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Fleecewear: Ahead of the Curve

Fleece remains a frontrunner in apparel decoration.

By David Harding, Contributing Writer

Fleece has become a primary go-to for athleisure styles. Photo courtesy of Stahls’. 

August 15, 2022

While many aspects of life have slowed down during the pandemic, apparel decoration has seen considerable growth. Despite facing supply chain issues, material shortages, and other detrimental factors, the apparel industry is booming with opportunities for decorators to maximize profits.

Fleecewear is one such opportunity. It’s an established trend that continues to grow without any signs of slowing down. Fleece sales have more than doubled in the last year, with sales spiking during the onset of the pandemic. With the rise in people working from home, there’s an increased demand for stylish apparel that’s comfortable. Fleece fabric is ideal because it’s lightweight, soft, and plush, making it suitable apparel for all ages. It’s also perfect for layering, so it sells in any season!

Modern fleece apparel is available in a variety of weights, styles, textures, and finishes, making it a go-to fabric for a savvy apparel decorator. Fleece isn’t just for fall and winter anymore; it’s being seen in spring fields and summer streets. Airy jackets, thin vests, and throwback crop tops are all in style and available in the soft feel of fleece. Customizing fleecewear is an easy way stay on trend and be versatile with your market opportunities.

Who Wears Fleece?
Fleece has expanded beyond traditional apparel like thick sweatshirts and workout wear. It’s now found in retail looks and fashion-forward items like cropped tops and retro-inspired styles. Because the ultra-plush fabric feels so soft, it’s a great option for almost anything from basic hoodies and sweatpants to joggers, vests, jackets, and even shorts!

The small business and corporate markets have also seen an increase in fleecewear. Today, many workers are seeking company branded clothing that looks professional for virtual meetings but feels comfortable for home office work. Fleece apparel perfectly joins comfort, luxury, and style to create customized, trendy looks that are here to stay.

Fleece has always been a popular fabric for workout apparel, but apparel manufacturing has changed. Gone are the days of thick, heavy, and uncomfortable sweats. Fleece is lightweight, durable, and can even be moisture-wicking. These features make fleece an excellent choice for activewear. Fleece combines comfort, performance potential, and a fashionable finish for the ultimate athleisure apparel.

What Is Fleece?
Fleece is a knit fabric that has one side brushed to loosen the fibers and create a raised surface, resulting in a fuzzy, soft feel against the skin. The two most popular types of fleece fabric seen in the apparel decorating industry are cotton and polyester fleece.
Cotton fleece is most often used for sweatpants and sweatshirts. Fleece made from cotton features a smooth outer surface with plush inner lining and is a great option for customers looking for something that’s budget-friendly but still stylish.

Cotton fleece is the softest type of fleece and is porous, so it loses heat more easily than other knit fabrics. It does not wick moisture and will take time to dry, making it better for fashionable looks rather than performance wear or athletic apparel.

Tip: Market opportunities for cotton fleecewear include fashion & sprit wear, boutique & loungewear, and classic sweatshirts & hoodies.

Polyester is a synthetic fabric and more durable than cotton. It can withstand more wear and tear but can also be more expensive than cotton fleece. It’s a great choice for upselling garments and creating a premium apparel option for your customers.

Polyester fleece also differs from cotton fleece by being less prone to pilling, so it’s ideal for gym gear and workout wear, or any garment designed to perform over time. It’s moisture wicking and provides the most comfortable wearing experience for those who are active in warmer temperatures.

Tip: Market opportunities for polyester fleecewear include schools, sports teams & leagues, corporate & business branded merchandise, and athleisure & fitness.

Can I Heat Press Fleece?
Fleece can be a heat-sensitive fabric, but that doesn’t mean you can’t heat press it! Don’t be afraid to use heat printing to capitalize on a profitable trend. Using a heat press is the fastest way to create custom fleecewear and maximize your profits. There are quick, easy ways to avoid scorching fleecewear, and it comes down to using the right equipment and heat transfer materials. If you own a heat press with an even heating surface and adjustable time, temperature, and pressure settings, you’ve got what it takes to decorate fleece.

Cotton fleece is the most universal for heat transfer product options. Cotton is less sensitive than polyester and is more resilient to heat. However, to avoid heat press marks or “bruising” of the plush fleece, be sure to use a heat transfer that does not require a lot of pressure to apply. Higher pressure and longer dwell time will result in platen marks and matted fabric fibers.

Polyester, like most synthetic fabrics, is prone to scorching. When sourcing heat transfers for polyester fleece, be sure to find a product with a low application temperature. Heat transfer vinyl that applies anywhere from 260 degrees to 300 degrees is an ideal choice.
Coined by BELLA+CANVAS, Sponge Fleece is a newly popular take on blended fleece that has been a hot trend lately in both custom apparel and in the retail market. Have you heard the term “Street Fleece”? This stylish fleece contains roughly 50% Airlume combed, ring-spun cotton and 50% polyester fleece, resulting in a premium soft substrate for high-end apparel. Due to the ultra-luxurious feel of this fleece, it’s important to carefully choose a heat transfer that offers a soft and lightweight feel to embrace the sponge fleece features.

Traditional sweater fleece and sherpa is typically decorated with embroidery, but with the innovation of heat transfers, there are now many premium options you can use without ever threading a needle! Because of the thickness of the garment, it’s best to use heat transfers that are raised and dimensional, so they can be seen against the dense fabric. Flocked HTV, single and full color twill, embossed emblems, and embroidered or 3D patches are all superior heat transfer products that will stand out and be seen and can be applied with only a heat press.

How Will Fleece Help My Business?
Your heat-printing business can capitalize on the versatility of fleece fabric. Because of its trending popularity and availability in multiple garments, fleecewear is apparel that can be used in so many markets for a variety of looks and finishes, all with a soft feel. Fleece blends comfort and style for those who want to feel cozy but still look on-trend.

It’s important to offer your customers options when it comes to apparel. Fleece is ideal because it can be both budget-friendly and economical, or premium with a higher perceived value. This allows you to provide the good, better, best approach to the customer ordering experience. You can offer different garment choices and price point levels to promote the overall ordering experience, all with one fabric type. If you want to take your apparel decoration business to the next level, fleecewear is the perfect partner.

David Harding creates marketing content, with a focus on educating and inspiring apparel decorators. He is currently a content writer for STAHLS’ and can be reached at