Off the runway, onto customers

Fashion Forecast

Ray Smith has been in the screen-printing industry since 1978. He has been involved as an art director, production manager, plant manager and business owner. He re-joined Wilflex in 2008 as the applications lab manager. Smith is currently the senior business development manager at PolyOne.

Like every other industry today, times are changing. Now, more than ever, fashion trends are shaped by the consumer. In the past, trends were dictated by manufacturers, forced down to consumers through retail, and eventually retired for a decade or two… only to be slightly modified and released again. And so the cycle turned. But this process doesn’t work for today’s consumers who are accustomed to instant gratification of (their) wants and needs. Internet-based design programs, color picking software and unlimited patterns at the fingertips of buyers and end users have changed the landscape of where and how a trend can start.

With this shift, we now see trends more apt to be born from the consumer and driven up to the manufacturers and retailers. Instead of the retailers telling consumers “this is what you want,” consumers are telling retailers “this is what we want.” The abundance of style blogs, real-time communication, and interactive idea and portfolio sharing have given consumers a much stronger voice. They expect it to be heard.

What does this mean for screen printers? The increased “speed-to-market” need for new styles make delivery times more critical than ever. The new generation of buyers not only expects product quickly, but custom and quick. This is great news for domestic decorators, especially in terms of basic garments such as Ts and sweats. Those that print basic garments can tool themselves to be more agile in order size and delivery. In this scenario, retailers can carry less stock and offer more variety. They have less financial exposure and are more likely to have capability for quicker turn on their floors. The ROI is quickly realized when taking into account the fact that there is less overstock and fewer price-deviations as a result. That is, of course, if products are on-trend.

Predicting a trend is not an exact science, but with enough research and observation, it is fairly easy to map a general direction. Drawing from trend forecast agencies and fashion shows and communicating with cutting-edge designers help us shape sound projections for our industry. Still, forecasting trends for the next few years can be difficult with the overwhelming amount of information. Here, we present in general terms the overall categories that are good places to start.

Mature metallics and soft sheen

The shift to muted metallics and softer sheens is a natural progression from the metallic look that has held our attention for the last few years. In an effort to create “all things soft,” metallics are taking the foil and flake aesthetic to a different place. Softer use of the foils, utilizing less harsh colors like copper and bronze, create a more subtle design palette. This look can be very versatile for men and women’s fashion and is also very effective for updating concert or band designs.
Achieve it with screen printing: Use soft inks such as water-base or soft handi plastisol to create color. Then use a foil adhesive or gel to grab the foil.


This trend story finds its origins in the urban designs that were typically heavy, dark key lines filled with bright colors. The hard lines of past seasons morph into more playful shapes and a juxtaposition of unique forms in the update to this trend. Striking patterns with visual plays of dimension and arbitrary shapes create bold prints while unique angles, pattern-layering effects and strong hues add character and identity. This look is very playful and versatile and can be used across multiple age and gender groups. Not only is this trend strong in retail, but is also applicable for event graphics.

Achieve it with screen printing: This style is art heavy. Printing will be mostly flat color, using fluorescent mixes to achieve bright colors.

Tonal textures

We continue to see the neutral trend from seasons past. Increased interest and specialization is added to this soft, tonal color palette through texture and dimension. This look can be a design printed or embroidered using an ink or thread that is a shade slightly different from the garment. Duotone prints work well to convey a soft hand to the garments. The use of monochrome textures with subtle color differences can captivate the consumer; it doesn’t scream, it whispers.

Achieve it with screen printing: Print tonal tints of soft bases directly onto the fabric. Or use embossing inks that are color matched to the garment.

Faux real

This trend continues to push the boundaries of technology and skill. Striving to make the real look fake, and the fake look real is the cornerstone of this trend. Using a photorealistic image and manipulating it to seem “un-real” is a trend that seems to be grabbing the eye of top designers. Reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe or Campbell soup paintings, this style can be created easily with Adobe Photo Shop filters or other raster programs. To the other extreme, manipulating very soft, Renaissance-type paintings or artwork and recreating the detail as though an original piece of art provides interest and movement on a garment.

Achieve it with screen printing: This style is also art heavy and printed flat. The art is typically filtered to look like a posterized or graphically-manipulated photo.

Soldier chic

Also referred to as peace brigade or military, this trend is inspired by uniform silhouettes, colors, patterns and attention to detail. Using very utilitarian design elements and colors from nature such as green, beige and brown, this style is very versatile and can be complemented by the tonal textures and mature metallic trend stories. Small, unexpected elements such as camouflage patterns in pink have been growing in popularity the last few years and continue to offer uniqueness and variety. The effects are more subtle now, but definitely draw from these origins.

Achieve it with screen printing: Using a color set typical of camouflage on everyday designs in a duotone style, or actually using the camouflage design with bright colors will achieve this trend.

Soft hand

Aside from more specialized trends, the overarching theme and most sought-after effect is soft hand. All the individual trend categories are largely based on this idea of soft and many looks can be produced within each story to communicate it, both visually and texturally.

Achieve it with screen printing: Water-based inks, discharge inks on dark fabrics, softening standard plastisol inks with fashion soft additives and using finer mesh counts will help attain the softest hand possible.

Fabric trends

There are a variety of fabric trends, generally summed up by the word “blends.” Many great combinations of natural and man-made fibers are creating some interesting styles, and many of these combinations also create their own list of complications for printers. For example, Lycra will add stretch, nylon will introduce adhesion problems and polyester will add dye migration to the mix. In all events, the printer will need to know the fiber makeup of the material they are printing or major problems may befall them.

Of the blends mentioned, the largest movement in the near future will be the introduction of more polyester and polyester blends into the marketplace. Though the move toward performance materials helped jump-start this trend, cottoni shortages have pushed it into overdrive. Projected increases for polyester usage are higher than ever and there seems to be a consensus on this subject.

As we have discovered, predicting a trend is a difficult task. In today’s world, even the seemingly safe bet may be blindsided by a pop culture event. But the trends mentioned here are versatile enough to morph into most any style. Incorporating these trends into today’s printing will give a current look to the everyday design, creating a fresh package.