February 21, 2023
In the decorated-apparel space, the womenswear market continues to evolve. From those days when the female consumers persuaded manufacturers to create a ladies’ fit basic T-shirt to avoid wearing oversized and ill-fitting men’s shirts to today’s fashion offerings, we’ve come a long way. This progress, in turn, affords embroiderers, screen printers and digital decorators that many more sophisticated products to offer their customers, thereby creating the potential to garner ever bigger profits.
Casual womenswear has come a long way since the days of ill-fitting men’s T-shirts! Photo courtesy of SanMar/Mercer+Mettle
What’s trending for 2023? A lot, according to manufacturers and suppliers specializing in the market. “Look for a more consumer-driven aesthetic with the caveat that everything is still very comfortable,” says Vicki Ostrom, trend editor at SanMar Corp. (sanmar.com) “The athleisure brands are mimicking brands like lululemon athletica and Nike…taking their workout wear and changing the silhouettes to be more of a lifestyle look.”
Along these same lines, for Lane Seven Apparel, the oversized, an equally comfortable, more urban fit has been a successful style.
“For our company, we see the longer crops with unisex pieces very popular among women,” says Milissa Gibson, Lane Seven strategic accounts executive. “The hi-lo crop trend that was so popular last year still has a bit of influence, but the longer, even crops are trending for 2023. We do a lot of fleecewear with the idea of taking that basic and elevating it into the atheleisure-wear space. It was happening before COVID but seems to have accelerated with sweatshirts and pants being elevated from day to night wear.”
Meanwhile, over at S & S activewear, matching sets, color blocking, ribbed fabrics, shirt jackets (shackets), Sherpa and eco-friendly styles are the hot trends, according to Andi Goeing, content strategy specialist.
“Matching fleece sets that create activewear that matches dad’s or kids’ sets are very popular, and we’re stocking them in several brands,” Goeing says. “Also, the preppy-varsity look is coming back into play, with color blocking continuing to be really big this year.”
Goeing notes leggings “still rule” as far as women’s bottoms go, with flared-leg yoga pants making a comeback,” but adds: “Another big trend for 2023 is ribbed fabrics in both tank tops and long-sleeved shirts as well as shirts with fashion fringe trim; shirt jackets, or shackets, have come on strong in the past two years as well and continue to grow and evolve.”
According to Goeing the Western influence is also proving popular, whether it be in decorating trends or the apparel itself. With this in mind, she says the lines her company is carrying show a lot of fringe detail, paisley prints and cowboy hats as mainstays in today’s fashion.
Finally, there’s what she and other industry professionals refer to as a kind of “joyful” dressing—wearing bright colors and mixing different prints and patterns, a result of coming out of the pandemic during which people were cooped up for too long and now want to wear “happy” colors.
Of course, these days, there’s a lot more to fashion than just looks, with everything from sustainable production practices to workforce diversity factoring into many buyers’ purchasing decisions.
SanMar T-shirts are also part of the industry-wide effort to go ‘green.’ Photo courtesy of SanMar
“Eco-friendlier” apparel, for example, has been popular for years, and continues to be at the forefront in the eyes of the decorated apparel market, especially among companies like the cutting-edge shirt manufacturer Allmade, created in 2017 with sustainability as its main focus.
“We say our shirts are good for the planet and people,” says marketing manager and cofounder Mel Lay. “We started with a group of 10 founding screen printers who wanted to make a shirt that was eco-friendly, well-priced and better to print on. We then thought about the people making the shirts and created a company that was a great place to work with ethical wages and factory conditions.”
Today, Allmade offers a number of different fabric types, including its original Tri-blend line, in which each shirt is made out of a combination of six recycled plastic bottles and a mix of organic cotton and Tencel Modal; a 100 percent certified organic cotton line; and, new for 2023, a line the company calls Mineral Wash, a 100 percent certified organic cotton line dyed with actual minerals.
“Less synthetic materials are used in the dyeing process and it saves water,” Lay says of Allmade’s new Mineral Wash garments. “The colors are really quite beautiful and are different than anything we’ve created up to this point. We’re expanding our lines so there’s more than just T-shirts being offered.”
More generally, S & S activewear’s Goeing says brands across the industry are “going more sustainable,” adding, “They’re basically trying to convert as much of the product as possible to recycled materials. We’re seeing that from premium retail brands like adidas to more basic names like Hanes and Gildan. Everyone seems to be using more sustainable practices in building the apparel.”
In this same vein, Ostrom says that while it used to be mostly young consumers with their eye on eco-friendlier options, everyone now sees the importance of sustainability measures.
“People want to know who’s making things,” she explains. “What are their business ethics? How are they manufacturing apparel? So, there’s starting to be more awareness on single-fiber clothing because it’s more recyclable.”
Ostrom adds there’s also an increasing emphasis on carbon-neutral, or C-free, lines. “Garments are being made of recycled fibers from scraps of fabric or regenerated yarns in the manufacturing process so they aren’t being wasted. Finally, there’s awareness of natural fibers such as linen, flax and cellulose-based fibers that are super soft and drapey as well,” she explains.
As for Lane Seven, Gibson says the company has introduced something it calls Future Fleece, a line of 100-percent sustainable, regenerated yarn that is sold at an aggressive price point.
“Decorators will be able to go back to customers who wanted something sustainable until they saw the previous price points,” Gibson says. “We’ve got a solution for that in this line that works beautifully with other environmentally friendlier decorating processes like DTF, DTG and water-based and discharge inks.”
Fabrics and Colorways
In terms of the nuts and bolts of production, fabrics used for the basics market have come leaps and bounds over the years, with todays’ styles mimicking the softness, fit and drapeability of retail garments. As evidence of this fact, while the hottest thing going for the past several years has been tri-blends, the fabric is increasingly coming under pressure as new fabrics enter the market.
“Tri-blends [and other softer fabrics] are still a big deal because consumers want that softness and quality,” Ostrom says. “There’s remains a lot more emphasis on pleasing yourself versus pleasing others when it comes to dressing. We still care about fashion trends but through the pandemic people realized they also want to be comfortable. The emotional toll is real when you spend two years at home, and so that comfort factor and confidence you get from feeling good in your clothes is changing our wearability trends.”
Colors and comfort are a big part of today’s womenswear mix. Photo courtesy of Lane Seven
Lane Seven’s Gibson agrees, noting her company is seeing strong trends in 100-percent cotton, with a slight uptick in heavier weight tri-blends coming into play. Complementing this trend, she says, is that fact that because the garments themselves are being cut a bit more generously and with more ease to them the fabric doesn’t need to be quite as “stretchy.” The garment itself can simply be cut a little bigger so it doesn’t look sloppy but still hits the shoulder correctly, a product of careful patterning.
In terms of colorways, Gibson says she’s seeing a trend toward neutrals, creamy lavenders, sea foam and salmon. The Pantone Color of the Year [Viva Magenta] serves as an indication where things are headed as far as brights, she says.
Echoing these same thoughts, Goeing says it appears more and more people are interested in having a core wardrobe in which they are carrying pieces over year to year. To do that you need to keep your basics in a neutral palette and earth tones such as avocado green, sage, terracotta and clay colors, and parchment colors light soft beiges and tonal creams, she explains.”
Gettin’ The Goods
Of course, one of the many challenges that came out of the pandemic was the supply chain bottleneck that had so many industries at a standstill and affected consumers negatively. Decorators couldn’t get blanks or inks, and chemicals and other sustainables were on six-month backorders. Thankfully, supply chains have started to ease up, making for a much more forgiving environment for decorators.
“I think everyone on the apparel side is getting into an overstock position across the board,” Gibson says. “You’re always going to have inventory holes—that’s going to happen, especially with specialty items. I think what’s happening across markets is that people aren’t anything just in time anymore. They’re looking at it as getting adjusted to having backup to diversify their portfolios.”
To a large degree, most of the blockages have cleared up, Ostrom says. “We’ve gotten a lot of the supply we’ve been waiting on, but it still depends on your own company’s situation. There’s still stress out there because decorators don’t know how much to order, when it will get there, etc. So, you might have some logjams because you don’t know what you want coming out of the pandemic where the economy has shifted and we’re all doing business differently.”
Bottom line: womenswear continues to evolve and mimic retail influences across the board. Keeping up with the trends will ensure you can upsell your customers on fashion basics with their personalized touch.
Marcia Derryberry is the former editor-in-chief of Impressions magazine and content developer for the Impressions Expo conference program and owns her own media communications company, Derryberry Media Communications in McKinney, Texas.
Makin’ It Custom
When it comes to decorating womenswear this year, many new forms have inched their way into the market. Direct-to-garment (DTG), direct-to-film (DTF) and sublimation among the popular digital processes being offered in addition to traditional screen printing and embroidery.
The use of digital tech, like this Epson DTG printer, continues to expand. Photo courtesy of Epson
“When it comes to garment decoration, I think people are more aware that when you decorate something, it can make it less recyclable,” says Vicki Ostrom, trend editor, SanMar Corp. “So, they’re more careful about what types of decorating methods they use. Also, awareness of placements is coming into play. Consumers want a little personalization on high-end garments like North Face or Carhartt so it will increase the value in the resale market. If it gets resold with your brand on it, your brand lives on.”
DTF is transforming the industry, says Milissa Gibson, strategic accounts executive, Lane Seven Apparel. “With DTF, not only do you get the vibrant colors, but you have the ability to increase production by taking a design and ganging it on a single sheet of transfer film. So you end up with several transfers that you can put on a variety of garments and substrates, saving you production time.” — M.D.
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