Women's Promotional Apparel: Trends, Styles and Decoration
Fashion trends can be as fickle as the seasons. One day, you’re frolicking in the autumn air while beautiful, multicolored leaves fall all around you, and the next you find yourself inside as a snowstorm ruins any chance you have of seeing the sun for the next week. Similarly, an apparel trend this week can be worthless the next. In women’s promotional apparel, this harsh truth is even more prominent. In order to stay fresh, distributors have to adapt to trends, identify the ones that will endure, and update styles and decorations to fit the modern end-user.
We know, it sounds like a lot, but luckily we’ve spoken with several promotional apparel professionals who were more than willing to share their advice for women’s wear styles in 2018.
Let’s start with the most important question of all: What exactly are end-buyers looking for in promotional women’s wear? To get to the bottom of this inquiry, we asked Lisa Denham, marketing director for Executive Apparel, Philadelphia, to weigh in with her thoughts.
“Buyers are asking for more hybrid-type garments that can work for semi-casual and professional situations,” she explained. “Their end-users want clothes that can move seamlessly from workday wear to after-work. With more millennials than ever entering the workforce, some in buying positions, we’re finding that branded casual blazers are being requested more for uniforms and promotional apparel.”
Here’s a trend we can all agree on: workwear that doubles as casual attire. As dress codes become increasingly more lenient, modern workers are looking for versatile outfits to wear, and look good in, both at the office and on the street. This trend is crucial in women’s wear at the moment, and end-buyers know it.
What other trends are going strong right now? Jennifer Oleksik, design and merchandising manager for LAT Apparel, Ball Ground, Ga., had a few observations.
“Vintage looks are definitely right along side the urban trend,” she said. “It’s about borrowing specific elements from the vintage trends—think old-school ringers, yarn-dyed ribs, worn/distressed fabrics, super soft hand-feel, distressed graphics. These all nod back to that vintage inspiration.”
Trends such as vintage and urban are definitely here to stay, but they aren’t the only ones to watch out for in 2018. With athleisure and business casual on a continual upward trend, it may seem tantalizing when dreaming about the next big thing in women’s promotional apparel. But where should one look when identifying hit trends? Oleksik weighed in here.
“The promotional industry usually takes a year or two to catch up to retail trends,” she said. “People don’t want to take the risk on something unless it is proven. Pursuing a trend in the promo industry means that trend has had a long enough lifespan and the general population understands it and has bought into it for a long period of time. Sometimes it is borrowing inspiration from a retail trend without completely going after it.”
While retail trends can prove lucrative for the promotional apparel industry, there are ways for distributors to get ahead of the curve, and being knowledgeable about decoration is one of them. According to Andy Shuman, general manager of Rockland Embroidery Inc., Topton, Pa., decoration can provide a key to understanding, identifying and even creating fashionable designs.
“I think the most general piece of advice I’d continue to give promotional products distributors is to think from a fashion standpoint,” he offered. “While not all end-user clients will give you authorization to change or alter their logo, it is important, whenever possible, to educate them as to what type of embroidery or print is going to yield the best result.”
“For example, a left-chest design on a woven shirt or polo, especially when embroidered, is probably best with items such as phone numbers and websites left out of the picture,” he continued. “From an advertising perspective, consumers are probably not picking up your phone number or web address from embroidery on a polo shirt anyway, and your client’s logo will inevitably look much better without it.”
Oleksik also had some advice on decoration. “Decorating trends change just as fashion trends do,” she said. “Keep an eye on the market and what is out there. Decoration will fluctuate from heavy prints to small embroideries and everything in between. The most important thing to remember is who your customer is and what is the best decoration for the garment. Keep in mind the fit/cut of the garment, necklines, fabrics and how the end-user will style that garment before you decide on your decoration approach.”
But how do distributors know that they’re doing the right thing when it comes to decoration? Oleksik weighed in on this as well, offering equal parts caution and encouragement in the process.
“Make sure the decoration fits the garment and the customer, and don’t try to force it,” she said. “Right now, when it comes to screen printing, the softer the hand, the better. Water-based inks cost a little more, but will retail for more because the quality is top notch. Costs can also be managed by using strong one- and two-color graphics instead of multiple colors.”
“Embroideries are generally a little more costly than printing,” Oleksik continued. “But keep with the same thought—simple, one-color. You can even do a small embroidery decoration and make a big impact. Think outside the box of the standard ‘left chest’ placement. Do a hem placement on a ladies’ or a sleeve decoration on a men’s tee.”
So, what sorts of business and casual styles are women looking for in 2018? Our professionals weighed in.
“We find that women appreciate variety in their uniform programs, which is why we always focus on adding new styles to the tried-and-true classics,” Denham said. “We focus on variety for our women’s blazer collection, too, and just added two new semi-casual blazers for women. With the younger workforce filling a new wave of semi-casual workplaces, we added some stylish, economical choices to our line.”
Oleksik focused more on casual styles. “Curvy is hitting the market heavily and is only continuing to trend upwards,” she explained. “It’s a newer concept for the general public to understand, but it is very important to recognize and become educated on this category of women’s apparel, as it affects a huge percentage of our female population. In addition, relaxed styles, longer lengths and athleisure fashion are where the market is continuing.”
According to Shuman, performance fabrics and business casual styles look to be strong options for the upcoming year as well.
Lightweight performance fabrics seemingly remain very popular due to the comfort and ease of care,” he said. “As a contract decorator, we are continuing to see an uptick in brand name apparel as well as fashion cuts. Ladies quarter-zips seem to be having a great bit of growth. They’ve been popular and will likely stick around. In basics, fashion tees have experienced enormous growth.”
With so much going on in the way of style and decoration trends, one thing is certain: There is plenty of room for growth and innovation in promotional women’s wear. All it takes is knowing what to ask, and where to look.