It isn't often that a single design feature, in this
case, the hoodie, can revive a product category. But
that's the story with fleece, a hot promotional product
for Fall once again in 2004.
You've seen the story before.
Fleece's fall from grace was typical: the first act
of a break-up to make-up tale made for a Broadway musical.
See, since the turn of the century, Fleece has been
a lonely lady. Dumped by a once adoring public that
through the '80s and '90s had taken her places - college
football games, all kinds of cool events, even corporate
outings. But the public became fickle. Fleece fell out
of favor. She'd been shelved for newer, sleeker fabrics
- microfibers, polynosics, and even "plain-Jane"
Promotional product dealers just stopped asking her
Yes, two years ago the fleece market was in a funk.
The product category had been in a slump before 9-11
and the subsequent recession. The aftermath of those
two events drove down sales and prices. In 2002, not
much was happening for that cuddly, durable fabric we
had all previously loved when the leaves started to
fall and the air turned crisp.
In 2002, Fleece was sitting at home Saturday nights,
shampooing her hair, waiting for the phone to ring.
Where was the love?
Along came the 'hoodie'
The "hoodie" was first seen on lightweight
silhouettes on missies' fleece styles at retail a couple
of years ago. The hood is functional, although it is
mainly worn down for style. If you've been to the mall
in the last year, you've seen a hoodie.
The hoodie's popularity was instant, and the design
feature soon ran the gamut of the fleece market: retail,
resort, college, and now promotional.
Sabrina Bradford, Senior Marketing Director for JERZEES,
the Atlanta-based division of Russell Corp., acknowledges
the trend. "Hoods continue to be in great demand,
now for both men and women." JERZEES has expanded
its offering in the hoodie, and now offers the feature
in several fleece variations - blended 50/50 and stretch
French terry, to name a couple.
Bradford notes, "Hoods are still really hot for
women this fall. Manufacturers, including JERZEES, recognize
women want styles tailored specifically for them, and
we are offering more and more of those styles."
VF Corporation's Cindy Chatman echoes those thoughts.
Chatman is business merchandise manager for VF, which
markets industry mainstay brand, Lee.
"Hoods are absolutely still in for women this
fall," says Chatman. She encourages all promotional
product dealers to carry a "hoodie" in their
bag for product demonstrations for the upcoming cooler
Lee has also introduced a new line, N-Line Fleece,
which incorporates the hooded trend, but also captures
the energy of another niche in the activewear market.
"Lee's new N-Line Fleece has garnered much excitement
from the promotional market since its introduction.
The line was inspired by trends in the West Coast board
sports market (skateboard, surfboard, and inline skating).
Now that inspiration has spread to incorporate an East
Coast influence too," Chatman explains.
Within the new selections, N-Line has a relaxed fit
crew and a pullover hood. All styles are open bottom
(not banded) with contrast twill taping and unique color
palettes: Mineral, Pacific, Asphalt, Night and Desert
King Louie, a Kansas City-based manufacturer, caught
the hoodie trend at the very beginning. Roger Carroll,
vice president of marketing for the supplier, elaborates:
"We've had a ladies' specific hoodie in the line
for the last three years now, and it sells very well.
We are now working on two new ladies' specific hoods
for our 2005 line.
"King Louie's most popular new style is our Vancouver
series, A620. This style is a next-generation hoodie.
We reversed the fleece to make the garment nap side
out and then added a one-quarter-zip closure in order
to make it easier to pull over the head. It has a luxurious
hand and a very upscale appearance."
Like Lee, SanMar always seems to have insight on the
market trends. This progressive Washington state-based
wholesaler/manufacturer has the reputation of keeping
its Port Authority line on the cutting edge. Scott Boggs,
the fleece buyer for SanMar, answered a few questions
about what's hot and what's not.
"Our new 2004 hot styles are the hooded striped
F255 Sport Tek and the Sueded Fleece (F290 and F292).
For 2005, we have added to our Sport Tek fleece line
to include ladies styles and a new solid hooded and
a quarter-zip style," says Boggs.
"Hooded styles are still hot, and ladies' styles
do very well. Coming this fall, we have added a ladies'
full-zip hood, the L259."
Boggs added he thought the renewed popularity of fleece,
although starting at retail, had reached the school
and teamwear market and he recommends that PPDs definitely
concentrate on fleece for this fall with those customers.
Ladies' wear in fleece will be an area of focus for
2005 for new Port Authority styles.
JERZEES has perhaps the widest variety of fleece offering
in the business with four different categories of fleece
in blends and high-cotton counts. In blended fabrics,
the Russell-owned brand offers both 8 and 9-ounce in
50/50 NuBlend air-jet yarn. NuBlend was designed to
reduce the pilling that used to be inherent with high-poly
fabrics. JERZEES also carries a 9-ounce blended premium
fleece sub-branded as "Super Sweats."
This year, the company has added a sleek French terry
designed for women. JERZEES' Bradford describes it in
detail: "It is the French terry's fit that sets
it apart. The silhouette is designed to look great on
women of all ages, not just juniors. It's both trendy
and flattering. It's made from 95% cotton and 5% Spandex;
the stretch cotton is comfortable and keeps its shape."
JERZEES also has a premium sub-brand called Zclass.
This traditional fleece is their best with a 10-ounce
weight and a 90-percent cotton count.
Lee's Chatman sees a real upside to premium fleece
right now. "Now that the economy is on the upswing,
we are seeing more interest for premium quality/priced
product. However, value is always key. N-Line is a great
example of this trend."
Mills do color homework
Chatman also sees color is also a major factor in fleece
this autumn. "Purple is a big deal... so is chocolate
brown and gold."
King Louie's Carroll sees Mustard and Sage as the top
selling fashion colors.
For SanMar, Boggs sees a return to traditional colorations.
"Team colors have a made a comeback, including
gold, orange, and maroon."
Bradford concurs that colors are very important this
fall, but sees things in a different shade. "Fashion
colors are also making a resurgence. Vibrant and athletic
colors such as kelly green, light orange, and light
blue are growing in popularity."
Okay... it appears the color palette in fleece is pretty
Sometimes fashion color stories from the mills coincide.
Last year's golf shirt color trend seemed to revolve
fairly consistently around tangerine. It appears the
trend is not as defined this season in fleece.
I remember once in my selling days, I participated
as a panelist at a roundtable discussion at the famous
Open House and Fashion Show at the now defunct Mid-America
A customer stood and asked the panel how manufacturers
knew what was going to be the hot color for an upcoming
season. I thought about our five-month delivery cycle
and two-month catalog placement cycle, and I answered,
"Hot colors are the ones we've already ordered."
Everyone laughed, but the humor worked because concept
is sound. Manufacturers must develop their lines so
far out in front of the selling season that they are
forced to DECIDE the color story for a season before
the season starts.
What does this long window of delivery mean to you,
As a provider of promotional products, you should preview
lines, see what is offered by the suppliers you prefer,
and see what color story they are telling. If you are
selling fashion colors, go with the mill's story. Those
colors are where the stock will be. Better delivery
Beyond basic colors
Of course, our customers do have their own minds, as
we know all too well. Basic colors - white, navy, black,
and in fleece, ash - are nearly always plentiful. Getting
those colors comes down to the style you want. For unique
colors, you can also order special makes (dye lots),
and thousands of customers do, but remember the window
for delivery is measured in months and the order must
be substantial, usually in the hundreds of dozens.