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Tees Go Tech: Trend Alert 2024

Technology continues to drive the T-shirt category in both fabrics and decoration methods

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer


Los Angeles Apparel’s Garment Dye Crew Neck tees provide a vintage style and throwback feel. Designs by Bobnevv,VRTX – stock.adobe.com

January 9, 2024

Designs by Bobnevv,VRTX – stock.adobe.com

How do you define, “basic?” In 2024, a basic T-shirt only lacks decoration. Once decorated, it can take on many forms, with fit and comfort sitting front and center. The T-shirt must be comfy, while fitting the body, lifestyle and personality of the consumer. Offering consumers a choice regarding the exact type of shirt in the best-suited style is paramount.

“Our basic line at Toasty Hemp Co. currently has four distinct fits: Trim, Sport, Relaxed and ‘Cali’ Relaxed, our take on an oversized fit,” says Ryan Zaczynski, co-founder of Toasty Hemp Co. “We wanted to provide our customers with the widest range of choices possible across our designs, along with suggestions on how each fits into their lives.”

As for Kelly Skinner, brand executive for Threadfast Apparel, she says she has seen a notable shift toward environmentally conscious attire as consumers steer from fast fashion and lean toward well-crafted, timeless designs.

“It’s about acquiring apparel that not only looks and feels good, but also comes with sustainability,” Skinner says. “Consumers are expressing preference for wearables that blend quality, longevity and a commitment to ecofriendly sustainable attributes.”

Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of their own impact on the environment, which may indicate a rise in demand for T-shirts made from better materials, sourced from responsible and ethical suppliers.

Photo courtesy of Toasty Hemp Co.

“Accepting a T-shirt without looking at a label or at material contents is something we see fewer consumers doing as things progress,” says Suzy Zaczynski, co-founder of Toasty Hemp Co. “It’s very similar to how shoppers are more conscious of the ingredients in the food they buy.”

Jennifer Oleksik, director of apparel design and quality, LAT Apparel, agrees. “I believe cost is becoming less of a factor, and people are willing to pay more for a good-quality shirt that fits well and feels nice,” she says. “With the athleisure trend continuing, people are more willing to invest in a higher price item that wears well and will last more than a few washes.”

T-shirts with a negative environmental effect, subpar quality or poorly crafted designs that contribute to disposability are declining in significance. Consumers want items with a more positive vibe, so brands associated with questionable sourcing or ethical lapses are experiencing a decrease in importance as well.

Keeping it Sustainable

Sustainability is no longer an industry buzz word, but an expectation from today’s T-shirt consumer.

Male and female models in T-shirts

Consumers are steering away from fast fashion and leaning toward well-crafted, timeless designs. Photo courtesy of Threadfast Apparel

“Sustainability has become increasingly crucial, and to us it’s become the baseline,” Skinner says. “Manufacturers need to meet the demand, especially from Millennials, for planet friendly materials, ethical practices and longevity in apparel. Threadfast is committed to sustainability. Since 2019, we’ve been Better Cotton members, ensuring our cotton sourcing is environmentally friendly and benefits farmers and their communities.”

Threadfast also has shifted to recycled polyester across all collections and launched a program, “Plant with Threadfast,” in 2021, whereby the company plants a tree with One Tree Planted for every garment case sold to support reforestation. This focus on sustainability resonates with Millennials and eco-conscious consumers.

The demand for sustainability is only increasing, and companies are working hard to make the shift, says Oleksik. “There’s so much that goes into creating more sustainable products, and it’s important to understand that it’s much more than just manufacturing. It’s about materials, production, daily practices, waste, consumption and beyond.”

Oleksik explains that a full understanding of sustainability cannot be gained overnight. It’s important to continue self-education, and the education of customers, regarding the steps to take for the continuance of improvement.

“It’s about exploring alternative options, sustainable materials, paperless processes, eco-friendly manufacturing, energy savings, efficiencies and beyond,” she says.

Game Changers

The impact of various technologies—old and new—on the T-shirt market has been undeniably positive. Improved communication, more efficient decorating techniques and elevated fabrics are strong examples of the benefit of ever-evolving technology.

“Technology has made it infinitely easier to share and communicate information with consumers,” Ryan Zaczynski says. “We’ve partnered with a garment authentication company, Certilogo, based in Milan, that provides individual QR codes on tags included with all of our tees. By scanning the QR code, the wearer can gain access to product authenticity, and we have the ability to track our product along the entire supply chain.”

Technology such as direct-to-garment (DTG) is increasingly affecting the T-shirt market, according to Oleksik. DTG allows printers to decorate more efficiently. The method also has become much more accessible and affordable, so the importance of DTG-friendly fabrics has increased.

The integration of technology in clothing, not only in print but also in functionality and features, has provided apparel companies with an advantage as they focus on agility and faster delivery times.

Models in tech tees

The Tap Tee features an NFC chip on the left sleeve, allowing customers to connect to a personalized digital experience with a simple tap of their phone. Photo courtesy of Threadfast Apparel

“Threadfast’s TAP tee has an NFC chip inside a woven label on the left sleeve,” Skinner says. “One TAPs the label with a smartphone to launch a website, app, video or social media post programmed for a unique experience. This is a way to continue engagement with the targeted audience and extend the lifecycle of the decorated T-shirt.”

The science and art of T-shirt fabrication continue to flourish, keeping the category vibrant and giving manufacturers options. Manufacturers seek to offer a range of choices, catering to different consumer preferences.

A strong prediction is of a heavyweight, oversized, cotton T-shirt, which has gained traction in streetwear, high fashion, youth culture and even the music and entertainment industry. Another is a softer, smoother hand-and-feel in fabrics, with a focus on printability. The hemp and recycled poly-blend fabric is a unique offering for manufactures.

“Our hemp tees have a very soft and smooth hand when compared to other blends, such as hemp and cotton,” says Suzy Zaczynski. “It’s something we are proud to have set us apart from the pack. We are also working with new manufacturers on new types of hemp blends, but working with a material such as hemp takes a lot of trial and error.”

Fabric choice is important when it comes to the method of decoration that can be performed on the garment. Some fabrics provide an ideal surface for various decoration methods, while others may cause limitations.

“Our latest T-shirt, the 180A, is crafted from 100 percent sustainably sourced, combed, ring-spun cotton, and it has received praise for its ease of decoration,” Skinner says. “Screen printing, DTG, direct-to-film and specialty inks will discharge print on this fabric. Certainly, there are limitations to the decoration methods applicable to specific garments. However, those experienced in T-shirt decoration understand these constraints and technicalities.”

Some fabrics are not DTG friendly, says Oleksik, some don’t sublimate or discharge well. New fabric development should be as decoration friendly as possible. LAT Apparel is committed to print testing fabrics as well as providing print tips and guides for our customers.

“We understand that each customer is different and has different needs,” she says. “By offering a variety of fabrics, we can cater to every customer’s needs in one way or another.”

What to Expect

Silhouettes need to be flattering, comfortable and versatile. An emerging trend for T-shirts is inclusive sizing, important for all age groups and genders. Brands offering a range of sizes are receiving positive feedback, says Skinner.

“Classic fits, known for versatility and longevity, appeal to a wide audience,” she says. “In the men’s category, there is a growing preference for oversized or boxy fits. The oversized fit provides comfort and a laid-back vibe, while boxy with a straight cut offers a more structured, yet casual style. For women, boxier fits are gaining popularity for those seeking a more casual look. In athleisurewear, you will see sporty elements, such as raglan sleeves.”

Both youths and adults are showing an increased interest in an oversized fit, signaling a continued shift toward a more relaxed style, says Suzy Zaczynski. “We believe that every fit of T-shirt has a fan behind it, and one size rarely fits all. That belief inspired us to create four distinct cuts of tees, so that we could reach the widest audience possible. Toasty Hemp Co. prioritizes promoting confidence in clothing regardless of age or gender.”

Female model in long-sleeve t-shirt

LAT Apparel paired its Vintage Wash process with a super soft fleece blend to create the Unisex Vintage Wash Crew Fleece. Photo courtesy of
LAT Apparel

Predicting designs and styles for the coming year can involve a great deal of speculation, with so many factors that influence the fashion industry. That being said, the ongoing trend of nostalgia-inspired styles is noteworthy, says Skinner.

“Nostalgia-inspired styles are likely to persist in popularity through 2024,” she says. “With T-shirts, this may be seen through decorative elements, such as retro colors, vintage graphics and appliqué. We are also seeing this in fleece and outerwear.”

Colors will not radically change. Neutral, earthy and pastel hues have been in demand, and will continue to be influential in 2024. Neutrals are extremely versatile, earthy hues embody the growing demand in sustainability and the outdoors, and pastels provide a sense of freshness, especially in the spring and summer. A pop of color will hold steady in the T-shirt category to keep looks interesting and energized.

Product Push

It seems each company has a unique mix of ingredients regarding an approach to marketing. One way or another, the message must get out to customers.

Suzy Zaczynski says social media and email marketing have helped Toasty Hemp Co. increase reach and maintain communication with potential customers.

“Hemp is a material that most customers haven’t yet worn, and there are a plethora of misconceptions out there about it as a material,” she says. “The biggest misconception is that hemp is scratchy and uncomfortable to wear. Our unique blend of hemp and recycled poly is extremely soft and only gets better with age. Educating the consumer about that fact is a huge part of what we do at Toasty Hemp Co.”

Zaczynski adds that one of the most impactful approaches to marketing is getting the material into the hands of screen printers and customers, for them to feel, understand and appreciate it.

“Our marketing approach is multifaceted and designed to meet our audiences where they are,” says Oleksik. “We leverage both social media and traditional marketing channels to disseminate our messages effectively. On social media, we engage with our followers on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, to share updates, offer insights and create an interactive community.”

In tandem with LAT Apparel’s social media efforts are email marketing, content marketing and SEO strategies to reach a broader audience. The company strives to create a customer experience worth discussing, and the ultimate goal is to connect with their audience in a meaningful way, driving engagement, and fostering lasting relationships. A broad range of marketing methods helps them do that.

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 jennmorrell@hotmail.com.