Build Your Business:

What Women Are Wearing

Athleisure, patches and Sherpa are among the fastest-growing trends in women's fashion and custom apparel.

By Jenna Sackett, Contributing Writer

Digi camo is continuing to grow in popularity by being added to text and design elements. Photo provided by Stahls’.

April 22, 2020

With the many evolutions of women’s apparel, it can be challenging to stay updated on current trends. One fashion trend, however, remains constant: customized tees and other wearables. As a custom print shop, it’s easy to maintain a solid grip on this trend; to do so requires understanding what women are looking for in custom apparel.

Two words come to mind when it comes to women’s desires for their custom apparel: function and fashion. It must fit well; be flattering yet versatile; and be comfortable enough for work, travel or even running errands.

This brings us to one of the fastest-growing trends in women’s fashion and custom apparel.

Athleisure with Subtle Design Elements
Athleisure is an easy-to-wear hybrid of casual wear and gym clothing. This apparel category steadily has been rising in popularity for several years because it’s comfortable, yet stylish.

From lounging to allowing end users to run errands wearing the same versatile wardrobe pieces, athleisure continues to trend in the apparel industry — and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Sleek leggings, tapered joggers, hoodies and other casual staples are stepping up with bright color variations and unique fabrications.

Heat-printing technology is an ideal decoration method for athleisure because the fabric’s finish should take priority when it comes to design elements for customization. Some athleisure fabrics can be difficult to decorate with other methods because of their heat-sensitive nature, lightweight feel and stretch. Innovations in heat-applied transfers and materials — such as reflective heat-transfer vinyl (HTV) — have allowed heat printers to successfully customize athleisure without compromising the finish of these sensitive fabrics.

Athleisure also is trending in corporate apparel. Consumer requests for formal clothing, such as pencil skirts and blouses, are declining. “Office” and “comfort wear” traditionally haven’t been compatible terms, but comfort and versatility have come to define typical wardrobes in the past several years.

Texture and Dimension
Knit, wool, suede, leather — you name it — these textured fabrics are everything and more that women are looking to add to their wardrobes from fall to early spring. However, one textured apparel option is trending that custom-apparel decorators can offer to maximize their profit opportunity.

Sherpa has gained massive popularity due to its lightweight structure, cozy feel and insulation. Previously, this fabric mostly was used in coat lining and other common outerwear to keep the wearer warm during cold seasons.

Though it’s currently used for those same purposes, it also can be worn as a standalone apparel piece. Sherpa can be incorporated in a variety of styles, such as crew-neck sweat shirts, quarter-zips and vests.

Dimensional finishes are key when printing Sherpa because the garment tends to be thick and fuzzy. To be decorated via heat printing, a transfer must be thick enough to stand out above the fabric’s pile. Printed twill or embroidered patches look great on these garments and offer a premium look and feel. Flocked heat-transfer material is another great option that offers a velvet-like finish that, because of its low cost, will be attractive to price-conscious customers.

Fleece jackets have long served as the comfortable, cozy outerwear of choice. This cold-weather staple has been around for several years, but “sweater fleece” is growing in popularity. This fabric combines the refined texture of a sweater with the properties and easy care of fleece — the best of both cozy worlds.

Similar to Sherpa, premium, high-end custom transfer options must be used for this textured garment type. Sweater fleece is used by popular brands that achieve customization with embroidery, as well as leather and printed patches. Heat printers can offer these popular finishes on this fabric to keep a competitive edge and increase your bottom line.

Embroidered Patches & Embellishments
For years, embroidered patches were used for practical purposes such as labeling uniforms. However, from offbeat vintage finds to mainstream apparel trends, patches are being revived and adapted. While standard embroidery still is a popular application, we’re starting to see three-dimensional, embossed, leather and printed patches become more conventional in custom apparel.

These products are trending in such a major way because they allow decorators to effortlessly turn customers’ designs or logos into vivid, fashion-quality looks and finishes. What type of patches should be added to custom apparel?

1. The traditional custom embroidered patch typically is created on a fabric backing with high-quality thread stitching.

2. The photo-realistic, custom printed patch simulates the look of thread by sublimating or screen printing twill. Choosing this patch type for a logo or design allows subtle details and colors that typically aren’t possible with standard embroidery.

3. Custom embossed emblems add a modern alternative to embroidered patches. As an apparel decorator, it’s important to offer unique, cutting-edge looks; emblems will do just that. They are available in an endless array of colors that bring logos to life with a look and feel that can’t be achieved with embroidery.

4. Leather patches mostly are worn on the back of jeans. Because custom leather patches can be ordered, high-quality flair can be added to any customizable item.

Apparel and accessories that are being targeted for this trend include retro tees and joggers, and outerwear staples such as jean, bomber and leather jackets.

Wild Prints
Animal prints are timeless, which makes adding these patterns to womenswear graphics a necessity. There are three specific patterns actively strutting the runway, soon to be integrated in the apparel-decoration marketplace.

Cheetah or leopard prints are popular patterns made of black “rosette” spots that create thick-edged circles with an open center. The most common classic leopard or cheetah print style has been popular in shades of camel, brown and black, but is trending in bright, vibrant colors that correlate with schools, clubs or organizations for relevance to the client. These popular feline prints often are seen in apparel graphics being paired with other popular patterns for a unique, mismatched effect.

Scale patterns also are becoming go-to print options. Snake, crocodile, mermaid and dragon scales are among the list of patterns being incorporated into decorated apparel across the industry. When adding patterns, most custom printers incorporate a contrast color that complements the pattern and makes it pop in the design.

Camo Patterns
In everyday wear, camouflage patterns shift in and out of popularity; they currently are on the rise in custom apparel in an understated way.

The military purpose of camouflage may be to blend in, but it’s the exact opposite in fashion apparel. Before diving into how you can benefit from this trend, it’s important to understand the different camouflage styles trending upward in fashion.

Woodland camo is most likely the first type of camo that comes to mind when you think of the pattern in trending apparel. It’s easily the most duplicated pattern across the fashion industry that incorporates four colors, including camo green, brown, beige and black. In the past, this camo style has been seen in different colorways that integrate vibrant colors, such as yellow, red and blue. Now, it’s popular to use this pattern in an understated way that allows for tonal looks, such as black-on-black and other muted colors.

Digi camo is another decorated-apparel favorite that uses macropatterns with sharp outlines and mimics a pixelated look. These patterns blur three colors together to form a digital camouflage effect. Although this pattern hasn’t been adopted as broadly as Woodland camo, it’s continuing to grow in popularity by being added to text and design elements.

Stay on top of trends and ahead of the marketplace by decorating with these trends. From patterns and patches, to Sherpa and athleisure, you’ll find a niche and sell more than ever.

Jenna Sackett is the education content specialist at Stahls’ TV. She teaches hobbyists, apparel decorators, and fashion enthusiasts where to start to have a successful business using heat applied graphics. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jenna at