Eye On Apparel: It's Not 'Just' A T-Shirt
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Very few promotional products have staying power akin to t-shirts. From when fashion t-shirts went mainstream in the ’60s to now, custom-printed tees have stuck for more than six decades as one of the most-popular clothing items ever. In a world where businesspeople are buckling down on innovation and consumers are busy adapting, the simplicity and effortlessness of t-shirts is what makes this medium one of the most-successful products in promo history.
T-shirts can be designed to stand for anything, really, from ads and self-promo to politics, souvenirs, fundraisers, safety, hierarchy, team uniformity and sheer style, and can interplay with self-expression. “Tees and apparel are so unique in that you can turn your customers into walking billboards,” says Michael Johnson, director of marketing, American casualwear, with supplier HanesBrand in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“T-shirts are the perfect inexpensive way to promote your brand, an event, convey a message or unite your team,” adds Eric J. Rubin, president of Long Island City, New York, supplier Blue Generation. “Everyone loves to wear a t-shirt and we all have our favorite one. It is no doubt the No. 1 selling piece of apparel in the market.”
Despite having a few dozen t-shirts in his own closet, Rubin says he always gravitates to the same ones. This habit of reaching for certain t-shirts may be due to preference, but it’s also because t-shirts serve as tactile reminders of memories. Browsing through a t-shirt collection is akin to flipping through a scrapbook, and it’s the reason why people keep old t-shirts for many years. Some companies, such as Project Repat in Boston are dedicated to creating custom quilts from old t-shirts so customers can hold onto these memories indefinitely.
Wearing an old t-shirt is also something that perpetuates t-shirt trends and also shows how designs that stick can influence generations. A popular and widely recognizable t-shirt, for example, bears The Rolling Stones’ iconic Hot Lips logo inspired by Mick Jagger’s mouth. The design was created in April 1970 by a college student and more than a half-century later, it remains popular with department stores such as Kohl’s, Target and Walmart selling these logoed tees. One of Johnson’s favorite t-shirts is one that advertises Portillo’s, a Chicago chain that serves popular area street food like Italian beef sandwiches. He’s been wearing it proudly for years.
“I’m a huge Portillo’s fan and when they opened their first Florida location, they gave away Portillo’s tees with a creative single-hit graphic,” Johnson says. “As a fan, I’m excited to wear a Portillo’s shirt I’ve had in rotation for years, and have been a walking billboard. He adds, “Apparel is especially perfect with your organizations’ happy customers. With a little love on design, they can become big promotional vehicles themselves.”
T-shirts can remind wearers of the places they’ve been, what they hold important to them and the events they’ve been a part of, collectively showcasing their journey to the person they are today. And no matter how many tees consumers have, they’re always happy to receive another as times, movements, popular colors and experiences change.
Of the millions of people harmed, displaced or otherwise affected by the crisis in Ukraine, many are children. PromoCares, a volunteer-driven group of industry members dedicated to corporate, social and environmental responsibility, has rallied promotional products companies to work together to design and release a limited-edition t-shirt to raise money for Save the Children to provide aid to the children affected by the humanitarian crisis.
Coining the term “Compassion over Competition,” PromoCares created a t-shirt of high quality and aesthetic appeal by partnering with industry leaders. S&S Activewear donated the shirts, Vantage Apparel decorated them and they are distributed by alphabroder Prime Line in a reusable, compo stable shipping bag donated by Chameleon Like. Additionally, Gemline will match donations up to $25,000.
The t-shirts, which feature a heart on the front and the words “Our Hearts Are With Ukraine” on the back in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, are available with a minimum $50 donation to Save the Children through PromoCares #Ukraine4Good. The donations will go toward medical supplies, nutritious food, emergency shelters, blankets and more.
There are many programs that collect and rework consumers’ old t-shirts into something new, and California-based supplier Marine Layer is one of them. The supplier’s Re-Spun Program has so far upcycled more than 300,000 t-shirts sent in from over 60,000 donors, and breaks the t-shirts down to the fiber level to sell in its Re-Spun Shop. Donors receive $5 per t-shirt, up to $25, though of course donations are limitless. The Sport Crew Graphic Tee in salsa heather, shown below, is one of many items in the stop and retails for $48.
The Ladies’ Value Wicking V-Neck Tee is ready for a day of activity with BLU-X-DRI moisture-wicking, antimicrobial protection. It’s lightweight and made from 100% snag- and wrinkle-proof polyester, and features a double-needle-stitched V-neck collar. Shown in neon pink. Available in a complementary men’s style.
Blue Generation / PPAI 174655, S11 / www.bluegeneration.com
The Unisex Jersey Short Sleeve Tee is light and casual with a retail fit, and it’s available in a stunning selection of 76 colors. Details include shoulder taping and a crew neck collar. Shown in lavender blue.
BELLA + CANVAS / PPAI 304892 / www.bellacanvas.com
The Gildan Softstyle Ladies’ T-Shirt is a casual tee that’s perfect for layering or wearing alone. Made from 100% cotton, details include a rib-knit neck and hemmed sleeves and bottom. Shown in heather purple.
Vantage Apparel / PPAI 113235, S10 / www.vantageapparel.com
The Core 365 Adult Fusion ChromaSoft Performance T-Shirt is built for activity. Made from 100% polyester jersey, it’s moisture-wicking with antimicrobial properties and a soft feel. Available in 16 colors, shown in acid green.
alphabroder Prime Line / PPAI 156993, S12 / www.alphabroder.com
The Next Level Apparel Ideal Crop Tee is a cropped style, especially popular for summertime concerts and festivals. It’s lightweight and features a one-by-one-inch baby ribbed collar. Shown in desert pink.
Staton Corporate and Casual / PPAI 170839, S12 / www.statononline.com
The Women’s Space Dye Performance Tee, available in a complementary men’s style, is made from yard-dyed polyester treated to have a unique textured effect. With fabric that’s moisture-wicking, antimicrobial and blocks 95% of UV radiation, it’s athleisure-inspired for everyday adventure. Shown in royal.
Charles River Apparel / PPAI 111644, S10 / www.charlesriverapparel.com
You’ll find a t-shirt for everyone with the unisex Basecamp Classic Tee. Made from 100% cotton, it’s pre-shrunk and features a ribbed neck band and crew-neck style. Shown in black.
Sweda Company, LLC / PPAI 113914, S11 / www.swedausa.com
The new Alternative Apparel Modal Tri-Blend Crew tee is the perfect airy pairing to a hot day. Made from an eco-friendly blend of recycled polyester, TENCEL modal and U.S.-grown cotton, it features set-in sleeves and a one-inch ribbed neckband. Shown in desert tan.
Hanes / PPAI 191138, S10 / www.brandwearunited.com
The Kastlfel Unisex RecycledSoft™ T-Shirt features an eco-enzyme finish, which acts as an antimicrobial. It’s made from recycled polyester and cotton, and features a water-based, pad-printed neck label and Kastlfel’s mark of sustainability on the back hem tag. Shown in moss.
S & S Activewear / PPAI 256121, S12 / www.ssactivewear.com
Described as being “absurdly soft,” the Re-Spun Signature Crew is made from a tri-blend of recycled old t-shirts, recycled polyester and sustainable Tencel Lyocell. The standard-fit tee is assembled in the U.S. and available in three colors. Above is the Sierra Club Giving Tee, a limited-edition t-shirt that donated $15 from the sale of each shirt to the environmental organization. Shown in pacific blue.
Marine Layer, Inc. / PPAI 590355,S1/ www.marinelayer.com
Danielle Renda is an associate editor at PPAI.