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Looking Back to Head Forward

Retro styles drive the headwear category into 2019.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

May 17, 2018

Once upon a time, you could identify the era in which a hat was popular simply by looking at it. Now, with the retro craze booming, it’s not so easy to peg a hat’s heyday.0

In 2017, mesh and denim ruled the headwear category. This year, those same styles continue to be in demand.

“Our factories have experienced a sharp increase in demand for mesh-back cap styles over the last 24 months, which we attribute to the retro trend,” says Jay Powell, vice president, Young An Hat Co.

Janet Choi, marketing associate, Flexfit, agrees. “I feel that mesh caps are always going to be in style, as well as an everyday accessory,” she says. “Our best-selling trucker, [the] Yupoong Retro Trucker, showed the most growth in 2017. Denim caps are a trendier item, and will be influenced [by] fashion-forward brands.”

Kati Sportcap & Bag saw no growth in its denim styles, but trucker styles have been all the rage for the past couple of years. And mesh remains strong, says the company’s co-owner, Gary Mosley.

What about the low-profile and trucker styles, specifically, which have been so popular in recent years? Well, these trends still resonate, Powell says. Choi adds that the low-profile cap essentially resurrected a 1990s style.

“Low-profile hats, also known as ‘dad hats,’ exploded as celebrities and high-fashion brands were bringing back the ‘90s fashion trend,” Choi says.

“It’s also a much easier accessory to pull off for individuals who do not wear snapbacks. Trucker styles have always been a steady item, but even more so after the athleisure trend.”

Flexfit offers four different low-profile hats, including typical 100% cotton; soft, peached-twill; MultiCam pattern; and “Flexfit” versions.

Change is Good
In the fashion world, a lot can change — or not — in a year. “We continue to receive pressure to expedite production and decrease [minimum order quantities],” Powell says. “However, the most noticeable change is that our Young An Bangladesh, Vietnam and Sri Lanka factories are receiving an increase in requests from new customers seeking to move programs out of China due to political trade concerns.”

Mosley says the company didn’t see any significant changes last year, reiterating the popularity of the trucker-cap craze. Choi adds that headwear has gone from simple to innovative, with comfort and functionality remaining key desired characteristics.

As always, retail trends have continued to influence the wholesale headwear category. Similar to the way the dad-hat trend boosted Flexfit’s product sales, retail trends constantly will prompt wholesale buyers to seek what is in high demand, Choi says. Everything in retail inevitably filters down to wholesale, Mosley agrees, though the trend may take one or two years to completely infiltrate the sector.

Powell sees things differently. “The retail influence is still important, but the brick-and-mortar retail influence on wholesale is reducing,” he says. “All attention seems to be focused on online retail influence and how wholesale mimics those trends.”

A Brand Breakthrough
Of interest is how some retail brands can gain strong traction in the wholesale market, where typically only value brands succeed. adidas is one shining example of this capability.

Powell says that with the shift to an increasingly online influence, brands with more media exposure — especially those centered on sports — have taken the lead in influencing trends. Young An’s outdoor (extreme activewear) brands have had the most influence during the past 18 months.

Choi says brands like adidas can sometimes make a splash in wholesale markets by introducing new technologies, designs or fabrics. “Other value brands will traditionally flourish by being the norm,” she says. “They will be reliable by having the same value goods and nothing more, nothing less.”

Patterns & Performance
Mosley says the camo pattern is popular in headwear, as are streaks, plaids and florals. Performance fabrics also continue to grow in popularity, although they’re still used in small amounts — close to only about 20% of a cap’s total fabric content, Powell says. He adds that cotton remains king when it comes to headwear fabric.

Water-repellent, organic, recycled, performance driven, camo and MultiCam are key characteristics of today’s headwear, Choi says. “With a growing demand in the outdoor, tactical and hunting market, we have teamed up with MultiCam to provide a multi-environment concealment solution to help [wearers] hide in varied environments,” she says. “Not only is the fabric functional, it can also be worn as a stylish piece.”

Mosley says twill will be in demand for low-profile caps, while twill and mesh will be in demand for trucker caps. Both styles are top sellers.
Consumers are becoming less sensitive to price, instead preferring performance and more innovative options, according to Choi. She says Flexfit’s most innovative hat is the Flexfit Delta, which has a seamless front panel. It couples a lightweight visor fabrication with a new, three-layer multifunctional sweatband.

Kati Sportcap’s market position is somewhat different, given that it sells strictly in the wholesale channel. However, “everyone is price conscious,” Mosley says. “We’ve got caps [priced] at $3.60 that sell just as well as those [priced] at $1.95. People aren’t necessarily as worried about price as they are about the style. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

Powell says speed, innovation and full-service capabilities will be in Young An’s future. Choi says to look for performance, lighter weight and continued innovation from Flexfit.

“It’s hard to anticipate what’s going to sell on the wholesale end,” Mosley says. “So we look at what’s selling, anticipate our customers’ needs and try to have the inventory on hand to meet those needs.”

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at