When Street Meets Smart Dressing
URBAN APPAREL HAS been, for a long time, the preferred dress for younger consumers labeled part of the “Hip-Hop” or “MTV” generation. Bright, intricate prints, flashy embellishments, and both baggier fits as well as closer, truer fits to the body are trademarks of urban apparel. Certainly, plunging neck lines, shorter midriffs and tighter everything have taken up residence in urban fashion circles.
How does this translate to promotional products? According to Chloe Yoon, CEO of Paramount, California-based Unplugged Label, it translates well. “Urban wear [offers a] mostly comfortable and very relaxed fit, so anyone can wear it,” she said. “It fits the promotional industry because promotional clothing will be distributed to many different types of people.”
Yoon, whose line of apparel runs the gamut from cutesy tees and tanks to racy shorts and “skorts,” pointed out urban apparel is not age specific. “Casual clothing is not only for young[er] generations,” she said. “We can easily see nice casual styles in even up to silver ages. This shows that urban wear can become very adaptable to any [age group].”
Who better to discuss urban apparel’s sweep of the promotional products industry than someone who makes a living promoting the Big Apple’s transit system? Lynn Lambert, president and owner of NYC Subway Line, Chappaqua, N.Y., creates must-have designs of New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Subway Line on T-shirts, hoodies, baseball jerseys and hats. “So-called ‘urban fashion’ has become very mainstream with people from kids to teens to adults and even middle-agers wearing or using the items,” she said. “Plus, they’re hip.”
Urban apparel is hip, but, according to Lambert, should not be considered exclusive to the Hip-Hop culture prevalent in most urban communities. “Urban fashion is not just [about] Hip-Hop,” she explained. “In my mind, it encompasses all urban styles and all ethnicities who live in or love the city and city style.”
THE MOVE UPTOWN
Although the promotional products industry is largely conservative, comprised of apparel that trails current fashion trends by several years, Lambert and Yoon said the industry has made room for their products and others like them. “We find that when companies really think about who they are targeting and what those folks might actually want, [they] choose our products [and often] get a tremendous response,” explained Lambert.
Yoon agreed. “The way promotions work is changing,” she said. “Promotions now need newer, fresher and different styles and ideas. Urban wear can be one way to approach new ways of promot[ing].”
And isn’t that what clients want: their products to stand out from the competition? “So many promotional products are perceived as either cheap or dull, and are quickly discarded, sometimes never making it out of the hotel and into the customer’s life,” said Lambert. “More fashion-forward urban products are items that a large number of people, especially 20- and 30-somethings actually want.”
To that end, clients hosting meetings in or around New York City have a treat waiting for them. “For the right size order, we can custom make tees or hats using the subway stop signs near the venue or the customer’s location,” explained Lambert. Others of the company’s popular non-apparel products include all-over print transit map messenger bags and wallets.
Distributors whose clients are ready to try a more citified approach to meeting their apparel needs should consider Unplugged Label’s inside-out T-shirt, its raw-edged tee or its heather thermal long sleeve T-shirt—one of the company’s best sellers. Yoon said the game and animation industry is one of the markets most interested in these kinds of garments. Furthermore, she said food and drink companies catering to young children are also prime clients for urban wear.
Proof that urban fashions transcend people and businesses of every kind, NYC Subway Line has supplied products for doctor and lawyer conventions, for various New York benefits and corporate meetings, as well as for the “elite runners who come in for the NYC Marathon,” noted Lambert.
Two of the biggest trends found in embellishment of urban wear have to do with color and print. “Very colorful print in overall repeat patters, rhinestone ‘bling’ and metallics are very in these days,” added Lambert.
As far as fabrication goes, Yoon said those such as burn-out fabrics, Slub fabrics, heather-colored fabrics and organic materials are hot in urban fashion. She even pointed out that combining various embellishment techniques on one garment is all the rage. “Urban wear can be decorated with combinations of discharge print, screen print and foil print all on one piece,” she said. “Designs can also be made with patches, crystal and metal beads all at the same time.”
Even with the success NYC Subway Line has experienced since its inception in 1995, Lambert said there are challenges the company faces. “We are a small company that is experiencing tremendous growth,” she said. “For the products that are made off-shore, it’s frustrating to have a long lead time when we sell out.”
For skeptical distributors still unsure of how to sell urban apparel, Lambert offered this advice: “Perhaps, just get the customers to think about it, be willing to break out of the mold,” she said. “I believe that while the industry is very creative, it tends to concentrate that creativity on throw-away items, or embellish products in a way the recipients don’t want to wear or use. I think that’s just a waste of marketing money.”
Both suppliers said combining street wear with the promotional products industry is a smart thing to do. “I’d say that anyone smart enough to do this right now is going to break through the clutter that’s out there and make themselves and their company look good. Unless, of course, you want to give someone another boring black date book,” concluded Lambert.