T-shirts prove No.1 promotional item for nonprofits

The simple crew neck T-shirt is the top dog of promotional apparel with companies and nonprofits finding their names emblazoned across a piece of cotton as the best way to market themselves.

According to a 2015 state of the industry study by the Advertising Specialty Institute, the garment made up $3 billion worth of sales or almost 14 percent of revenue, putting branded T-shirts ahead of polos, bags, other clothing and drinkware.

The garment’s come a long way since its roots as a military-issued dungaree in the 1910s, according to Vogue magazine. From the U.S. Navy to James Dean, Marlon Brando and other rebels donning it in the ’50s to its use in legendary promotional campaigns such as “I Love NY,” the pullover-style shirt never goes out of style.

Just like a pair of jeans, T-shirts are a staple of nearly every American’s wardrobe.

“Why not use T-shirts to your advantage as promotional gifts?

Wearable marketing
Since T-shirts are so popular and omnipresent – from kids to seniors – why not use them to your advantage as promotional corporate gifts?

According to ASI’s survey, 44 percent of Americans own a promotional T-shirt of some kind with 48 percent of wearers between the ages of 21 and 34 years old. That’s a lot of cotton, polyester or poly-cotton threads and a plethora of people willing to wear your message on a regular basis for your company or organization.

The survey also breaks down the statistics demographically by noting that 45 percent of men and 40 percent of women own a promotional T-shirt and 57 percent of those polled said receiving a free branded t-shirt from a business made a positive impression on them.

Growing markets
The importance of T-shirts is showing as e-commerce sites enter the branded apparel market, finding that a good design or slogan on a ring spun shirt can be a million-dollar idea.

Bert and John Jacobs, two brothers from Massachusetts, lived nearly hand-to-mouth with only $78 in a bank account when they started their Life is Good apparel company, according to Fortune magazine.

Adding their artwork and an optimistic message to a few T-shirts and later selling them on college campuses turned the fledgling enterprise into a $100 million business.

However, for-profits aren’t the only organizations to see the appeal of apparel promotional marketing. Charities and fundraisers are taking advantage of branded apparel to get their message out to the public. While larger-scale nonprofits such as NPR and PBS always offered wearables, more grassroots campaigns are giving T-shirts a try.

“The rise of e-commerce, crowdfunding and social media have allowed both charities and the disadvantaged themselves to cut through societal layers to directly reach others who can donate with the click of a mouse,” C.J. Mittica, editor of Wearables magazine, told ASI.

A startup charity raised almost $900,000 for the Boston Marathon bombing victims by selling “Boston Strong” T-shirts. Even homegrown efforts receive a boost from T-shirt sales as well. Rachel Morell collected $7,000 by selling specially branded apparel to help pay her friend’s medical bills after the friend contracted cancer.

The rise in promotional T-shirts‘ popularity just shows how easy it is for a business or individual to get their message out via branded apparel.

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