. Two years ago, in PM’s February 2006 T-shirt overview, “Go Sheer and Light-weight,” erstwhile editor Jennifer Hans reported changes in fabric weight were replacing
the heavier choices of the past. And just last year, Cynthia Graham identified
customization as the current trend. Today, there are three distinct categories that are
giving T-shirts more visibility than ever. It’s important to note the new developments are only building on past years’ progress, and as Alon Shafigi, CEO of Rancho Dominguez, California-based Next Level Apparel noted, the best is yet to come. “The market is tired of seeing the regular, boring 18 single tee,” he said. “It has taken a huge step forward into fashionable tees with incredible, creative designs.”
THREE STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Among those “incredible, creative designs” are those having to do with the T-shirt fabric itself, its shape and an influx of embellishments. Below, these three advancements are discussed further:
1) Special effects. Next Level Apparel, as well as industry suppliers such as Los Angeles-based People’s Apparel and Alternative Apparel in Norcross, Ga., has been promoting its “burnout” patterns, which happens by way of a chemical process that reduces fabrics to their sheerest point. Next Level Apparel has a poly/cotton burnout
T-shirt as well as a style that features a sheer jersey body with long, burnout sleeves, Shafigi said. While this is a new addition to the Next Level product line, he added, “We are very proud of this design and are getting really great feedback.” As an added bonus, Shafigi commented, the non-burnout body of the jersey style lends more room for imprinting.
The shift to more on-trend detailing (which mimics
a vintage, distressed look), will set promotional
T-shirts up to be noticed on their own stylish merits.
Mindy Anastos, marketing and merchandising
manager at L.A. T Sportswear in Ball Ground, Ga., maintained, “T-shirts are worn for going out and for setting a fashion statement. As this happens,
T-shirts are being adorned with more upscale designs and fashion details.”
2) Flattering fits. Though T-shirts are finally being taken out on the town, distributors would be remiss in neglecting the item as a corporate-wearables mainstay. Consequently, better cuts and silhouettes make the new T-shirt a business-friendly garment. “T-shirts are becoming acceptable wear in business-casual environments,” Anastos said. “This means they need to be tailored with flattering fits and refined finishing details.”
In this vein, promotional apparel suppliers such as Kavio!, Commerce, Calif., and S&S Activewear in Bolingbrook, Ill., are boasting new selections including a Missy line (designed to fit the average woman) and longer T-shirt lengths, respectively.
For end-buyers outside the office, in a similar move, L.A.T Sportswear has added a longer juniors style, as well as a three-quarter sleeve
V-neck, Anastos reported. “In this particular market [juniors], the fashions are getting longer in length and this product will help address those fashion concerns,” she added.
3) New embellishments. The call for higher
style options goes beyond even the fabric and cut of the T-shirt. Creativity in imprinting is growing in popularity, bringing new logo ideas and incarnations
into the market. “Rather than just putting a
company name in regular bold letters on a regular T-shirt, [end-buyers] are now using sublimation,
discharging, crazy foil treatments and crazy
embellishments,” Shafigi said.
Advancements in decorating technology mean higher-quality logos, greater use of metallics as well as the addition of rhinestones, grommets and nailheads. “There are so many new ideas the printing market is using and it’s turning these tees into something everyone wants to wear,” he added.
With all these developments, and more on the horizon, promotional wearables suppliers and
distributors can be sure the T-shirt will continue to grow and change in order to meet the needs of an increasingly retail-conscious industry.