Video Meetings and Remote Work Are Here to Stay: What It Means for Promotional Polos and Business Casual Apparel
The way we dress for work has changed. That makes sense considering the way we go to work has changed.
When remote work started last March, most of us thought it would be a temporary thing—two weeks, maybe a month. A year later, that temporary change has become permanent for many workers. Some businesses are using a hybrid model, where employees do a mix of in-person and remote work. Others are returning to 100% in-office work as Americans get vaccinated and infection rates drop.
Here’s what this new way of business life, full of variety and new means of connecting with coworkers and customers, means for distributors selling polos and business casual apparel.
Let’s first look at the business casual apparel market overall. Even before the pandemic set in, new trends were emerging, as people wanted more than just a stiff polo or dress shirt.
“In business casual, we’ve seen a little bit of a transformation from your typical heavy, starch pique types of polos and dress shirts, and it’s moving toward more moisture-wicking, more lightweight, more functionality,” said Juan Sanchez, regional sales manager, corporate division for Cutter & Buck, Seattle. “That, as well as some sort of eco-friendly story. A lot of customers are always asking for something—something that uses less water, less energy, environmentally friendly, just something they can pass along to their customers and try to tell that story.”
For the environmentally conscious, that might mean a shirt that works for the bicycle commute to work, or on the (often sweaty) subway or bus.
“Moisture-wicking polos have become one of the biggest-selling categories at Blue Generation, with our Blue-X Dry formulation,” said Eric Rubin, president of Blue Generation, Long Island City, N.Y. “They are comfortable to wear due to their breathability, [and are] stain- and wrinkle-resistant, keeping you looking fresh and crisp all day. Technological advances in textiles allow for very fine polyester fibers, creating an incredibly soft fabric that people love to wear. Gone are the days when a polyester shirt can stand up by itself.”
Think Different With Decoration
Also gone are the days of meeting with all of your clients in person. We can’t get into the business apparel world without mentioning video meetings. We’ve all spent our fair share of time on Zoom. We joke about taking calls in our sweatpants, as long as our shirt on top looks professional, but it’s true. More than the shirt itself looking professional, apparel decorators now have to take that Zoom window and visibility into account when they’re placing a logo. “[The pandemic] has actually birthed more decoration locations, too, that are not so much left-chest,” Sanchez said. “You’re seeing a lot more touches on the collar, upper-left or upper-right shoulder, things that are more visible in a Zoom setting.”
These are things you might not think about right away. Hey, the shirt says your customer’s name on it. As long as your shirt is visible, that’s fine, right?
Not necessarily. Depending on your screen size and webcam placement, that logo might be completely hidden. Placing a logo on a collar, however, is a safe call and will look good even once we’re back to fully in-person meetings and networking.
In the meantime, however, it’s a good thing to consider. But you have to also consider a garment’s construction, and whether that decoration technique is doable.
“It’s a little bit different because when you’re embroidering left chest on a polo or sleeve, you hoop it and you have plenty of room to work with in the fabric,” Sanchez said. “It’s pretty much a cookie-cutter process. Sometimes if you’re embroidering upper-left shoulder, you might have a seam running through there, or the collar might be two-tone and have some stitching on it. It’s not as easy to decorate because it’s still relatively new in the decoration world, and just the way the garment is structured sometimes limits you on where you can decorate. But you’re seeing more and more little touches on places that aren’t the standard left chest decoration for sure in our world.”
Sanchez added that these new decorating trends have caused some decorators to change their approaches, or maybe think twice before accepting a job.
“It’s not a clear-cut ‘yes,’ you know?” he said. “You get a garment and you’re like, ‘Can you put something on my left chest?’ Yeah, that’s no problem—99% of the time, they could do it. But you hand someone a garment and you’re like, ‘Can you put this on my upper left collar?’ It’s a little more [like], ‘Well, maybe, let me see.’ It’s forced our decorators to adapt, because they’re getting a lot more oddball requests of decoration locations that aren’t your typical left chest or right bicep or back of neck type position. And, yes, we are keeping that in mind when creating some styles, I’m sure. In the past, we might’ve had an all-over print or pattern on the collar or neckline. Now we’re leaving some styles open to those decoration locations.”
The Casual Revolution
Even before the pandemic, companies were starting to relax their dress codes. For most office workers in the U.S., wearing a full suit and tie every day to work is overkill. This created more opportunities for polos and business casual apparel. Blue Generation, for example, is seeing increased demand for button-down shirts meant to be left untucked for a more dressed-down, but tailored, look.
“Our ‘untucked collection’ of checks and plaids are the perfect upgrade to a polo,” Rubin said. “They are fashionable, upscale and comfortable to wear. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in sales in our untucked men’s and ladies’ denim shirt collection. [It] seems to be the perfect answer to today’s casual corporate look.”
Other businesses that use uniforms are even giving their workers options and opportunities for creativity. A company store can stock things like polos, dress shirts, vests or sweaters—all of which can be mixed and matched to create different outfits, while maintaining a unified corporate look. At a time where the lack of in-person events took a chunk out of distributors’ business, Sanchez noted that distributors who worked on company stores and similar projects for clients fared pretty well over the last year.
“Company stores have been our lifeblood during the pandemic,” he said. “As you know, the event business and the ad hoc, ‘Hey, I’ve got a thousand people meeting, and I need something to show who we are,’ it’s not gone, but it’s not as high demand right now. So, the distributors that kind of transitioned to web store or company store-type businesses, we’ve seen actually a bump in some cases in some of our customers’ business that really focused on the web store or company store business, and got out of that event [focus.]”
The theme here is evolution, both in the way that shirt styles reflect the desires of customers, and in how distributors tailor their sales approaches to the current demand.
“It’s really the [distributors] that have adapted to the e-commerce platform that have actually done better in some cases in the pandemic,” Sanchez said. “It’s not common at all, but there are some success stories of people that have maintained through web store business and company store business.”