Performance Apparel Gets Fashionable Impressions August07 .pdf
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By Christopher Bernat,
Three case studies show how to generate customer
excitement with high-margin performancewear.
Gemini Sport Marketing,
Grand Rapids, Minn., maintains a gallery of its
sublimated and embroidered fishing tournament
shirts on its Web site: geminisportmarketing.com.
Impressions >> August 2007
t’s hot outside. Have you noticed?
And people from all walks of life are investing in performance
apparel. A few years ago, it was something that only athletes wore
or knew about. Today, the sector represents a fast-growing percentage of
most consumers’ wardrobes, making it ideal to add to your wholesale
decorated apparel mix.
This category is dominated by the big brands and big box stores. Under
Armour, Nike, adidas and others have invested millions of dollars in their
brands and into educating the consumer about the benefits of
performancewear — primarily its ability to wick moisture away from the
skin to keep the body dry and comfortable in hot or cold temperatures.
These companies also have driven home the idea that compression garments can enhance athletic performance and possibly help avoid injury.
And the big boys have done a great job of educating consumers that early
drawbacks — such as odor retention — have been replaced by positives
such antimicrobial properties and UV protection.
This market is growing exponentially and vertical markets are being
built by brands and decorators.
What I call “The Under Armour Effect” has been evident everywhere
from the clothing wore by characters in the hit NBC TV series “Friday
Night Lights,” to what you see on real football practice fields throughout
the country. Under Armour has done more to lift the visibility of performance apparel in the marketplace than anything other brand or sport.
In recent years, this one company may have singlehandedly caused more
teens and tweens to buy branded sports apparel than adidas and Nike
combined. That may sound like a very aggressive statement, but look
around. By elevating awareness of performance apparel, Under Armour is
educating consumers and seeding that marketplace for retailers and
decorators who recognize an opportunity.
MARKETING TO THE TREND
One could argue that performance apparel shows all the signs of becoming
a staple in nearly everyone’s closet or T-shirt drawer. Some fashion trends
fade fast. Others last longer and can become wardrobe staples.
Right now, performancewear is a technology trend as well as a fashion
trend. I would argue that the technology trend is more important and will
foster new design concepts that will give this category staying power.
Meanwhile, the fashion aspect has been defined by various sports thus far,
but I believe that is temporary.
This trendy category also is very profitable. Significant focus on
brand has ensured high retail prices. Performance apparel consistently retails from $25 to $50 for basic performance tops. The environment is ripe for innovation and the signs are beginning to show.
Innovations in yarn and fabric knitting equipment are allowing
performance apparel to offer a wide variety of fabric textures to
the marketplace. This will enable forward-thinking digital
decorators to deliver performance to the market in ways no one
really expected. Today’s performance fabrics run the gamut
from Lyrca spandex-heavy compression tops to loose-fit T-shirts
that imitate the look, feel and texture of cotton.
Other changes are afoot because this trend is part of the digital economy. Today’s digital decorating environment allows
little brands to behave like big ones. The days of settling for inferior product, a lack of vendor focus, or someone else’s label in the
collar are gone. If you have art that turns people’s heads, then you
can generate revenue with performance apparel at margins that traditional screen printing simply can’t duplicate. These platforms are
delivering custom concepts and customer excitement to the performance
Performance apparel allows customers to develop unique apparel
designs that are outside the box. This article will look at several brands that
are building art around their performance apparel and extracting premium
prices at boutiques and other trend-making retail venues.
If you have art
that turns people’s
heads, then you can generate revenue with performance
apparel at margins that traditional screen printing simply
can’t duplicate. Gemini Sport
Marketing, Grand Rapids,
Minn., does exactly that
with pro fishing jerseys
like this one.
GEMINI SPORT MARKETING
Gemini Sport Marketing, Grand Rapids, Minn. (not Michigan), delivers
fully customized value to the outdoor market — particularly the highly
paid professional tournament fishermen (and women) who are so visible on
the outdoor sports cable channels.
The company maintains a gallery of its sublimated and embroidered
fishing tournament shirts on its Web site (geminisportmarketing.com). The
collection rivals any eye-popping design you might see on a professional
cyclist in the Tour de France, and the volume of sponsor logos incorporated into the shirt designs rival anything you might see on a NASCAR
driver’s fire suit.
Marty Glorvigen, Gemini Sport Marketing’s founder, is a nationally
ranked freshwater fisherman and knows the market his company services.
“We understand the wants and needs of our market in a very personal way,”
Glorvigen says. “There is a balance between the pro’s needs and the advertiser’s needs that we have been able to deliver on both sides. The pros want
nice fabrics that provide moisture management and feel good out on the
water. The sponsors want something that looks great and will keep looking
that way throughout the season.”
The company recently added a full custom jersey program — delivering cut-and-sew performance apparel jerseys to its customers in a timely
manner. The constant additions and subtractions of sponsorship logos and
August 2007 << Impressions
customer preferences keep repeat business
high for this new aspect of its product line.
“We are able to deliver a lot of excitement to our customers through this new
program,” says Todd Hammill, chief operating officer. “We have not fully started
marketing the service because we want to
ensure we are as efficient and profitable as
possible prior to opening the floodgates.
With full marketing support, this program
will most likely be our fastest-growing revenue area for the next several years.”
Gemini also offers vehicle wraps, promotional products and its own line of
professional fishing tools and gear.
AMERICAN TATTOO SUNGLASSES
Trendy images such as this, printed on
a limited-edition run of performance T-shirts and
hoodies, were a key element the marketing
launch strategy for American Tattoo sunglasses.
American Tattoo is a new line of upper
mid-tier priced sunglasses that feature
design elements derived from current
trends in youth culture — tattoos, custom
motorcycles and related lifestyle items.
The line of unique frames combines
modern styling with quality materials and
innovative design. American Tattoo sought
to build buzz and create demand by using
event-based and network marketing. As
part of that effort, company execs decided
to commission a line of limited-edition performance apparel tops and hooded
sweatshirts featuring the brand and its distinctive graphics.
“Performance apparel let’s you customize your brand and deliver a nice quality garment — not just another T-shirt for
the drawer,” says American Tattoo
spokesperson Anne Case. “If you are going
to build your brand with apparel, then buy
something people want to wear again and
again because it is unique and has a great
quality finish. By only making 169 of each
design, we are building exclusivity and
hopefully a feeling of ownership by our
Initial feedback from American Tattoo’s
marketing events and independent reps is
very positive, and the limited-edition line
has the potential of becoming a source of
revenue for the brand. Look for American
Tattoo to increase its profile in the second
half of 2007.
GUN GIRL ~ 9 MILLIMETER
Gun Girl is a provocative line of performance apparel tops that feature racy and
attention-grabbing graphics. It has quietly
Use Info•Action #13 at impressionsmag.com
Impressions >> August 2007
caught on in hot markets such as Las Vegas,
New York City and Atlanta.
“We love being able to do short runs and
we love the capability to customize the
brand by city,” says Steve Mizzo, president
of Gun Girl ~ 9 Millimeter.
Mizzo started the brand in 2006 as highend casual wear and clubwear for a night
out. Performance apparel delivered that
extra level of comfort that one often does
not find in conventional screen printed, cotton fashion T-shirts.
“It’s about the art, but we love the performance apparel fabrics with sublimation
because it allows us to deliver depth and
luxury to our graphics without the feel of
screen print inks,” Mizzo says. The look and
feel of sublimated performancewear also
has allowed the company to maintain higher price points, he adds.
“It’s a quality thing,” he says. “We are getting $35 to $55 for garments, and ladies in
particular want the art to feel soft to the
touch. The wicking features work in a dance
club just as well as in a gym. The fact that
the shirts are super comfortable and deliver
all the benefits of performance apparel is
our sleeper feature.”
just 169 performance apparel
buzz for the new
With the barrier of minimum runs
removed, the product’s soft texture
(hand), and — most importantly — the
artistic possibilities, these very different
brands have found ways to focus on their
core markets with art and content.
Firms can build customer excitement
and outsource production to digital decorators who use multiple technologies to deliver value with performance apparel. This is
great news for digital decorators committed
to growing their business based on quality.
As a result of performance apparel’s
rapidly developing market presence, more
innovative ideas are bound to arrive on a
monthly basis. With flexible design
options, we can expect many styles and
formats to develop outside of the traditional sports markets. Also look for
additional historical brands to enter the
performance apparel market.
Chris Bernat is a partner with
SourceSubstrates, LLC. He is a contributing
writer to Impressions and speaks on sublimation and customization at ISS shows
and for SGIA. He can be reached at
Use Info•Action #16 at impressionsmag.com
August 2007 << Impressions