Clothing is one of the staples in premium promotions. T-shirts and
baseball caps are the items purchased in greatest volumes. The range
(and price) moves upwards through polo shirts and sweatshirts to almost
any garment that is widely acceptable, innovative or can be aimed at a
The same considerations that apply to any premium selection come into
play: perceived value to the recipient and relevance to the market, the
brand and the campaign theme.
Where to source
The options for the client are to obtain the apparel direct from a
manufacturer, or through a sales promotion or advertising agency, a
sourcing house, or a promotional clothing stockist.
It may well be that, for best value for money, the clothing will be
manufactured abroad, such as on the Indian sub-continent. This can give
rise to complex logistics and legal questions, and should only be
handled by organisations with international buying experience.
Tips from the experts
- Obtain at least three competitive quotes and samples.
- Research the credentials of the supplier.
- Decide whether to innovate with bespoke design and manufacture or play
safe with a stock item.
- Have quality testing procedures.
- Check equivalent retail prices.
- Put everything in writing.
- If re-ordering, ensure dyes match original consignment.
- Remember that longer lead times are needed when items are manufactured
- Are there appropriate ’care’ labels and are safety and health
- Establish how the supplier plans to deal with any consumer
- Consider adding to perceived value by replacing labels with your own,
and giving the garment a retail look with swing tickets, external
labelling and individual packaging.
- In the case of baseball caps for the young, look out for subtle style
- With T-shirts, polo- and sweatshirts, decide whether it is XL size for
all (comfortable to baggy for most but not for the rotund) or whether
there should be choice from small to XXL, or more definitive sizes. And
are skinny-ribs in or out this season?
- If a size choice is offered, special arrangements with the
manufacturer/supplier are needed to match demand.
- If sourcing from outside the European Union, be aware of quota rules
and import tariffs.
- For foreign manufacture, use an international quality control
organisation to go on-site.
Test weight, colour fastness and match, print/embroidery, size, finish,
construction (examine shoulders, neck, hems and rib) and
For large orders particularly, there should be more sampling during
production, pre-shipment and on delivery.
Promoters or their agents often also ask staff to wear and wash the
samples to give them a real-life test. Another do-it-yourself trial is
to stretch the ribbed neck and see if it returns to its original shape;
similarly with sweatshirt cuffs.
For T-shirts, fabric weights start at 120 grams and go up to 180 grams
or more. Minimum acceptable weight is 140 grams - 160 or more if
recipients are to be impressed. The fabric can be combined cotton and
polyester or pure cotton. Of the various finishes available, ring-spun
or combed give a smoother finish and provide the best print results.
Sweatshirt fabrics can be various cotton-polyester combinations, 100%
cotton or 100% acrylic. Embroidery is better than print for
Phone ’Things’ for a free buyer’s guide, on 0181 985 4767.
Branding dos and don’ts
In-your-face branding on promotional clothing for adults is
self-defeating, since people are seldom willing to be walking poster
sites. The clothes that they will wear in public are likely to have had
thought paid to design, and the branding will be subtle. Even on
T-shirts, it may not be on the chest or back but discreetly on the
sleeve or neck band.
Exceptions are boldly branded apparel for fans and enthusiasts, such as
the material issued by pop bands and motor racing teams.
Just when it might have been thought that all the possibilities in
T-shirt innovation had been exhausted, yet another has arrived.
The shirt has been compressed into various shapes and it has been
Dyes and print techniques range across heat change, glow-in-the-dark,
light reflective, scratch ’n’ sniff, raised and textured designs,
plasticised inks, and all-over printing. Now there is the talking shirt.
A tiny battery-powered module responds to the touch of a ’hot spot’ with
a spoken message, jingle or sound effect.
This has been introduced by TSS&P, which says an illuminated LED T-shirt
is also being developed and which predicts a future where shirts will
display moving pictures and even pick up TV images, much like the
tummies of the BBC’s Telly Tubbies.
While the T-shirt and its up-market cousins the polo shirt and
sweatshirt, together with baseball caps, are by far the most popular
choice, there are other items that can be effectively employed according
to the nature of the promotion.
For example, there are his-and-her bathrobes and kimonos, oven gloves
and PVC-coated cotton aprons for the kitchen, rugby shirts, jogging
pants, casual and sporting jackets, knitwear from cotton rollnecks to
luxury cashmere, body warmers and sports socks.
More intimate items, such as boxer shorts, have found their place in
promotions. A recent Tia Maria campaign, based on a sultry night-time
theme, offered lace-trimmed black sateen knickers.
What are the costs?
It’s possible to order T-shirts in volume, printed in one colour, for
little more than pounds 1 each.
Don’t. Even if they do not seem too bad on first wearing, complaints
will almost certainly pour in as soon as they have come out of the
Those of a reasonably decent quality, including one-colour print, start
at about pounds 2.50. The best-known branded names in the promotional
field - Hanes, Fruit of the Loom’s Screen Stars and Russell
Corporation’s Jerzees - move up to around pounds 4 or so, depending on
quantity, grade and print.
Quality bespoke shirts, dyed and assembled in corporate colours, can go
up to pounds 9 or so.
Other apparel can generally be sourced at a fraction of the retail price
for an equivalent garment. However, allowances have to be made for
embroidery or print and any special labelling and packaging.
Trendy designer labels give a lift to the perceived value of garments,
but they are rarely supplied for advertising purposes other than their
However, something of a breakthrough is claimed by promotional clothing
specialist CDA, thanks to a deal which allows it to supply branded Le
Coq Sportif clothing for approved campaigns.
Thanks for their input to this article to sales promoters Stephen
Callender, partner, Black Cat (0181 332 0722); Kate Trumper, account
executive, Interfocus (0171 376 9000); Samantha Johnson, account
director, Promotional Campaigns Group (01689 853 344). Also to sourcing
companies and suppliers Neville Blakely, director, CDA (01386 555 336);
Julian Lyons, chairman, Innovative Marketing International (0171 723
7228); Andrew Hill, director, Pelmark (01763 208 020); Joe Harman,
director, TSS&P (0181 385 7400); Pino Grillo, director, Things (0181 985
4767); Timothy Salthouse, director, Tradewinds (0171 253 4138).
Corporate wear is another form of promotional clothing. For example, one
of an airline’s most important statements is its uniforms. But because
it means a major investment, styles side-step short-term fashions and a
design change is relatively rare.
Nevertheless, Emirates Airline, which often wins awards voted for by
business travellers to the Middle East, is currently changing uniforms
for 4000 staff. The new uniforms, by Paco Rabanne, aim to convey the
message of ’a youthful, dynamic and stylish carrier that has often been
described as a designer airline’.
Don Foster, senior general manager inflight services, says: ’We wanted
to offer staff uniforms that are better suited to their working
Female staff can now wear trousers, while male crew will no longer have
caps and rank markings.
Quality came first in the selection of polo shirts for Moet & Chandon’s
range of promotional merchandise used in trade and consumer promotions.
The shirts carried branding for the champagne producer and its
sponsorship of Formula 1 and the PGA golf tour.
As quality control and timing were primary considerations, they were
UK-sourced. Eight suppliers were vetted before the order was placed.
’When you think of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, you think of a premium
brand,’ says marketing director Barry Thomson. ’It was imperative that
the merchandise reflected this and that every item was of the highest
quality. Top-notch merchandise is paramount, while respecting reasonable
cost parameters. The whole budgeting and sourcing process was very
carefully considered to ensure a successful outcome.’
Stephen Callender, partner in agency Black Cat, which developed and
sourced the items, says: ’It makes a change to have a client who
understands the need, and is prepared to pay a little extra, for