Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part I - The T Shirt

Americans are "consuming" tee shirts: 3.2 billion tees were sold in 2010 alone and this works out to an average of 10 tee shirts per person every year!  In 1990, Americans averaged 4 tee shirt purchases annually; so we have increased our annual consumption of tee shirts by an additional 1 shirt every three years on average.  Makes you wonder what people do with last year's tees?

There is not much that occurs in our lives that does not involve a tee shirt. There is not much that we do in our lives that we could not do in a tee shirt.  But can you name your favorite tee?  Can you remember the label of the last tee you purchased and or received?  Do you even notice where your tee was made?  Do you even realize that a blank, basic tee is a style option?

Tee shirts are the basic building block for individual self expression and for the establishment of a community. They can be the ultimate status symbol or the most utilitarian; the vanguard of the Web 2.0 movement, the whole idea of 'consumer centric' business models began with a basic tee shirt.  The reality is that even today, a couple of hundred of dollars spent on screen printed tees achieves a higher ROI to small businesses than does  a thousand dollars a month spent on social media, pay per click, and or SEO!

Even the Travel Channel diva, Samantha Brown, says you should never leave home without a few tee shirts in your luggage to use as gifts while you travel:
"So it's nice to have something to give -- one or two T-shirts from your own hometown is a great place to start. They don't take up a lot of room in your luggage or add on much weight."
That is a pretty lofty pedigree for something as mundane as a tee shirt!

When I talk about a tee shirt I am actually discussing a blank shirt or what most designers perceive as a blank canvas and most advertisers see as a blank billboard.  What is really interesting, besides how big the market is  is also how diverse it is.  When you are looking at screen print lines the names Gildan, Alstyle, Tultex, Anvil, American, and Alternative pop up and if you ask the general market, you would hear names such as Fruit Of The Loom, Delta and Hanes.  Then of course you have the specialty tee shirt lines such as Continental Clothing and Alta Gracia which offer tee shirts with a social conscious.

I was pretty surprised to read this article and come to realize how shoddy most standards were for your basic tee shirt; personally, if I was involved in any of these companies I would get busy cleaning up our standards!

With the increase in the price of cotton recently we are seeing a variety of ways to replace cotton as a basic commodity in tee shirts; You have Tencel and Hemp as two examples.

Exactly how important is the basic blank tee shirt to the world at large?  Now that one can have their own label put on the neck of shirt, does where one gets their blank tee shirt really matter?  Does how and where a tee shirt is made really matter?  I can't help but wonder with the push toward "customization" in regards to apparel, exactly how much would the consumer be willing to pay for something 'more' than your basic tee shirt?

Can a basic tee shirt be anything more than an after thought to a world focused on customization and individualization?


Geoffrey said...

Curious about the hemp reference. Hemp seems to be a very viable alternative to cotton, etc. from things I have read. I admit I do not know for sure I am not a textile expert. Are there importation/manufacturing issues to be considered?

Hope all is well with you.

Carl said...

Hemp's biggest problem is its name and the fact that it can be confused with marijuana. Hemp is actually quite durable and stronger than cotton. But as it is used primarily to produce organic clothing it is not treated with as much chemicals and thus will bunch up and crease with wear.

Hemp is one of the most renewable fibers to grow as you can produce three harvests a year vs one for cotton and it requires a lot less water.

nisha advani said...

3.2 billion tees?? omg there are newbies scattered everywhere in the market. everybody wants to be big as threadless and reputed ones but only a few survive out there. check out the top 10 tips to setup a t-shirt business @