David Bebon has a broad view of the retail and promotional apparel industries, having previously managed dress and sportswear segments for Walmart in the early 1990s and then special markets for Capital Mercury Apparel for 13 years. Today, the founder of DBEBZ Apparel and the principal behind the recent launch of Backpacker (asi/48746) has seen the industry vastly change, particularly in one key area: “The lag time between retail and promotional apparel,” he says, “has evaporated.”
When it comes to apparel, tomorrow’s promotional trends are no longer yesterday’s retail hand-me-downs. Suppliers and distributors are on the pulse of the most relevant fabrics, cuts and colors; it’s never been easier to make both a brand and fashion statement.
With that in mind, here are the four apparel trends that will matter most in 2019 – the ones you’ll see not just in the promotional industry, but just about everywhere.
Trend #1: A Finer Flannel
“It’s no longer generational,” Bebon says. “All ages are wearing it – some of the same patterns your grandfather wore.” He’s talking about the flannel shirt, which is as relevant as ever at retail and is making a serious push into promotional apparel in 2019.
Rich Patterson, owner of Patterson Brands (asi/291582), predicts flannel will be a force in the coming year – particularly a pattern he calls “Mackinaw,” a combination of red and black colorblocking which he has been successfully selling in shirts, accessories and blankets to his clients. Burnside (B8210), SanMar (W668) and Backpacker (BP 7040) all offer shirts that successfully capture the style.
“Plaid flannel shirts combine a nostalgic look with a cozy feel that’s perfect for many seasons and events.”Vicki Ostrom, SanMar
Vicki Ostrom, trend editor for SanMar (asi/84863), encourages distributors to embrace the demand for the pattern. “Plaid flannel shirts combine a nostalgic look with a cozy feel that’s perfect for so many seasons and events,” she says. “These shirts are ideal for a variety of campaigns and are great for outfitting casual work teams, restaurants and many other occasions. Plus, they allow for a lot of customization with layering and decoration, pairing nicely with the evolving trend of ‘you’-niforms, where uniforms meet personal style.”
To be clear, these industry shirts aren’t flimsy alternatives to retail that can’t hold their own weight. For example, Backpacker has added detailing that extends the life and appeal of the garment, such as triple-needle sewing in its yarn-dyed 100% combed cotton flannel and contrasting chambray in the yoke, neckband and cuffs. “People want to see more quality,” Bebon says. “We’ve seen that across the board.”
Trend #2: Heavenly Heathers
Patterson has to keep up with what’s new and coveted. Based near Vancouver, his distributorship derives a significant portion of its business from the film industry, as the city is a popular location for the filming of movies and TV shows.
What his clients all have in common is the desire for something fashionable. Accordingly, he doesn’t settle for what’s least expensive. He looks for quality and finds his customers often want popular retail brands – names like The North Face for a better backpack or Stormtech for its retail-ready jackets.
What’s moving the needle for his clients right now? “Heather fabrications continue to be really popular,” he says, “but now they’re more than T-shirts and hoodies. They’ve grown into advanced pieces like soft-shell performance jackets. Heathers are even crossing over into accessories, like journals.” Patterson chose such a journal from Spector & Co. (asi/88660) as a self-promotion. The effect, he adds, is a rich texture like leather, but at a much lower cost.
What’s the appeal of heathered garments? “Companies are increasingly looking to get away from the traditional corporate colors of black and navy and are wanting other, more fashion forward but still neutral colorways,” says Nick Anstee, marketing specialist with Stormtech (asi/89869). “Heather colors provide a unique textured look to the fabric with a high perceived value, but these colorways, when done right, are still subtle enough that they don’t detract from whatever corporate logo is added to the garment.”
For this year’s hottest trends – flannel, athleisure, heathered and accessories – here’s one top choice for each.
Trend #3: Athleisure With Attitude
Athleisure is far from reaching the finish line. Johanna Gottlieb has been with Axis Promotions (asi/128263) for a dozen years, moving from its New York City flagship office six years ago to open a Chicago office for the Counselor Top 40 distributor. Across most of America, including the Midwest, athleisure still fits, she says. It’s a uniform that goes from morning to night for many an executive. “It’s been months, if not years, since I sold a button-down,” she says.
When she speaks of athleisure, however, it’s not just tees and sweatpants. She refers to elevated yoga pants with stylish slits or men’s technical joggers. Layered performance tops and hoodies allow a person to go from a more casual office to lunch to the gym. Brand names are what she presents her clients and she looks for items that have an edge, particularly if it’s intended for a venue other than work. “We’ve been seeing a trend in cropped apparel,” Gottlieb says, noting a racier direction in athleisure.
Mark Seymour, chief sales officer for Next Level Apparel (asi/73867), seconds the athleisure story that combines comfort and performance. The supplier offers key styles from the category as bestsellers and has added options for 2019 to ride the wave. Seymour highlights the idea that these athleisure garments effortlessly cross demographics, social settings and uses. “Our popular mock-twist fabric has a snowy heather look and goes from workout to street with Swiss-army knife versatility,” he says. “This year we added a short-sleeve hoody with co-ed appeal. We continue to develop styles that appeal to men and women, young and old from all backgrounds and lifestyles. It’s exciting to watch decorators adapt the products to fit almost every market opportunity.”
Fleece is transforming in the same vein, Seymour adds. “We’re experiencing huge momentum with softer mid-weight fabrics with unique styles,” he says, noting garments like the supplier’s new fleece bomber jacket. “The same trend that hit the T-shirt market seven years ago is spilling over into the fleece market. Better fabrics that are more comfortable and versatile appeal to a larger market and can be worn in multiple settings.”
Trend #4: Accessories Worth Adding
Accessories are an industry staple, and their importance is far from waning in 2019. Gottlieb’s clients are embracing brand-name bags (State, Timbuk2 and Herschel are popular, she says). In particular, she’s fielding requests for tiny decorative backpacks for fashion clients and women’s events, and larger luxury bags for media and tech companies.
Bebon considers bags one of the hotter trends ahead. Backpacker has introduced a nomad satchel with leather detailing, plaid flannel interior, waxed canvas exterior and a hidden magnetic snap closure under a decorative buckle. The look is authentic, high-end Americana that follows the romantic American West runway look from Fall 2018.
It plays well with another trend popping up at retailers – the paisley bandanna. Names like Madewell, Lucky Brand and Kate Spade have their versions of this classic. “Bandannas are such a part of the tapestry of today’s culture,” says Reid Hoag, sales manager at Caro-Line (asi/44020). “The paisley fashion trend has been around for well over a century; when you consider the life-span of most trends, the longevity of paisley is truly impressive.” Hoag notes that bandannas carry many secondary functions people may not think of: an invitation, map, schedule, rally rag and much more. “The paisley design is strong on the promotional side as well,” he adds. “We take our clients’ logos and incorporate them into our paisley design, and it’s an instant hit.”
Decoration In Demand
Texture is a big industry buzzword right now, and Bruce Jolesch, president of PXP Solutions (asi/78964), has seen it in action with the healthy stream of heathers and fleeces coming into his award-winning decoration operation. “Sherpa and comfier fabrics are coming back over poly performance and burnout tees,” he says. “Heathered garments are also very popular.”
Going forward, Jolesch predicts messaging will take over imprints: “More text and unique, funny or eye-catching phrases rather than images. Simple, one-color ‘Seaside, FL,’ style is becoming more popular than logo drops and bold graphics. There’s been less glitter and bling.” His money is on matte, tonal and foil specialty printing, with rose gold being the foil of choice as silver starts to wane.
Tonia Kimbrough is a contributing writer for Advantages.