The Flannel Phenomenon and Decoration
A few years ago we began seeing more patterned woven sport shirts in the promotional products industry. Checks, plaids and stripes were more abundant in a plethora of different fabric types, from broadcloth to poplin and better 80s two-ply, some featuring the no-iron performance of wrinkle-free, stain and soil topical treatments, and stretch.
The first plaid, yarn dyed flannel shirts appeared in our marketplace, some like the Burnside young men's brand from our friends at Scope Imports in Houston, as branded items in long-sleeve button-down collar models. The greater assortments of check, plaids and stripes, along with the dobby weaves and surface-interest textures, opened the door for the flannel shirt in the promotional channel.
What strikes me as utterly amazing is that, as we examine the influx of the yarn dyed flannel shirts in today’s wholesale distributor catalog assortments, we soon see that the flannel shirt has surpassed that commodity name tag that was associated with it for so long. We are seeing new pocket treatments, “edgy” stitching techniques, contrast thread colors in sewing, and distinct young men's modeling and size specifications, while also a distinct traditional classic version of the shirt in both private label and branded labels. This, of course, includes the traditional color palettes of greens, burgundy, brown, gold, red and heather greys.
The long-held joke in manufacturing circles, pertaining to our beloved yarn dyed plaid flannel shirt, always began and ended with price. How cheap? How low did you land that flannel shirt? The plaid flannel shirt was a disposable item at $4 or less, mass-produced using questionable-quality fabric, to be sold at a bargain basement special price in a local big box retailer catering to the masses, the oil fields, the transient workers of the world, left in a hotel room and discarded. That was the life cycle of the typical retail-purchased plaid flannel shirt.
Today’s yarn dyed plaid flannel shirt is constructed with better yarns and better fabrics, heavier yarns such as the 16x16 yarn sizes, and tighter constructions such as 70x60, all woven with a double-sided brushing technique that brings out the true loft of the yarns and surface hand-feel. Almost exclusively made in 100 percent cotton yarns, today’s flannel shirts call to the outdoor lifestyle and are go-to for the long-sleeve fall/autumn assortment.
This is the classic, traditional plaid flannel shirt your grandfather wore, and the same color palette that your father wore under his waders when he went duck hunting in the marshes—the same shirt that stood out and is the calling card of the great catalog companies such as L.L. Bean, Land's End, Cabela's and many others. Today’s flannel brings fashion, comfort and performance.
As the checks, plaids and stripes in the base cloths, such as the broadcloth, poplins and micro twills, cleared the path in the promotional channel for the flannel shirt to gain a hold, the question of decorating was never far behind:
Can we embroider the check or the plaid shirt ?
For so long, we have embroidered solid vehicles in knit and woven shirtings. There was never any question or doubt on how to achieve this—just hoop and embroider.
But with the advent and growth of the yarn dyed patterned shirts in our marketplace, especially the plaid flannel shirt, we soon realized that these patterned products presented a challenge in embroidery. We had to be careful and certain in our hooping techniques, and had to always keep clear of the horizontal and vertical sight lines that come with patterned yarn dyed shirts. These sight lines come with the distinct possibility that an embroidery hoop that is set 1/8” off will read crooked to the naked eye, and thus, you will have a crooked logo or company name.
But decorating the yarn dyed flannel shirt, or the 80’s two-ply no-iron gingham check shirt, can be done—and quite nicely. Tonal thread colors, on-the-cuff logos, center-back decorating and good old left-chest above-pocket placements are all excellent choices for embroidery of the plaid flannel shirts in today’s assortments.
Long thought to be untouchable for our marketplace, the retail styling and patterned shirtings were rarely found in promotional products channels because there was always that nagging question of embroidery.
But no longer. Embrace the flannel phenomenon in today's catalog pages and embroider away! Take your time when setting your hoops, but enjoy the freedom you have in a growing assortment of products that were once off-limits to the promotional channel.
Related story: The 2018 Promotional Apparel Preview
David J. Bebon is CEO of DBEBZ Apparel, a manufacturer of woven and knit sport shirts. Before that, he was executive vice president of Capital Mercury Apparel for 18 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Zoe and four children. Bebon is a frequent speaker and presenter at industry trade shows and is contributing writer for several trade publications.