The promotional product industry is constantly evolving with the types of products available. To stay on top of what is new and trending in the industry, every January our company attends the PPAI EXPO in Las Vegas (our industry’s largest trade show). At this event, our production partners showcase their product lines, giving us the opportunity to see, touch and sometimes even smell at over 1000 booths. This show is always a good opportunity to reflect on what promo merch trends we are seeing from a macro perspective. After walking the tradeshow floor and reviewing our notes and pictures, we put together a list of five trends that really stood out.
The rise of sublimated apparel cannot be ignored and we see this category continuing to grow in the future. For those unfamiliar, sublimation is a printing process that uses heat to transfer ink into a polyester fabric. Unlike silk-screening and embroidery, you cannot feel the decoration on the garment as the artwork is dyed into the fabric, resulting in lasting and vibrant colors. Another benefit of this process is making a fully branded apparel piece since the design can cover the entire garment at no additional cost. This year’s EXPO was filled with numerous production partners that featured sublimated products, including tote bags, hooded sweatshirts, drawstring backpacks, t-shirts, socks, polos and duffel bags. It was only a few years back that you could count on one hand the number of booths that featured sublimated products. With this increase in production partner options, we are seeing the minimum order quantities dropping from 100 or 50 pieces to as low as one piece. Right now we are not really seeing the pricing drop from years past (for example the cost is around $30ish for a polo shirt) and most lead times are still often around 3-4 weeks. We really love sublimated apparel for the right applications and are excited to see how this trend evolves in the coming years.
A few years ago, we remember when one of our production partners introduced shoes as a product line and thought how odd that was as an option. We had a hard time imagining what clients would be excited about the option because the minimums were high, they were expensive, there are sizing challenges with shoes and we wondered who would be truly excited about wearing branded footwear. Until that time, the only footwear option we regularly saw were sandals, which was a good product because they are relatively inexpensive, have low minimums and are easy to decorate. However while walking the show floor, it is obvious that logoed shoes are a trend as they were featured in a number of booths. While the sizing will always remain a challenge, sublimation printing has brought the minimum orders of custom imprinted footwear in many cases to just one piece. With branded promo merch drop campaigns being so popular right now (like this Dunkin’ example), shoes are a logical component. The types of imprinted shoes have continued to grow into a wide array of popular styles, including options that resemble Vans, Crocs, Tom’s and more. We expect this promo merch trend to evolve and stay around for the long haul.
A few years back at EXPO finding full color printed packaging options was really hard. There were mainly just white or kraft boxes that offered very limited printing options. Within a few years the packaging landscape is vastly different. Packaging options have greatly expanded and numerous partners now showcase solutions. Not only has the product mix expanded, the packaging options often are printed in full color with edge-to-edge printing. This allows big canvases for branding and wonderful opportunities to make a wow statement when the package arrives at the mailbox. These packaging options include full color mailer boxes (printing on the outside and inside), bubble mailers, polybag mailers, paper kraft mailers (a more biodegradable eco option) and chipboard mailer envelopes. With the growth of marketing through the mailbox and the focus on the receipt experience, we only see the continued focus on evolving packaging options.
Eco Focus/Give Back
The focus to have eco–friendly products continues to surge in the industry. Eco-related products continue to grow and evolve, including objects made from recycled materials, bamboo, and organic cotton. In addition, items that are meant to reduce waste, including water bottles and grocery totes, continue to evolve. However, one of the newer eco promo merch trends in this industry are programs that integrate donations to causes with the products. For example, we now have production partners that are members of 1% For the Planet. Other partners take the approach of dedicating a percent of sales of their eco-related items to green initiatives. Another example of this trend we saw from the retailer Modern Sprout where they plant a tree for each promotional tree kit sold. We see this trend of tying eco products to green initiatives continuing to grow and evolve in the promotional product industry for years to come.
Last but not least, the power of having a logoed decoration on a known retail branded item is more popular than ever. Over the past year we have seen the addition of retail brands TravisMathew, Cotopaxi, Nautica and the re-introduction of Thermos to the industry. When Magellan Promotions began almost 17 years ago, brands were hard to find, and Adidas and Nike were just starting to explore the promotional space. The landscape is now drastically different as well-known retail brands criss-cross the EXPO floor. While there are some major retail brands that we hope enter the industry, the list of brands that we cannot decorate with client logos gets smaller each year.
We hope this list gives an insight to what is trending and how the promotional product landscape is evolving. We look forward to walking the show floor again in 2023 with journal and camera in hand, recording the latest trends!