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Why Fleece Still Flourishes

Current trends in fleecewear encompass retro, super-soft and lightweight styles that are suitable for year-round wear.

By Hilary Daninhirsch, Contributing Writer

August 27, 2019

As usual, fleece will be a big player in this year’s cold-weather months, but it also is a fabric that is popular for all-season wear.

Last year, the big trends in fleecewear were retro, vintage-looking pieces. While still a big trend driver in 2019, the category also has seen the rise of tri-blends and French terry fabrications. Translation: Super-soft comfort is in; hard and scratchy options are out. Also, social media is increasingly dictating style popularity, while colors range from neutral to bright and bold.

Taking Off Weight
“More than ever, fleece has become a year-round fashion staple, not just something to keep warm,” says Summer Barry, creative and marketing director, BELLA+CANVAS. “This makes mid-weight and lightweight fleece extremely popular due to [their] versatility.”

Jeanene Edwards, vice president, Fruit of the Loom/Jerzees Activewear, adds that lightweight fleece is a great layering option for the office, especially considering today’s casual workplace dress codes.

“Also, given our increasingly unpredictable weather, lightweight fleece is more forgiving with variable temperatures and won’t weigh down the wearer,” she says. “There’s also a great fashion reason for lightweight fleece: It offers soft, blended materials that drape nicely; texture for visual interest; and incredible comfort.”

Alp Ereren, marketing coordinator, Terry Town, says tri-blends gradually have been creeping into the marketplace during the past few years, offering “a softer feel and can stretch more freely compared to fabric like cotton. French Terry yields itself to be the go-to fabric for sweat shirts and sweaters, as it’s lightweight, absorbent and can be worn almost any time of the year.”

Marcus Davis, product development manager, HanesBrands, says geographic location impacts trends, though there is a demand for full weights across the industry.

That said, mid-weights’ popularity is growing. “One example is the ComfortWash garment-dyed fleece at 7.2 ounces,” he says. “In the southeast, it’s a perfect mid-weight in more mild winters, but still light enough to wear as a layer in warmer months.”

Styles & Influences
History has a tendency to repeat itself, which may explain why retro styles continue to be trendy.

“As more fashion styles are looking toward the past for inspiration, it’s no coincidence that fleecewear trends are following suit,” Ereren says. “Bold colors and abstract patterns that are reminiscent of decades past are growing more and more popular through outlets like social media. With some clever marketing, these styles and patterns are able to reach a wider audience and paints the picture that the past is here to stay.”

Barry says the streetwear movement has heavily impacted fleece styles. “Colors and silhouettes are drawing from what’s on the runway at Fashion Week,” she says. “In terms of silhouettes, more of an oversized fit is trending and unisex fleece has never been more in fashion.”

While the unisex look still is popular for women, Barry says cropped silhouettes are the most fashion-forward piece that has emerged in the past year. Edwards adds that oversized crop tops are in vogue, with design details such as piping and color blocking paired with graphic placements.

The garment’s cut also is tied to trendiness. For example, Mark Seymour, chief sales officer, Next Level Apparel, says hoods tend not to be as bulky. “Hoods have become lighter weight, single ply, or [now include] a T-shirt liner in them [that makes them feel] more relaxed on the back of the shirt.”

Oatmeal’s not just for breakfast anymore, Edwards says. “If you’re running a fleece program, oatmeal is a key color that’s becoming another neutral among the multitude of gray heathers,” she says. Other popular heathers include mustard and military green.

Barry says color skews two ways: either super neutral, with colors like vintage white, tan and beige trending; or super bold, with colors like brick, yellow or lilac making an appearance.

Ereren agrees, saying that solid gray, navy and hunter green dominate, though bright colors like orange, coral and royal also are in vogue. Seymour says oatmeal, blush, military green and other light, natural-looking fabric colors are popular.

“The same colors in the T-shirt side of the business are creeping into the fleece business, and it is exciting to see that color choice,” he says. “The variety of color is driving the business; having the choice between a solid colorway and a heather colorway is important.”

Fleece for All
Edwards says fleece is becoming more sophisticated, as younger demographics are demanding both stylish and comfortable apparel. Davis says youth fleece trends are catching up with adult styles.

“Alternative Apparel launched its youth collection last year with two of its most popular adult styles,” he says. “This includes the Champ Color-Block Printed Eco-Fleece youth sweat shirt.” He notes that eco-friendly fleece is growing in demand in the youth market.

Next Level launched its first kids’ zip hood this year in an 80/20 blend. “It was adopted by the market immediately, and the mid-weight fabric was driving it,” Seymour says. “Fleece has gone from coarse and scratchy to super soft on the inside and outside.”

Performance fleece continues to be popular with the team market and for corporate wear, making moisture-wicking and warmth-retention properties priorities, notes Edwards. In the men’s category, streetwear brands also incorporate performance fleece into their assortments. Streetwear also has facilitated the retro movement, which has driven demand toward heavier fleece weights.

“Having performance apparel that can move with your body and adapt to your surroundings will continue to make strides in fleecewear,” Ereren says. “Being able to have more mobility without being weighed down with heavy fleece will allow for suppliers to market their products as multi-purpose.”

Design Placements
Fleece’s versatility when it comes to decorating shouldn’t be understated. For example, it lends itself to embroidery because it has sturdy-enough weight to support large embroidered artwork, says Barry, adding that BELLA+CANVAS also has seen increased demand for DTG-friendly fleece fabrics.

Edwards agrees that DTG printing offers extensive color options, detailed graphics and is cost effective, particularly for smaller orders. “With younger consumers demanding more customized apparel, decorators have to consider DTG to service that market,” she says. “And you can print DTG successfully on fleece.”

She says sleeve placements and oversized graphics that wrap front to back, as well as mixed media combining embroidery and screen printing, are trending.

“For embroidery, you traditionally want to keep decorating the front left chest of any apparel piece,” Ereren says. “For larger embroidery pieces, the back panel of some apparel garments can offer more room to work with. If you’ve got a design that requires high detail, lots of fill and an increasing stitch count, having a back piece is the perfect way to make a grand statement.”

Fleece’s Future
Manufacturers agree that the fleece market will continue to expand with innovative styles, cuts and colors.

“Retro and throwback styling are not just a trend; we believe they’re here to stay,” Edwards says “We also envision more interesting techniques, such as overdyes, garment dyes and different washes, to bring new color to life or to improve garment hand.”

At BELLA+CANVAS, expect myriad new colors in the company’s Fast Fashion collection, as well as new silhouettes and textures.

Davis says the Eco Fleece collection is Alternative’s standout. “The fabric is so incredibly soft, and it’s available in more than a dozen silhouettes across men’s, women’s and youth [categories],” he says.

Seymour says the fleece category will continue to emphasize wearabilty and garment softness. “I feel like the clientele is becoming ever more discerning about the softness of [fleece] and how it wears and washes, so fabrication and using good yarns and good knits will be a super big part of the equation,” he says. “The days of bulky, scratchy fleece are behind us, and as that pendulum swings, it will capture the customer base into that softer side.”

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

Champion Celebrates 100 Years

Champion Athleticwear, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is celebrating a century of teamwork with the launch of its centennial anniversary campaign, “100 Years for the Team,” that will explore what it means to be a team in 2019 from the perspective of participating teams, clubs, squads and crews worldwide.

Champion began in 1919 in Rochester, New York, as Knickerbocker Knitting Mills. To celebrate a century of team spirit, Champion will engage with teams small and large around the world to share their passion about teamwork and what it means. Throughout the year, Champion will highlight and celebrate teams through social media, a special website, exclusive product collections, events and influencer partnerships. Select teams will even be featured in a centennial celebration video.

The 100 Years for the Team campaign will launch with a special film that features basketball legend Magic Johnson, who will share his reflections and insights into what makes a great team. Throughout the year, Champion will showcase a variety of modern-day teams while also looking back at key milestones in the brand’s history.

Teams are encouraged to share their stories via social media using #Champion100 or through the website for the opportunity to receive limited-edition product, be featured in a centennial celebration video and spotlighted on Champion’s social-media channels and website. Limited-edition product collections, events and influencer partnerships will be announced throughout 2019.