Eye On Apparel: Trying Sustainability On For Size


In fashion, trends come and they go—and many times, they come back around again—but one thing that never goes out of style are t-shirts. From runway glam to hip streetwear to athletic apparel and loungewear, t-shirts are one apparel item on which everyone can agree: you can never have too many. In the promotional products industry, t-shirts are one of the most popular apparel items used in marketing and promotion to get the word out about a new brand, a favorite cause or big event. Tees are also frequently the featured item distributed during giveaways, included in promotional packs that coincide with ticket purchases or event attendance, and sold at fundraisers where a portion of or all proceeds are donated to a charity or cause.

The popularity of tees lies in their universal appeal. Tees can be screen printed, tie-dyed or embroidered with a logo or design, or they can be bedazzled with rhinestones to add extra sparkle. Tees can be cut in a near-endless list of styles, from V-neck, scoop neck, off the shoulder or cold shoulder, to a cropped top or a longline, to a tight fit or an oversized style. When design comes into play, tees can be printed with an allover design, drawing even extra attention to a logo, or they can feature a logo in unique places, like a sleeve, chest pocket or lower hem. And, of course, there are many fabric options to choose from.

 “T-shirts are my first love,” says Carol Weathersbee of distributor TC BEE Inc. “It’s where I got started in this industry. My favorites are those designs that tell a personal story of the customer, although designs such as this can be the most challenging because every minute detail is essential to sharing the customer’s story or message. But I’ve always loved these challenges and gained quite a reputation for being a creative companion as my artists and I take great pride in helping folks use t-shirts to illustrate their stories.”

But because of the universality of t-shirts, every year brings forth new trends and fresh takes on classic favorites. This year is no different with a selection of bold, brilliant and attention-grabbing styles but what is really making headlines are the fabrics. This year, the stars of 2020 are crafted of fabric blends made with Mother Earth top of mind. 

Kylie Waltz, production and marketing manager of distributor Sparkly Tees, says this year brings a greater push towards blends like 50-percent cotton and 50-percent polyester or, even more popular, a tri-blend of 50-percent polyester, 25-percent cotton and 25-percent rayon. “These t-shirts are popular because they don’t shrink in the wash—they have a high content of polyester, which keeps them from shrinking—they are soft, [and] no one wants a stiff, scratchy shirt, and they are easily decorated,” says Waltz. For high-volume orders and as a cotton alternative, Waltz adds that ring-spun cotton is also a top choice. 

The benefits of offering end users sustainable tees are multifaceted. For tees that are made from recycled materials, like plastic, end users can proudly sport the look knowing their garment helped give new life to recycled plastic bottles, or helped reduce the amount of waste in the world’s oceans or landfills. For clients, sustainable tees are a go-to choice for eco-focused events and businesses, from fundraisers held to support the opening of a nature preserve, to keepsakes offered in the gift shop of a butterfly sanctuary, to cause marketing gatherings to raise awareness about the importance of environmental cleanup efforts. Offering end users a tee that makes an impact in more ways than one is sure to leave a positive impression for as long as the t-shirt lasts—which is quite a while.

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How exactly do eco-friendly tees help the environment? Here’s five ways.

  1. Eco-friendly, recycled or second-hand clothing helps reduce the amount of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, genetically-modified organisms and fertilizers that are released into the environment.
  2. Every cotton tee requires about 5.3 ounces of chemicals to dye a single shirt. Sustainable clothing requires far less dye.
  3. Eco-friendly fibers, like recycled polyester, help to divert the amount of plastic and fabric waste from the earth’s landfills.
  4. When clothing is made under the Fair Trade Act, it is guaranteed to be sweatshop-free.
  5. Clothing made from organic cotton aids in soil fertility and allows other crops to thrive alongside it.

Sources: BIZCATALYST 360, all-recycling-facts.com, treehugger.com, Well Made Clothes

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Banded self-collar: A type of collar made of the same material as the shirt. The two basic kinds of this collar are the simulated, made of two pieces, or the true, made of four pieces.

Burnout: Usually a blended fabric (cotton/poly, for instance) treated with a chemical to slightly dissolve one fiber in the cloth. The result is a sheer, lacy design often giving the fabric a vintage, worn-in feel. Because of this process, each garment is unique, and similar to tie-dyed or pigment-dyed fabric, there are often variations in the design and color.

Cationic fabric: The fabric undergoes a unique dyeing process involving positively-charged ions in the solution, causing the coloring to resist bleeding and fading.

Certified organic: Textiles that are certified organic are made from raw organic materials that originate from organic cultivation, processed using sustainable textile production methods where 100-percent certified organic natural fibers come from inspected, toxic-free, organic farming in compliance with regulations for organic production.

Cover-stitched armhole seam: Usually found in knit shirts and refers to the inside armhole seam being serged or finished.

Cover-seamed: A finish in which two needles are used to create parallel rows of visible stitching. It is used around the neck, arm holes, waistband and wrists of garments to create a cleaner, more durable finish.

Egyptian cotton: Cultivated in Egypt’s Nile River Valley, this cotton is considered the best cotton in the world. The particular growing season gives the cotton the longest and strongest fibers, making it ideal for weaving into smooth, strong yarn. Commonly used in high-end towels and linens.

Garment dyed: Apparel dyed in garment form rather than fabric form. This is a popular fashion treatment used by designers.

Hand: Quality or characteristic of fabrics that are perceived by the sense of touch; e.g. firmness, softness, fineness and drape.

Neck tape: Protective band of tape sewn over the seam between the shell and the collar for a more comfortable feel to the garment.

Peach finish: A soft hand (feel) usually obtained by sanding the fabric lightly; it can be achieved with chemical or laundry abrasion.

Peruvian Pima cotton: Peruvian pima cotton is often referred to as the “cashmere of cotton” the softest, smoothest, “silkiest” fabric you can wear. Shrinkage standard for Peruvian Pima fabrics is a maximum of five-inches-high-by-five-inches-wide if the garment is washed following directions on the label.

Pigment dyeing: A class of dye used on cotton or poly/cotton. Neon or fluorescent colors are done with pigments. Dyers also do a distressed look using pigments. Pigments have the least degree of fastness of all the dyes but create the brightest colors. Pigment dyes will typically stay in the pastel range unless it’s neon. You cannot deepen color with a pigment.

Pima cotton: High-quality yarn made by plying yarns spun from long-combed staple.

Ring-spun yarn: Yarn made by continuously twisting and thinning a rope of cotton fibers. The twisting makes the short hairs of cotton stand out, resulting in a stronger yarn with a significantly softer hand. Found in more expensive polos and tees.

Source: Gildan Activewear

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Thanks to a micro-brushing process, the Unisex Sueded Snow Crew has an exceptionally soft hand. The suede jersey, peached snow yarn fabric, made from a blend of 60-percent combed ring-spun cotton and 40-percent polyester, features a blizzard snow effect in a crew neck style. Available in men’s S-3XL in five colors, shown in snow heather green.

Next Level Apparel  /   PPAI 272027, S3  /  www.nextlevelapparel.com

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Creativity abounds with the Softspun Crew No. 105. This allover print is entirely customizable with seam-to-seam sublimation of any full-color design. Help your client’s brand come to life on a tee made from 95-percent soft-spun polyester and five-percent spandex, a blend that’s longer lasting than cotton and can be worn without worry of it pulling or shrinking. Available in men’s and women’s styles in S-2XL. 

FPS Apparel  /  PPAI  273314, S1  /  www.fpsapparel.com

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Made with an allover patriotic star pattern, the Alternative Eco Ideal Stars Tee is made from an eco-jersey tri-blend, USA-made fabric comprised of organic and recycled materials. A go-to option for everyday wear, the tee has a soft hand with a heathered feel and a worn, vintage finish. Additional details include blind-hem stitching detail and a bound neckband. Available in women’s XS-2X.

Hanes/Champion  /  PPAI 191138, S10  /  www.hanes.com

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The Ladies’ Heathered V-Neck Tee is made from 100-percent polyester with extra details that are sure to impress—and last. The easy-care jersey tee is snag- and wrinkle-resistant, and features a taped neck, hemmed cuffs, a tag-free label and moisture-wicking antimicrobial BLU-X-DRI protection. Available in women’s S-4XL with a complimentary men’s style in seven colors, including heather red (shown).

Blue Generation  /  PPAI 174655, S11  /  www.bluegeneration.com

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The Signature Crew, available in both men’s (shown) and women’s styles, is made from a divine signature blend of 50-percent Supima cotton and 50-percent MicroModal, the latter of which is fashioned from recycled beechwood, an eco-friendly and sustainable material. To boot, this USA-made tee can be ordered in any color of the client’s choosing. Available in XS-3XL.

Marine Layer, Inc.   /  PPAI 690355, S1  /  www.marinelayer.com

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Part of Re-Spun, a proprietary program that collects old tees donated by the community and “re-spins” them into something new, the Re-Spun Crew, available in both men’s and women’s styles (shown), is made with recycled beechwood and is available to ship in as little as one to three days. Available in Pacific blue and upcycled grey (shown) in women’s XS-3XL.

Marine Layer, Inc.   /  PPAI 690355, S1  /  www.marinelayer.com

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The new Sprint tee is made from 100-percent lightweight, breathable polyester, designed to complement an active lifestyle. It offers moisture management for year-round comfort, and is also made with a stain-release fabric for long-lasting wear and easy care. Also odor resistant, additional details include reinforced shoulder seams for added durability, a double needle cover-stitch hem and neck, and a tear-away tag. Available in S-4XL in 11 colors, shown in gold.

A4  /  PPAI 304796, S3  /  www.a4.com

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The perfect go-to tee to offer end users participating in a run supporting a charity or cause, the SureColor Short Sleeve Cationic Tee is made with 100-percent polyester jersey and is cationic-dyed, allowing for ultra-vivid colors and easy printing. Meeting the needs of active wearers, the tee is moisture-wicking, stain- and odor-resistant and anti-snag and pill, and features raglan sleeves for full-range mobility. Available in 12 colors in S-4XL, shown in pink.

A4  /  PPAI 304796, S3  /  www.a4.com

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The Unisex Triblend S/S Tee is a soft tri-blend of 50-percent polyester, 25-percent Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton, and 25-percent rayon, combined for a modern fit with a crew neck. The USA-made tee is made with an eco-friendly process that saves more than 24 million gallons of water each week with nearly zero landfill. Available in 52 colors in XS-4XL, shown in pale yellow.

BELLA + CANVAS  /  PPAI 304892, S6  /  www.bellacanvas.com

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On trend with street fashion, the Women’s Flowy Cropped Top is made from a tri-blend of 65-percent polyester and 35-percent viscose, with details that include inset sleeves for a flattering silhouette. Ideal for outdoor, summer events like music festivals, this tee is also made in the USA using a eco-friendly manufacturing processes. Available in S-2XL in mauve, dark grey heather, black, heather dust and white (shown).

BELLA + CANVAS  /  PPAI 304892, S6  /  www.bellacanvas.com

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One of Hanes’s most popular tees, the Hanes Ring-Spun Heavyweight T T-Shirt is made from 100-percent ring-spun cotton that’s super soft and long lasting. Details include a double-needle, cover-seamed, lay-flat collar to help keep its shape, even after it’s washed time and time again, with shoulder-to-shoulder tape for durability, and double-needle short sleeve and bottom hems. Available in S-3XL, shown in black. 

Hanes/Champion  /  PPAI 191138, S10  /  www.hanes.com

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The Gildan Softstyle Ladies’ T-Shirt is a fitted style, made from 100-percent ring-spun cotton using sustainable processes focused on conserving water, managing waste and regulating energy efficiency. This tee is a preshrunk jersey knit, with details including a fitted silhouette side seam, a taped neck and shoulders, a tear-away label, double-needle sleeve and bottom hems and a high-stitch density for a smoother, cleaner printing surface. Available in women’s S-3XL in 24 colors, shown in azaelea.

Gildan Activewear  /  PPAI 250187, S13   /  www.mygildan.com   

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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