Build Your Business:

Permanent Vacation

Courtesy of Outhouse Designs, Austin, Texas

March 29, 2013

Resortwear doesn’t just mean a bikini at the beach or a parka for swooshing down the slopes. It also is that souvenir T-shirt with the logo of a favorite vacation restaurant, or the Mickey Mouse hoodie a grandfather buys for his granddaughter as a memento of their Disney vacation.

With winter winding down, it may be time to think about spreading your apparel offerings to include resortwear. It’s important, as with breaking into any market, to do your homework to see if it will be a profitable move for your screen printing or embroidery business.

To find out  about the state of the resortwear market, along with tips on how you can break in or stay strong, we spoke with Seth Bussert, owner, Screen Graphix Inc., Comstock Park, Mich.; Erich Campell, embroidery digitizer/designer and e-commerce manager, Black Duck Inc., Albuquerque, N.M.; Chad Joyner, art director, Outhouse Designs, Austin, Texas; and Sharad Mehta, president, Screenworks USA Inc., Orlando, Fla.

IMP: How did your company enter the resort market, and who are your target customers?
Bussert: Just a couple of years ago, as an outlet to be more creative, we started designing our own graphic T-shirts and offering them up to various bricks-and-mortar stores around the area, as well as the lakeshore. There is an abundance of various outdoor, summer activities in Michigan, including mountain biking/trail riding, hiking, sand dune motorsports, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, etc. And we can’t forget golf, as well as all of the typical watersports people do around the country.
Winter activities and resorts are a very small part of what we do, the work slows down tremendously and most stores hibernate throughout the winter. Indoor water parks always are looking for fresh new designs and they are open year-round, which helps with keeping the company busy during the cold season.

Mehta: Unlike other sellers to wider resort markets, we primarily have been selling to theme parks and attractions for about 12 years. We happen to be located in Orlando, Fla., where more than 50 million tourists visit theme parks.

Joyner: Back in 1985, owner Scott Jackson first entered the resort market by visiting beach vacation destinations and selling custom graphic tees out of the trunk of his car. Today, we sell to a wide variety of resort markets, primarily in Texas, New Orleans, and various beach destinations.

Campbell: Our company really entered the resort market by being contracted as decorators by resortwear distributors. As such, most of our business in resortwear is directly contracted. That said, we have, at times, sold our own resortwear into the local tourist market in New Mexico.

IMP: What are some new design trends in resortwear?
Mehta: We see neon colors as strong and continue to see burnouts and slubs in blanks. Sublimation also is strong for us and we continue to offer various ink treatments, including flock and foil — at times, together in the same design.

Joyner: More than anything else, we’ve noticed simple designs on flashy, bright neon colors are extremely popular right now — and not just at the tropical-resort level. Neons seem to be doing well everywhere.

Campbell: Though design styles fluctuate over time, resortwear seems to favor a certain retro/nostalgic feeling. I have to think that it is borne somewhat of the idea of family vacations and the attached mementos that populate many of our closets. That said, I think there has been a trend toward more retail-styled, multimedia decorations and toward more locally produced and locally focused resortwear. I think that with the “staycation” movement that dominated during the early recession, some resortwear had to be modified to suit a local, savvier customer who is aware of local culture.

Bussert: Some of the new design trends basically are just a re-emergence of what was going on 15 years ago. Oversized printing and water-based inks have been around for ages, but the placements of the designs and the designs themselves are what keep the print method fresh. Bold, vibrant colors are hot on performancewear, but apparel such as burnout, bamboo, hemp, organic, etc. is gaining traction. Softness is key.
Unique design placements, new heat transfer materials, and even multimedia combinations of embroidery, inkjet printing, appliqués and traditional screen printing typically are a big hit also. Special embellishment techniques such as foil, glitter, rhinestones, sublimation and discharge printing will be popular this year, playing off of their success in the big retail market.

IMP: What fabrics are most popular and in demand?
Campbell: Mostly, the reign of the cotton tee shows no sign of ending. Performancewear has elevated the status of polyester recently, and I can imagine that with the increase in sublimation printing as an option, we may see more local providers looking to increase profit margins through sublimated, highly personalized prints in the near future. Even so, resortwear has to have a component of something that’s easily picked up on the spur of the moment, so I can’t imagine we’ll lose our traditional elements in the process.

Bussert: A big trend now is for lighter, well-fitted finer fabrics. Fabrics such as burnout are treated with a chemical process that leaves sheer patches for an edgy look. The 50/25/25 tri-blend shirts are becoming popular as well, mixing rayon to the cotton/poly mix; it stretches and drapes beautifully. Performance apparel is everywhere due to its comfort and durability. You see this fabric used for T-shirts, hoodies, polos, etc., a high-performance polyester microfiber that quickly wicks away moisture from the body. Cottons, bamboo and hemp are all excellent materials for organic apparel.

Mehta: Most of our blanks are 100% cotton, but we use blends and polyester blanks for sublimation.

Joyner: Retailers are requesting lighter and softer fabrics, especially for women. Also, plus sizes for women are more popular than ever. In fact, we seldom offer anything in junior sizes anymore. Women are wanting a garment they can be comfortable in and not worry about it fitting snug to their figure.

IMP: What are the always-popular basics?
Campbell: Scenic screen printed tees featuring local wildlife for places with a lot of natural appeal, local food items or crops, or local buildings/natural features. Add real and mock-event shirts as a sort of resortwear crossover; we’ve seen lots of those in recent years.

Mehta: For our market (major theme parks and attractions), the basic unisex 6-ounce carded T-shirt continues to be the mainstay, but we are seeing more and more combed and ring-spun T-shirts in demand as the prices are coming down and narrowing the gap between carded basics and combed, ring-spun T-shirts.

Bussert: Garments such as the 6.1-ounce, 100% cotton tee, the 50/50, your average hoodie will always be around and in need as much as — if not more than — the newest thing out there today. The designs on these shirts are basic as well, arched letters of your favorite sports team, “Eat at Joe’s,” “Keep on Truckin’,” etc., have been around for a hundred years and will be around for another hundred.

IMP: How do you stay ahead of or create new trends?
Joyner: We attend industry trade shows to stay current on what’s trending. The trouble with trends is that they come and go and are ever-changing, so we generally stick to the tried and tested. Although it’s great to have “one-hit wonders,” it’s more beneficial to be in it for the long run.

Campbell: I follow industry media, design and fashion blogs, and frequently visit retail apparel stores just to see what’s out there. Add to that the awareness of the new blanks available from our vendors and keeping an eye on what new equipment, materials, and techniques are out there for decoration and you’ve got a solid foundation for experimentation on our part.
Being aware of what’s out there in any niche does help you to avoid re-creating another company’s product, and seeing what’s popular may help you identify some qualities your product should have. Know the market and, more importantly, know the audience for your work, and you’ll have the best chance at creating something that sticks.

IMP: How do you market a new idea?
Joyner: We send out an email advertisement to all of our wholesale customers when we add new products, typically on a Monday. Most buyers like to replenish their stores after the weekend, so it’s a good time to introduce new products. Shortly thereafter, our sales reps follow up with
the customer.

Bussert: We typically figure out our target market and then tailor marketing efforts to fit the client needs. We will gather our best designs and create a nice, exciting PDF catalog to show or email to our target market. If we send out emails, we will call the following day or so and speak to a buyer or merchandiser. We have a website with a sample portfolio to market our graphic designs locally and outside of our area. There are local business associations, groups that you can introduce your designs to, as well as the community. Facebook, blogging, Twitter, etc., can be used as means of advertising.

IMP: How do the seasonal markets (winter and summer) affect your business practices?
Campbell: It’s all about knowing what is being produced and pushing beyond it, or perhaps taking a slightly different tack. When we think beachwear, we think bathing suits, trunks and tees. Maybe we create long-sleeved resortwear for the beachgoer concerned about the danger of sun damage, maybe expand into decorated accessories like parasols — just look for an underserved segment and see if they are buying. This really goes for any market.

Bussert: Here in Michigan, summer-themed apparel is a much larger opportunity for sales than the winter months. This means if you want to stay busy all year long, you have to market to states in a warmer climate. There are chances of designing apparel for winter resorts. You have to shift over to warmer apparel like hoodies, jackets and long-sleeved items. The buying public definitely slows down when it gets cold, but we use that slower period as a chance to investigate what’s new for the spring season. We also have more time to design new graphics and get up to par on the latest print techniques.

Joyner: Both markets offer plenty of design elements to work with, so getting creative isn’t too difficult. Even the plain T-shirt works for both markets because people will buy them so they can wear them throughout the year. We definitely feel the impact when severe weather hits.

IMP: What are some of the more popular styles/colors/treatments in the resort market?
Bussert: Performancewear or dry-wicking T-shirts and apparel are huge these days. These types of garments tend to be brighter, whereas destinations with relaxation in mind tend to see cooler colors such as blue or green, as these hues often are associated with tranquility and have a calming effect. Sheer blends, organics and burnouts are great apparel choices due to how comfortable they are to wear.
There always will be staple colors, such as black, grey, red, navy and white, when it comes to the resort market. But I always look forward to the new and exciting colors introduced each year. These are the riskier colors to design on because retailers may be afraid to purchase an abundance of these garment colors on the basis that they may not sell.

Joyner: For the most part, men are easy to please and still love the traditional 100% cotton tee. The once-popular destroyed tee has pretty much been phased out. Muted grays and blues are most popular, nothing too flashy. For women, it’s all about the garment. They want something colorful and sheer that has a nice full cut. V-necks also still are popular. Youth apparel seems to be moving more toward the easy-care fabrics—polyester blends that are sporty and bright.

Campbell: In truth, most markets have a very similar desire for the classic location T-shirt. That said, Southwestern regions like ours favor more distressed, garment-dyed apparel by far. We’ve also noticed in our other business ventures that some places like more multimedia — more glitz and glamour. When we do trade shows in Texas, for example, garments with rhinestones and foil prints on womenswear fly off the shelves.

IMP: How important are custom designs for resortwear?
Campbell: All of our work is custom, but I will say that once developed, resortwear is much more likely to see designs reused in a template fashion. It’s not surprising, being that the classic shirt featuring a large text element featuring a place name, arranged with some graphic element signifying the local culture makes up the largest part of any resortwear order.

Joyner: For us, it’s crucial. Our customers know there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing their resortwear supplier. Offering custom design services provides retailers with their exact needs. After all, the buyer/owner typically knows their market demands best.

IMP: How do you maintain your relationships with customers year after year?
Mehta: By excellent execution of the orders they entrust to us, and with outstanding customer service.

Bussert: It’s all about customer service and delivering a solid quality product. During the busy season you are in contact with the client on a regular basis, making sure they are satisfied and all is well. If an error occurs or a delivery of unacceptable product goes out the door, you better do what it takes to fix the problem right away. Assuring the customer that this issue won’t happen again is a must, you need to keep them happy and secure about the product they order. Sending emails or phone calls throughout the slow season is a means of keeping in touch and assuring the client you are here and at her service when the time comes.

Campbell: As with any customer, we keep relationships healthy through maintaining lines of contact and delivering quality garments and customer service. Make the process easy and the product good, and as long as your pricing is fair, the customers return.

Joyner: It really comes down to offering great customer service and a great product. We listen to our clients’ needs and truly appreciate their business. We get to know our customers and consider most of them our friends. An enduring business relationship says you’re doing something right.

Michelle M. Havich is managing editor for Impressions. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michelle at