Article by Cassie Green
Take Athletic Apparel Promotions From Good to Great With These Product Trends and Decorating Ideas
The rise in popularity that athletic apparel has experienced in the last two years is no secret. It started when everyone got sent home and stayed there for several months. It kept going when some continued to work from home, while others ventured back into the world. Now, athletic and leisure wear can be seen at gyms, grocery stores, schools and even in branded apparel.
It’s not just a fad—everything from leggings to joggers, quarter-zips to sweatshirts, is being styled to bring comfort to even the most professional environments. As such, it’s crucial to not only offer the hottest styles, but to also know how to decorate them to customers’ needs. Read on for insight into the latest trends and decorating ideas.
Rise of a Superstar
Zoom meetings from the early days of the pandemic taught us two things: It is wise to unmute before speaking, and, more importantly, quality work doesn’t require a three-piece suit. Adam McCauley, co-owner of Sandlot Sports, Saginaw, Michigan, noted that human resources departments quickly caught on to that second idea, leading employers to redefine dress code rules. However, that doesn’t mean you should look ragged. McCauley believes in striking a balance.
“[Athletic wear] looks good,” he pointed out. “It’s clean, it’s functional and it has all the properties of well-made, comfortable corporate apparel, minus the starch. … The kind of apparel blurring the lines between athletics and corporate is amazingly stylish and comfortable.”
The recent health and wellness movement is also a driving factor in this category’s appeal. “This market has grown tremendously with the increased awareness of the health and wellness industry,” said Christina Marcantelli, sales enablement coordinator at S&S Activewear, Bolingbrook, Illinois. “Corporations are making efforts to partner with various companies, such as fitness and healthcare facilities, as well as food and goods products, to emphasize the growing need for mental and physical self-care.”
Apart from COVID, there’s another factor influencing the rise in athletic wear in the corporate and branded space.
“The unseen factor is that the corporate influencers are young people that have grown up with only athletic wear as their main garment options,” said Tim Kelliher, president of Image Apparel Solutions, Wheeling, Illinois. “These young people in corporate America are driving corporate wear to the athletic or performance-wear material options. As they continue to rise in the corporate ranks, they will continue to drive performance material garment options.”
According to Caius Olowu, director of merchandising and design for Next Level Apparel, Gardena, California, these styles aren’t hard to incorporate into any branded merchandise collection.
“Joggers can be ‘dressed up’ when paired with proper footwear or when cargo pockets or zippers are added,” he said. Suggest a variety of pairings, such as warm-up jackets with joggers or skirts, to customers looking for the extra special look.
Now, all of that’s solid advice, but there’s just one little problem: Supply chain challenges continue to plague
“The most popular merchandise just simply isn’t available in the market today,” Kelliher admitted. “For 2021 and the near future, everything is driven by availability of merchandise.”
Kelliher believes that will determine how this trend plays out in the coming year. “The options selected for corporate and branded markets are completely driven by available merchandise,” he said. “While trucker-style hats, performance polos, crew neck fleece and performance tees are very popular right now, they are all hard to find as blank goods.”
Despite supply chain issues, the trend is here, and as such, distributors must continue to embrace it. Perhaps just as important as a comfortable, trendy style are the decoration method and placement. Everyone has seen the polo with the left-chest embroidered logo, but today’s athletic apparel shapes, fabrics and fits are no longer confined to the conventional.
“Decoration techniques continue to evolve,” Marcantelli observed. She said that shops shouldn’t be afraid to boost their designs and methods. “Offering special-effects (SFX) prints can help elevate the decoration. … Using unique textures, specialty inks and placements on collars, arm sleeves, along the center of the back and even down the leg can create an updated, trendy look.”
Still, the tried-and-true methods play a role, and it’s important to have options. “We’ve seen an uptick in heat-applied graphics the last year or so,” McCauley shared. “There are so many amazing options that if you are only thinking screen printing or embroidery, you’re at risk of losing that competitive edge.”
Even incorporating some retail influence will elevate your business. “Not only [does using silicone products, custom patches and vinyl products] look different from the traditional left-chest embroidery, but they allow the style to look more retail,” McCauley said. “Now, not only is it a comfortable piece with a retail-[style] trend, it’s also work-approved because it has the corporate logo on it. If it looks good and feels good, the employees are more likely to wear it and promote the company outside of work.”
When it comes to the placement conversation, Kelliher said some of the newest equipment and business practices allow for arrangements not possible in the past.
“The newest heat presses (lower heat platens) and having sewing services available in house will expand a decorator’s options,” he noted. But there’s more.
“The industry is forced to evaluate how to decorate with a second-tier location that’s still prominent,” Kelliher added. He pointed out that big brands like Nike and Adidas all have their logos placed front and center on their gear, which is another factor forcing decorators to experiment with design placement creativity.
Even if your client wants to stay in their comfort zone, there are ways to perk up an embroidered logo. Olowu suggested the wrist cuff, a pocket, the edge of the hemline, or even the side of a hood for some updated placements.
“[The] back of the neck is a nice placement for a more discrete and modern look,” he added.
Another alternative is to use a tagline versus the logo, said Marcantelli. “We have seen an increase in demand for using tag lines versus company logos as a way to update the look as well as make the garment more versatile for use beyond the workplace and/or events,” she explained. “It adds a level of uniqueness without having to directly ‘brand’ the company.”
As Olowu mentioned, the athletic wear trend isn’t going to die out any time soon. “This lifestyle fashion choice started to emerge long before the onset of COVID, but COVID certainly magnified the desire for comfort that also translates beyond the four walls of home,” he said. “We don’t foresee this trend slowing down now that it’s been so broadly embraced across all genders and generations.”