Athletic Apparel: A Trend That's Here to Stay?
When COVID-19 hit, it hit hard. Life as we knew it changed. It’s easy to talk about the struggling supply chain, limited inventory of nearly every product and constant global economic forecast, but what about apparel trends? The rapid shift from the corporate environment to working from home led to an immediate shift from suits and ties to sweats and tees.
What this meant, and continues to mean, for promotional products distributors is that, in order to secure orders, they must pay attention to trends. And with comfy athletic and performance wear still experiencing strong popularity, it appears this category isn’t going away soon.
Even as we shift back to hybrid work environments, in-person events and world travel, athletic apparel’s naturally comfortable fit will dominate the branding and advertising world. The question is, what styles are here to stay within this category and what are you, as a distributor, doing to capitalize on them?
Styles with Staying Power
When it comes to apparel that looks professional, helps a branding campaign and is comfortable enough to transition between multiple activities all day, athletic and performance wear checks every box.
“Athletic wear allows us to be comfortable and look good, all while being active,” says Brian Deissroth, senior key accounts manager for Grovetown, Georgia-based Augusta Sportswear. “If our workwear has the same moisture-wicking and stretch attributes, we can not only move throughout our workday comfortably, but we can transition into our after-work activities comfortably.”
He cites items like polos, shirts with pockets, and sustainable styles as those that are at the top. But Deissroth points out that it’s not only about a shirt or pants. Athletic and performance-based headwear is also a rapidly growing category.
Rhyen Campbell, communications and engagement strategist for Fredericktown, Missouri-based Cap America, shares that assessment. She notes that headwear saw a huge surge once video calls took the place of in-person meetings.
“Many people were only visible from the neck up on video conference calls,” she says. “Why fix your hair if you’re not leaving your house? Throw a cap with your company logo on it and be done with it.”
Campbell adds that performance headwear is currently being used as employee gifts or as part of a work uniform.
“The fabrics are comfortable and durable, and work well for everyday use,” she says.
Regardless of garment, Tim Kelliher, president of Image Apparel Solutions, located in Wheeling, Illinois, feels that athletic wear suppliers have embraced this trend, and continue to push it in the corporate industry. In addition to the changes COVID-19 forced on the world, he believes there are a few other driving factors to performance apparel sticking around.
“One driver is that business [and] casual promotional industry suppliers are embracing this trend,” he states. “You are seeing a more relaxed look and feel of blank business wear. People enjoy this new look and casual feel. [In addition], the new NIL collegiate royalty programs are helping drive the athletic wear popularity by the individual student-athlete promoting the wear on social media.”
Companies such as Campus Ink and Image Apparel Solutions have pushed hard into the NIL space, and the hype around the marketing that goes into it has grown branded athletic apparel beyond professional sports and into everyday life. This may be a market distributors haven’t previously considered.
“You only need to look at the options offered by the collegiate markets,” Kelliher says. “These young people are the next generation of businesspeople.”
He adds that this includes fleece sweatshirts — mostly crewneck styles — and different options for decoration, like leather patches and silicone transfers.
A Perfect Opportunity
It’s clear athletic wear is here to stay for a while, so as a distributor, how are you incorporating it into your offerings? From corporate styles to promotional and fundraising events, and even into the sports market, this is a huge revenue opportunity.
“Performance wear is a great option because people are looking for comfort and transitional pieces, and at the right price point, they are great to give and great to sell,” says Deissroth. “A selection of options by brand and style will ensure you have something for everyone from the casual walker to the hardcore weekend warrior. The growth of more fashion-infused active wear means you have almost endless possibilities.”
When it comes to coupling these options with headwear, Campbell says that “these styles often have a higher perceived value than a basic chino cap. The fabrics are lightweight and durable, and the fit is always going to be built for comfort.”
What this means for distributors is profit.
“This makes performance headwear an excellent choice for distributors to offer because the more a cap is worn, the more impressions it will garner, offering distributors — and their clients — a higher ROI.”
If you aren’t sure where to start selling, Deissroth has a few suggestions.
“Athletic wear is perfect for the company softball team or bowling league,” he says. “It is also a great use of athletic wear to promote your brand for your company’s Customer Service Week, or as a gift for making a company goal. … It can be a great incentive to earn, but when everyone is wearing the company logo, they tend to feel that they belong.”
Since athletic wear has experienced such rapid and massive growth, it might feel tough to stand out in what’s becoming a saturated space. For most, it comes down to two things: keeping up on trends and knowing about decoration methods.
“Innovative decoration, innovative decoration, innovative decoration,” emphasizes Kelliher. “Decoration options are what is new.”
This, of course, works in conjunction with the latest fashion trends.
“If you want to be a good supplier for your customers, you need to be a ‘student of the game.’ Be the distributor that brings the newest options to the table, not the one that can ‘also offer that option,’” he says.
Campbell falls in the same camp.
“I think it comes down to decoration, and how you plan on presenting your client’s logo on the cap,” she says of adding athletic headwear options. “Make sure your decoration technique pairs well with the cap style and best represents your client’s branding efforts. If you’re not sure how to best decorate the cap, partner with a trusted headwear supplier who can help you with virtual concepts and spec samples.”
Better Your Business
At the end of the day, it’s critical to acknowledge the permanence of athletic and performace wear. Building your product selection around what your customers want only serves to better your business.
“No matter the category, it’s essential distributors keep up with trends to ensure they’re offering only relevant options that will have a strong connection to their end-users,” says Deissroth. “Whether it is in the choice of stock product, the choices within decoration, having a state-of-the-art customization tool or having well-trained customer care on the other end of the phone or computer, create a positive experience, and you will stand out from the competition.”