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The Tee Party Goes On

T-shirt styles will stay in the comfort zone in 2022 as the industry continues to grapple with supply-chain issues.

By Hilary Daninhirsch, Contributing Writer

January 27, 2022

If there has proven to be one certainty about T-shirts, it’s that they never go out of style — even though styles of this staple apparel product continuously shift and evolve. This year will find a mixed bag, with some trends carrying over from last year and others evolving.

In 2022, look for styles and trends to revolve around one key apparel component: comfort.

Younger Consumers Crave Comfort
Though consumers are driving T-shirt trends, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the workforce (more remote workers than ever before) also has affected the market. This means comfort reigns supreme for T-shirt wearers. The younger generation especially is driving this trend.

“The Gen-Z and Millennials will lean into the comfort trend more than ever for 2022,” says Kristen Vincent, merchandise manager, JERZEES, Fruit of the Loom, Russell Athletic. “Athleisure was becoming a way of life pre-pandemic, and the pandemic accelerated this trend into the workforce. These demographics will have a hard time moving away from the ‘work-at-home’ uniform for future seasons.”

Michael Johnson, director of printwear, HanesBrands, agrees that there’s a continued, palpable youth movement affecting the industry. “We have younger consumers who take their eco-citizenship seriously, as well as young, creative talent responsible for designing and manufacturing apparel,” he says. “As consumers, they tend to be brand-loyal; make purchase decisions based on sustainable practices; and want options — silhouettes, weights, sizing. For example, women are still leaning toward a more relaxed fit, and this could mean an upsizing in women’s apparel or unisex styles. But, either way, they want the choice.”

While comfort is non-negotiable, Johnson asserts, younger wearers may be more flexible when it comes to other characteristics. “While we are still seeing a trend toward unisex styles and fits, consumers do want options,” he says.

Jason Buchanan, president of sales, Next Level Apparel, agreed that comfort is king. “Work from home has really divided people’s closets into flexible, multi-use items and a couple of standout pieces,” he says.

COVID’s Supply-Chain Effect
The pandemic and its resulting supply-chain challenges have disrupted many industries on a global scale, and the apparel industry hasn’t been spared.

“The lead times in securing fabric, as well as port congestion in the USA, has made it challenging for the raw materials and finished goods to arrive as planned,” Buchanan says. “On top of the logistical challenges, we are still seeing the costs of cotton, transportation and labor at very high marks. We expect these challenges to be in play for the greater part of 2022.”

To date, demand is unsurprisingly continuing to outpace supply. “Companies have historically sourced from overseas countries such as Asia, but are now looking to source in Central America, causing a constraint on our supply chain,” Vincent says. “This has caused an increase in demand for tees and fleece throughout the pandemic.”

The pandemic hasn’t necessarily spelled complete doom and gloom for the industry. Next Level, for example, has noticed many accelerated trends, particularly as the movement toward a casual workplace met the work-from-home movement. “The creator economy was kicked into high gear as more entrepreneurial-minded individuals created their own brands and printed gear for sale online,” Buchanan says. “We also are seeing a large rise in affinity-branded merch as consumers want to wear tees that support their passions.”

Sustainability & The Supply Chain
Sustainability has been a buzzword for several years, increasingly ramping up in importance as time passes. It’s a consumer-driven movement that has been recognized and embraced by both manufacturers and distributors.

“While it’d be hard to say if we ‘caught up,’ we’re certainly taking measures for change,” Buchanan says. “From a product-development standpoint, we’ve also noticed more apparel options made with natural fibers such as hemp, bamboo and organic cotton.”

Johnson adds that not only is sustainability a driving factor, but it also soon could become the standard for entry into the industry. “Companies, schools, organizations and events that put their names on printed apparel want to know that garment was sourced and made responsibly,” he says.

Demand for eco-friendly fabric is fueling fabric innovations. Despite best efforts and intentions to develop more sustainable products, however, the supply chain is the weakest link in the process.

“At the moment, sustainable raw materials, such as organic cotton, are just as hard to get and have risen in cost by as much as, if not more than, industrial cotton” Buchanan says. “The slowdown in logistics and supply chains has made it tougher for new entrants [into the industry] to develop sustainable apparel options.”

In the T-shirt category specifically, recycled polyester demand has increased even for those manufacturing in the Western hemisphere, forcing manufacturers to bring yarns in from the east, thereby pushing out sustainable-product lead times.

New-Year Style Trends
Vincent says soft, ring-spun fabrics combined with relaxed silhouettes are a must, as are heathers. She adds that garment-wash and tie-dye treatments will continue in 2022.

“Consumers will make more conscious buying decisions; better, versatile products that will last longer [will be in demand],” Vincent says. “Therefore, color, too, will follow suit. Also, utilitarian aspects, workwear inspiration and outdoor influence are key.”

Earthy colors like sage, mustard heather, military green and golden pecan tap into the Great Outdoors movement and a heightened sense of ecological awareness.

Johnson says the keywords for 2022 will be: “soft,” “simple” and “clean.” “In other words, cotton is the mainstay,” he says. “Younger consumers see cotton as the go-to fabric, especially in elevated earth tones. Think of soft whites, light khakis and very light greens, which are seen as upscale by Millennial and Gen-Z consumers.”

Basic unisex tees are trending, though some styles are being elevated with a simple color refresh or a treatment such as garment dyeing, Vincent points out. She also notes that “genderless” garments will be key when it comes to fit and color.

“While the pendulum in fashion and styling trends always seems to swing between relaxed and slim, one thing we believe in is that a classic fit made for every body type is always in style,” Vincent says.

Vintage styles also will be trending, which is apropos, as such styles often go hand-in-hand with soft fabrics. Garment-dyed apparel still is popular — initially made so on college campuses and in resort wear — but now the market has expanded.

Popular Printing Methods
Direct-to-film (DTF) printing will make waves in the T-shirt category this year, even though hybrid printing was introduced less than two years ago. According to industry experts, both decorating methods are growing in popularity, in part because of consumers’ realization of the quality these technologies produce.

“Consumers are driving the shift in printing style demand,” Buchanan says. “DTF allows brands more flexibility to test new designs and launch product campaigns with more efficient lead times. We’ve seen printing shops layering these techniques onto their menu of core services beyond merely sampling. Additionally, web platforms are implementing DTF and hybrid printing for merch companies to leverage.”

Johnson says Hanes wants to provide artists the best possible surface to showcase innovative designs and, therefore, uses Clean Canvas technology for its Perfect-T Collection.

Vincent says hybrid printing and DTF “allow more opportunities for more custom art, smaller runs, faster turnaround times and less material [used].”

Hilary Daninhirsch is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. Her work has been featured in a number of lifestyle and trade magazines. She can be reached at or