The sports team jersey has certainly changed and evolved over the years. It all started in baseball on April 4, 1849, when the New York Knickerbockers took the field in blue wool pants, white flannel shirts, and straw hats. Then, it wasn’t until 1903 that uniforms incorporated player names and numbers—it is believed that the very first use of numbers for each player was for an Australian Rules football match in Sydney.
As with almost everything, products change and get better with time. Later teams used standard cotton T-shirts decorated with vinyl lettering or screen printing. These jerseys were relatively inexpensive and typically, only decorated in one or two colors. But, it wasn’t odd to hear the athletes complain about the lack of breathability due to the thick vinyl or heavy layer of plastisol used with screen printing. (I recall many volleyball teams that I played on that required us to have two or three uniforms, as many of us sweatier types would need to put on a dry jersey half way through the tournament!)
Then, along came Under Armour, which really changed the way the weekend warrior athlete looked at the jersey and other apparel with the introduction of performance fabric. This moved even the most basic sports jersey toward moisture-wicking polyester fabric. Today’s jerseys actually help the athlete’s performance and the colors, styles and advertisements are as wild and varied as one can imagine.
The changes in fabric in this sector led to a variety of new ways to decorate the garment. The vinyl lettering used for numbers is thinner and more stretchable than its ancestors, which helps to avoid ruining the performance properties of the fabric. Improvements are also seen in the adhesive to help the garments hold up is the wash and wear.
Also, since polyester fabric is more widely used in modern athletic wear, this opened up the ability to sublimate on the jerseys. The sublimation process basically becomes part of the polyester fibers, so there is no hand to the printed design. The entire jersey feels the same, light and breathable. Sublimation makes it possible to produce brilliant multiple color designs with the same amount of work as producing a single color print, too, so teams can have better looking uniforms. The drawback to sublimation is that there is no white ink to make an under base, so to make colored jerseys you have to imprint the entire garment, but many jersey creators just stepped up, got a bigger heat press and are making amazing full color jerseys.
Beyond the jersey, athletes also want other decorated items to show their team pride. As a result, many decorators have branched out and are making bags, head bands, socks and other wearables for athletes, as well as fans.
With all these changes, you as a decorator must change and adapt as well. Step back from your current offering and make sure you are able to service today’s weekend warriors and other sports organizations. There are lots of potential customers in today’s marketplace. Just remember to think about this customer differently and, in turn, think about your business in a different way to ensure they will continue to need your service.