Brand connection is as simple as one, two … tee

When contestants on NBC’s popular reality show “The Voice” choose No Doubt lead vocalist and fashion icon Gwen Stefani as their coach, she hugs them and hands them a promotional “Team Gwen” t-shirt. Psychologically, the strategy is smart. With each shirt she hands out, she immediately connects each new person to the team brand. One new Team Gwen team member gushed as he walked off the stage, “And I got a t-shirt!”

There’s something about promotional t-shirts that can create an incredible emotional connection between the wearer and the brand. “[Branded t-shirts] can reflect who we are—whether that’s where we’ve been, what groups we’re a part of, or a cause we believe in. They are both conversation starters and billboards,” says John Spivey, marketing manager with Hanes Branded Printwear (UPIC: HBIINC). With the right fit, message and design, t-shirts have major marketing power. “A t-shirt that’s worn again and again makes your brand part of the fabric of someone’s life,” says Spivey.

While the basic, unisex t-shirts of yesteryear may have their place in certain types of promotions, today’s most desired t-shirts are a little more sophisticated. “Consumers are trending toward more stylish, form-fitting tees rather than the inexpensive, boxy options,” says Kevin Johnstone, director of marketing and brand management at supplier FPS Apparel (UPIC: FPSAp644).

“But [a more contemporary fit] cannot mean a t-shirt is so stylized that it only fits the very thin,” Spivey adds. “It should still fit real people.”

While standard screenprint or embroidery will always be a solid option, companies are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd, and creative decorating techniques are helping businesses shine. “Our clients want unique customizations outside of common screenprints and embroideries. Custom pockets, sublimation and allover screenprinting are some creative options that seem to be growing in popularity for us,” Johnstone says.

Whether through innovative fabric, custom decoration, flattering fit or specific function, the basic t-shirt is anything but basic these days.

These T-Shirts Take Center Stage

FPS Xpression shirt web

Xpression Pocket Spice up your t-shirt with a pocket customized with any logo in unlimited colors and placed wherever you wish. You can also choose a solid pocket or stock pattern pocket. Made from 100-percent preshrunk softstyle cotton fabric, this shirt is available in men’s or ladies sizes S-3XL.

FPS Apparel UPIC: FPSAp644


Fuirt of the Loom ladies T web

Heavy Cotton HD 100-Percent Cotton T-shirt The feminine neckline and slight contouring of this shirt ensure a flattering fit. Available in sizes S-3XL in high-density fabric for exceptional print clarity.

Fruit Of The Loom UPIC: FRUI0001


Jerzees polyester performance web

Sport 100-Percent Polyester T-shirt The whole family can sweat it out—and look good doing it—in this shirt with advanced moisture management performance and odor control. For sublimation printing options, this shirt is ideal. Choose from youth sizes S-XL and adult sizes S-3XL.

Jerzees UPIC: CROS0002


Gildan softstyle copy web

Softstyle T-shirt A stylish v-neck and rolled-forward shoulders for better fit make this shirt stand out. With 100-percent ring spun cotton, it has double-needle sleeves and hem. Adult sizes X-3XL.

Gildan UPIC: Gilda381


Ballet knit top alphabroder web

The Devon & Jones® Perfect-Fit™ Ballet Bracelet-Length Knit Top Cultivate gracefulness in this shirt, which features stretch cotton/modal jersey that drapes without clinging, as well as a ballet neckline with bracelet-length sleeves and delicate shaping at the waist with a longer 26-inch length. Women’s sizes XS- 3XL. Available in seven colors.

alphabroder UPIC:


Hanes Ecosmart web

EcoSmart® 50/50 Cotton/Poly T-shirt Be kind to the earth and comfortable by choosing this shirt, made with up to five percent recycled polyester. Features include a lay-flat collar and taped neck and shoulders. Available in adult sixes S-3XL and youth sixes XS-XL.

Hanes Brands, Inc. UPIC: HBIINC


Heritage men's long sleeve T

Paragon Men’s Long Sleeve Performance Tee Perfect for athletes,this shirt has moisture management and odor control, but it is just as comfortable for everyday activities. The 3.8-ounce, 100-percent performance polyester also includes UPF 30+ sun protection and a wrinkle-resistant finish. Pick from sizes: S-3X and a variety of colors, including black, heather gray, navy, red, royal, safety green and white.

Heritage Sportswear UPIC: HERI0002


model sport-tek ultimate performance

Sport-Tek® Ultimate Performance Tee Hit the weights or the couch in this poly/spandex loose-fitting, athletic-fit shirt with raglan sleeves. This tee combines a soft cotton hand with sweat-wicking performance to make training (or lounging) cooler and drier.



Next Level CVC crew gray web

CVC Crew If color variety is key, this tee might be the right pick. Made of 60-percent combed ring-spun cotton and 40-percent polyester, the 4.3-ounce jersey-knit fabric is laundered for reduced shrinkage and includes a tear-away label. Available in 30 colors. Adult sizes XS-4XL.

Next Level Apparel UPIC: NextL178


OMNi Apparel charcoal web

Donna Three-Quarter Sleeve Syntrel Dolman Top Not just for yoga glass, this shirt gives wearers multiple wardrobe options. Available in charcoal, blue print, avenue and bubble burst, with ladies’ sizes SM-2X.

OMNi Apparel, Inc. UPIC: zorrel


J-America Wholesale Blanks Glitter T web

Glitter T-shirt Sparkle in this 3.25-ounce, 95-percent combed cotton and 5-percent Lurex jersey fabric shirt—perfect for cheer, dance, team and casual wear. Glitter is knit throughout the fabric and cover-stitched as well. Choose from youth and adult sizes in seven colors.

J. America Wholesale Blanks UPIC: Blanks


Tips For A Trouble-Free T-Shirt Order

1. Communicate the timeline for an order clearly to your client “so that we (distributors and suppliers) can work as a team to meet the deadline and ensure the client’s expectations are on target,” says Johnstone.

2. Understand the ins and outs of artwork to provide the best service to your clients and avoid disappointing results. (See “The ABCs of Garment Decorating” in the October 2015 issue of PPB magazine for reference).

3. Recommend a quality t-shirt. “A t-shirt that is worn once—or never—is wasted effort and money,” says Spivey.


First Things First

Nobody disputes the fact that the plain white t-shirt originated as part of the standard issue U.S. Navy uniform in the early 20th century. But the facts surrounding the first promotional t-shirt are a bit hazy.

Many internet sources say that the first promotional t-shirt was created in 1939 to market the movie The Wizard of Oz. John Fricke, Oz historian and author of several Oz-related books, said, “I had a list of the original 1939 MGM licensees—about four dozen in all—and the products they proposed to produce. Only a small percentage of the companies followed through, however, and the minimally-considered concept of Oz garments pretty much went by the wayside. Given the historical lack of evidence, it seems they were never realized.”

But on July 13, 1942, the Air Force Gunnery School’s t-shirt was featured on the cover of Life magazine. The shirt was reportedly part of a softball uniform and represented the first time someone was photographed wearing a printed t-shirt—on the outside rather than underneath their clothes. While this probably wasn’t an intentional promotional t-shirt, after its debut on the magazine cover, t-shirts became very popular, especially among men.

Just six years later, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey printed promotional t-shirts for his 1948 presidential campaign, with the slogan, “Dew It With Dewey.” The shirts didn’t help Dewey’s doomed campaign, although the Chicago Daily Tribune was fooled and printed its infamous premature “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline. The Smithsonian Institute has the fabled t-shirt in its collection today. This, then, is perhaps the first true intentional promotional t-shirt.

In 1969, Incentives Corp. founder Max Scharf purchased screen-printing company K-Studio and introduced promotional apparel to the promotional products market as a supplier, setting the stage for the exploding popularity of promotional t-shirts.


Trend Talk

Hanes Branded Printwear Marketing Manager John Spivey says today’s savvy customers expect more from their apparel. In keeping with those higher expectations, Spivey says he expects to see a focus on the following trends in 2016:

Active Lifestyle: In line with the athleisure trend, consumers want t-shirts that take them across the activities of their day. And, t-shirts have the unique ability to work just as well with gym shorts as paired with a high-end blazer or sweater.

Premium: Customers expect more, and they are willing to pay a premium for a quality, durable shirt with key style and performance features.

Lightweight Fabrics: The Hanes® nano t-shirt, for example, combines contemporary style that fits more people, and lightweight ring-spun fabrics for the customer looking for more fitted, quality, fashion-inspired apparel.

Fabric Performance: Customers continue to see the advantages of the wicking power of polyester. Also, topical treatment technology will provide innovation in the market. Hanes, for example, is now able to rival the wicking performance of polyester with a super-soft, ring-spun blend.