The 2020 Style Guide: Promotional Apparel for Changing Times
Fashion trends and styles are forever changing. What once was popular a few months ago may no longer be in style, or maybe a newer trend has taken over. That’s especially true now, as the world looks a lot different than it did to start the year and changes by the day. But that’s part of what makes promotional apparel so important. It’s inclusive. It’s adaptable. There’s something for everyone and every situation.
This year’s Style Guide puts that on full display. There’s a mix of everything—business attire, casual looks, caps, socks, activewear and even accessories. To find out more about what’s trending in these categories, Promo Marketing chatted with Vicki Ostrom, trend editor for SanMar, Issaquah, Wash.; Lisa Denham, marketing director at Executive Apparel, Philadelphia; Tosha Everhart, sock boss at Sock101, Kansas City, Mo.; and John Perez, marketing manager for Tri-Mountain, Irwindale, Calif. We broke down their feedback into four sections: casual wear, business attire and uniforms, footwear, and outdoor and athletic apparel. Let’s see what’s in style.
Since most folks are no longer operating in their usual office settings, casual apparel has become the new normal. For many, that’s an unexpected perk of self-isolation. A good graphic T-shirt to support a favorite restaurant or band, or maybe just a simple, comfortable tee to pair with joggers for walks outside, is essential.
“I would identify one top trend as ‘the mix,’ said Ostrom. “This way of dressing showcases the unique personality of the wearer—what they like to do through items with graphic statements or that reflect an event attended or support for a cause. In the case of resale, recycled or upcycled items, they are taking a stand on environmental causes or sustainability. In this trend, the idea is not to tout any particular brand, but to create a personal brand through curated clothing choices.”
Simplicity and minimalist styles and designs are also big. “Minimalism is a trend that seems to be here to stay,” said Ostrom. “Core colors such as black, gray, ivory, bone and cream colors are trending in retail. Interesting textures and a variety of weights, from lightweight performance base layers to soft and cozy midweight layers, are all coming together. They create wardrobes that go from January to December with just a few layers either on or off.”
Ostrom said eco-friendly products are near the top of the list for young consumers, noting that SanMar’s eco-focused District Re-Tee has been a best-seller since it launched in January.
“The 100 percent recycled, never re-dyed content and engaging visual storytelling about how the product is created have been a favorite of any company looking to engage with the Gen Z,” she said. “This age group, perhaps more than any other, is getting behind eco-friendly products, and they want to understand how these items are made.”
What’s Selling Now
With all the change going on currently, it’s important for distributors to know what kind of orders are happening. Ostrom shared some examples.
“Company branded apparel promotes a sense of togetherness and team bonding and has never been more important or more welcome than now,” she said. “With the trend toward working from home, video conference meetings can be a place to share team spirit if everyone is wearing their company branded hoodie, tee or quarter-zip. Grocery store employees, food delivery personnel and warehouse workers are some of the groups for whom team spirit apparel can go far in keeping up morale.”
Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 outbreak, small businesses like restaurants and bars have taken big hits. People are now staying home as much as possible and practicing social distancing, and these businesses aren’t seeing the same traffic or regular customers they’re used to. But many have turned to T-shirts or other branded apparel that customers can buy to still support their favorite places.
“Graphic tees, hoodies and aprons are being emblazoned with messages of empowerment and branding by beloved restaurants and bars, and are being bought by die-hard fans who want to remember and support their favorite establishments by buying product if they can’t buy food or beverages right now,” she said.
Business Attire and Uniforms
When it comes to business attire, one of the biggest myths is that it’s not comfortable to wear. But Denham explained that comfort is at the top of the list for both men’s and women’s business attire, and even career and school uniforms, too.
“In the women’s career wear market there seems to be a real emphasis on power styles, comfort and a hat tip to feminine flair,” she said. “Television shows and films with powerful female leads drive the look, as well as ready-to-wear designers. Comfort is always the key to menswear, but in recent years there has been a shift to less casual comfort styles. Uniform styles are less boxy than they used to be. Men who wear uniforms are now concerned with fit and comfort.”
As for career and school uniforms, the key to great promotional apparel is a mix of comfort and easy cleaning. “In career uniforms and school uniforms, quick and easy laundering is imperative. Add a little comfort stretch to that and you have a great uniform,” Denham said. “We recently switched most of our UltraLux Blazers to UltraLux Motion, a poly-stretch blend for added comfort and mobility. All of our Club Colors now come in UltraLuxMotion stretch-poly.”
Denham said that the Lisa Stretch Pant has been a best-seller in 2020. A new style in Executive Apparel’s collection, it has “just the right amount of stretch and a flattering new style,” Denham said. That’s something women have been looking for.
“We know that stretch is a big plus for uniform end-users,” said Denham. “The colors match perfectly to the non-stretch fabric, so the value just increased. With the Lisa Pant, we researched the most popular pants in the most popular retail stores to see what attributes they had. We tried to incorporate those attributes in the Lisa Pant. Women know their favorite styles and fit, and they expect the same in a company uniform. We hear these things from our distributors, so we tried to give them exactly what they wanted.”
Retro Is In
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen retro designs and styles coming back in virtually every product category, but especially in apparel. According to Everhart, it’s even a popular trend in footwear.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of retro designs and athleisure styles coming forward,” she said. “Old-school athletic crew socks with just that stripe look up top. Tie-dye especially! Shoe designs are bold but with retro flare.”
Everhart explained that what’s popular in footwear styles has shifted since the beginning of the year. With the majority of people currently working from home, styles have moved in that direction as end-buyers change promotional strategy to accommodate remote staff.
“In the beginning of 2020 to now, the best-seller has definitely shifted,” she said. “Currently, best-sellers are fuzzy socks, ankle socks with grips on the bottom and slide sandals. We are seeing tons of these styles for ‘working from home’ kits. Along with those kits, we are seeing a huge increase in drop ship projects.”
Socks offer a lot of opportunities for variety and creativity. Whether it’s plain white or black socks or ones that have funky designs, the options are almost endless. Everhart’s decoration advice is simple: have fun with it. “With the ability to fully customize our socks and shoes, it allows for full creativity, so be as wild or minimalistic as you’d prefer,” she said.
Outdoor and Activewear
Trends and Popular Items
“Retail is always there, influencing our designers and challenging us to get ahead of them,” said Perez. “Functionality is super important too. Yes, we want our apparel to look amazing, but we also want it to have a function. Functional apparel doesn’t go out of style as often. [In addition,] pop culture, social media influencers are making gains.”
In other words, when in doubt, look to the influencers to see what styles are likely coming into fashion. Perez also mentioned three items that have been best-sellers for Tri-Mountain—its Luxe polos, performance double-knit jackets and bomber jackets.
This last item, in particular, has become increasingly popular and can be worn for a few different occasions. Plus, depending on the material and thickness, jackets can get multiple seasons of use, so they have lasting promotional power throughout the year.
Perez said embroidery remains big, but Tri-Mountain has seen an uptick in screen printing, too. “Embroidery still rules because of affordability [and] its versatility on many types of fabric,” he said. “Tri-Mountain is now screen printing because we’ve had the demand from our customers to start offering this as an in-house decoration solution.”