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Generation T
Spurred by demand from the newest trend-setting crowd and increasing overseas competition, suppliers offer a fresh look for T-shirts this year
EMB Magazine (Embroidery Monogram Business)
Danielle Cohen
January 1, 2003

The revolution will not be televised; it will be worn. "The dawn of a T-shirt revolution [is upon us], which will change the entire product base, due to an emerging population bulge of young people," says Dov Charney, senior partner and founder, American Apparel, Los Angeles. "Just as the boomers transformed this industry in the late '60s and early '70s with political T-shirts and tie-dye T-shirts, the cycle of change is about to happen again. In addition to changes prompted by this new generation of T-shirt seekers, a nudge from overseas activity has forced the market to push the envelope. "There is an increased level of competition that presents a greater need for innovation and differentiation in the marketplace," says Seth Freeman, T-shirt category marketing manager, Russell Artwear, Atlanta.

This push has led manufacturers to extend their color palettes to furnish options that suit all personalities - and to capture the fringe markets, says Len Silverman, vice president of marketing, Fruit of the Loom, Bowling Green, Ky. Safety colors, naturals, heathers and rich fall- and European-inspired hues will be major players this year.

Renee Thomas, senior merchandise manager, Hanes Printables, Winston-Salem, N.C., feels this wide array of color gives decorators a solid foundation for imaginative creation. Whether for work or play, to express individuality or promote a cause, T-shirts are a wardrobe essential, she adds. "Whereas T-shirts were once worn with jeans, they are now worn in the workplace under a sports coat," she says. "And they say who you are through decoration, whether it's a corporate logo, favorite band or sport, or lifestyle [message embellished on them]."

With manufacturers staying on top of trends while venturing into new colors and styles to offer a full gamut of options, sales projections for T-shirts are cautiously optimistic for 2003. The sluggish sales that characterized 2002 are not expected to carry over into the new year. "We'll probably see slight growth in the first half of 2003," Silverman says.

For further profit potential, companies continue to recognize the plus-size niche and are expanding color and style offerings there. However, don't expect the bulky T-shirt of days gone by to reign supreme. "There is movement away from the big, heavy basic T-shirt that has dominated the industry for over 10 years," Charney says. "Body flattering styles that were once discounted as too small as the boomers got older are desperately sought after by an emerging youth generation."

Overall, T-shirts have become more feminine, with contoured silhouettes fitted without clinging tightly. "Design for women has been revolutionized through the recognition of the fact that women have forever refused to wear men's loose-fitting and ill-designed/indelicate T-shirts," says Merrily Lupo, product development/design, American Apparel, Los Angeles.

Expect to see details such as vintage effects, pockets, long-sleeve styles and stretchy fabrications distinguishing this year's styles. Also, driven by functionality and comfort, manufacturers are placing utmost importance of softness. "The evolution of the manufacturing process has produced T-shirts with a softer hand and more comfortable fabrication," Freeman says. "An example is the combed ring-spun process, which removes short fibers and impurities and ultimately provides a better surface for printing and embroidery. It also feels smoother and softer than T-shirts produced through the traditional carding process."

So get comfortable; 2003 promises a T-riffic year.