An embellished sports bra is the perfect add-on for team sales, being a great complement to a pair of joggers or leggings. (Imag

Big Softie: Raising Visibility with Soft Promotional Goods

Nadia Santoli is a freelance contributor to Printwear Magazine. With over 10 years in the public relations, communications, and marketing fields, including nearly three years directly within the promotional apparel industry, Nadia is no stranger to successfully bringing products and services to the market. She has a bachelor's of business administration degree from the Schulich School of Business and resides in the Toronto, Ontario area.

Any organization that places value in promoting their brand will certainly consider using soft promotional goods as part of their marketing strategy. Promo items offer something that a typical advertisement cannot. They have longevity, can greatly extend your client’s reach, and serve as a walking billboard. Whether it’s a hat, scarf, bag, or garment, without even realizing it, we catch ourselves reading the logo or message on a soft promotional good. 

So, how can you effectively reach those clients wanting to build a promo campaign? Many of the industry experts we spoke to indicate that carrying the right assortment of unique and on-trend products for the right customer is a solid start.

Finding promotional campaign clients

To resonate best with clients that are building promotional campaigns, Bill Patterson, VP of sales at HTT Apparel, recommends that rather than showcasing “products from a readily available big catalog vendor that everyone can use, illustrate custom products that are unique and cannot be easily duplicated.” This gives you an edge over other vendors who carry similar products, especially if you up the ante by offering additional services, such as the creation of presentation graphics and quick-turn samples. If you can get a sample into the hands of a client quick enough, they will be able to touch, feel, and evaluate whether that product is the right fit for the campaign.

Following what’s hot in the retail world comes into play in a major way. For promo suppliers to be relevant in this industry, their overall offering and product assortment needs to mirror some of the trends we see in consumer fashion. “Analyzing these trends can be like looking into a crystal ball—seeing what works at retail helps to drive a promotional program’s success,” states Mosley.

Retail trends that are making an impact in the promo apparel industry include the heightened use of textures, as well as the vintage-style look. Marcus Davis, manager of Product Development at Hanes and Champion notes that “whether its heathers, slub yarns, or a nap texture, it all ties to visual interest. At some point, softness became a point of entry in this market, but now the bar has been raised with tri-blends and newer types of fabrications/treatments.”

Retro styles, such as ringer, varsity, or baseball Ts, also remain top-of-mind for consumers, given that vintage clothing has set its stake in mainstream fashion. Vintage has a distinct quality that transcends time and embraces a person’s desire for individuality, and as these pieces continue to appear on the runway, the selections seen within the promo world can be easily integrated into the modern wardrobe.

With some tips on how to attract promotional campaign clients, which soft goods work best for which companies? From top to bottom, let’s explore the goods!

Headwear

At their most basic, hats are intended to keep our heads warm. However, over the years, what was once considered a functional product is now seen as a fashion staple that virtually any company or organization can use to promote their brand.

In particular, camouflage on headwear seems to be trending high. This rugged print can be seen on a variety of hats and in a multitude of color selections.

Performance hats with moisture-wicking fabric and UV protection and stretch fit caps are also doing well, especially amongst those companies who promote an active lifestyle. A gym or yoga studio may consider these for giveaways. Sports clubs, recreational facilities, and restaurants may view these as perfect complements to their outdoor uniform.

LEFT: With the cooler temperatures and everyone layering up, beanies offer prominent campaign placement. (Image courtesy HTT Apparel)

For the colder months, you can never go wrong promoting your campaign with a beanie, as long as it has a soft hand. Lightweight fabrics that incorporate warming technologies can wow your client, especially if they come in sports team colors. A great up sale idea is to match the headwear with something like a scarf for a coordinated outfit. “Matching beanies and rugby scarves are great for sports team supporters. Sales spikes typically occur with colors that are based on teams who are performing well,” adds Mosley.

From a decoration perspective, “sublimation used in headwear continues to be an outstanding trend. There’s a lot of momentum with using this technique on cotton/spandex blends, as well as sport tech fabrics,” comments Patterson. If looking to build name recognition economically and fashionably, Mosley also suggests considering embroidery on in-demand caps.

Sports bras

Although undergarments may not be your most typical soft good, growing yoga and fitness industries, sports clubs, sororities, and teams all consider embellished sports bras to be terrific selections, according to Davis. In particular, sports bras with technology that wicks moisture to keep the wearer cool and dry are high in demand, as well as those that prevent irritation and chafing. Freedom and ease of movement are also desired, which is why racerback styles that are made from a mix of polyester and spandex seem to be most popular.

Ts, polos, and woven shirts

If your client falls under the resort wear, surf shop, or sorority/fraternity category, Ts that are ultra-soft and durable are ideal, especially if they are presented in a variety of pastel colors. These soft hues are on-trend and exude a sense of serenity, tranquility, and peace-of-mind.

Building off the popularity of the heavyweight, gender-neutral trend, T-shirts with high durability and a luxuriously soft-feel is great for events, concerts, or uniforms, Davis indicates. It’s important that your fabric has a high-stitch density, as this allows for superior printability, while a tag-free neck label offers additional comfort.

RIGHT: A button-down woven shirt offers durability and plenty of design space for any campaign. (Image courtesy HTT Apparel)

Let’s also not forget about retail boutiques and companies that boast an active lifestyle. If they’re looking for apparel, you’d be wise to show them tri-blend fashion Ts that have cooling technology, UV protection, and odor control. A nice mix between fashion and performance, Ts that are offered in soft heather shades are ideal for brands wishing to encourage good health and fitness.

Other stand-out options include woven camp shirts with spandex for those companies who wish to create a laid-back, yet professional uniform look, while recycled polo shirts are great for arenas, stadiums, gyms, and sports-related companies. Both offer great durability and tremendous opportunity for decoration indicates Patterson.

Light sweaters and jackets

For the cooler seasons, many brands may start looking for light sweaters and even jackets to display their logo. “lightweight French terry, sueded fleece, and other interesting styles and fabrications have caught the attention of both record labels and retail boutiques,” stresses Davis. “Retail-inspired designs in these categories targets fashion-forward millennials, and captures the very essence of retro style.”

According to Patterson, crew necks and zip collar styles offered in a wicking fabric are widely used amongst the masses. There’s nothing worse than feeling too hot and sticky in a sweater – breathable fabrics, such as these, will wick the sweat off the skin, allowing for a more relaxed experience.

LEFT: Jackets offer the promotional products marketplace style and function along with various decoration opportunities.  (Image courtesy HTT Apparel)

Other traditional jackets that are highly regarded include microfiber hooded jackets with rip-stop fabric for durability, soft shell jackets with contrasting side panels for active styling and multiple pockets for functionality, as well as hooded fleece-lined jackets with wind- and water-resistance.

Joggers

With athleisure becoming increasingly relevant in today’s world, “the popularity of joggers as an alternative to jeans and khakis can create new revenue as a way to build on promotional programs,” explains Davis. Fleece or French terry bottoms are suitable for any client that aligns with an everyday active lifestyle. While fleece provides warmth and comfort, French terry that is made from a mix of rayon, polyester, and cotton tri-blend fabric, can offer great softness and stretch for added comfort.

Consider also presenting joggers that capture retro styling, such as a flat, stitched mock fly or drawstring, as these will again effectively target fashion-forward millennials or those who simply want to associate with a heritage look and feel.

RIGHT: As athleisure makes it mark on fashion, joggers are becoming a closet staple. (Image courtesy Champion)

Bags

Last but not least, you’ll have the sale ‘in the bag’ by offering on-trend totes in your soft promotional goods collection. In the world of retail, bags not only complete an outfit but often make a bold statement. In the wholesale market, the same rings true. Bags are more than just a practical solution; they are also a fantastic means of expanding business and carrying a message. Much like the iconic blue bag from Ikea, bags are a staple and can represent much more than a product that can only hold things for consumers.

Depending on the intended target audience, there are many shapes and sizes available. Even more attractive is the great up sale opportunity. Bags can serve a dual purpose because when packaging other promotional products into them, you are essentially removing the giveaway appearance and heighten the overall perceived value to the client.

LEFT: From grocery stores to family outings, tote bags are seen and used by everyone. With the endless amount of sizes and colors, they’re an easy sell for any business. (Image courtesy Kati Sport Cap)

Practically any business or company needs a bag. Amongst the multitude of colors, textures, and coatings, this resourceful option has a long lifespan and an immense amount of decorating potential.

Collaboration is key

As the soft promotional goods category continues to mature and expand, raising brand visibility has never been so effortless. Using any combination of the goods mentioned above is a cost-effective way to ensure a logo or message has presence in the marketplace, as they present a long-lasting impression, create excitement, and boost customer loyalty.

Many high-quality suppliers will always look for ways to improve their collections based on the latest trends. Most of the in-demand styles we explored are driven by the products we see at retail, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to know what your client’s expectations and needs are first. After all, they know best in terms of what they are looking for, so take the time to collaborate with them and truly understand the requirements of their order before presenting the next best thing.