Wearables Business

Star spangled wearables: The Attack on America has skyrocketed the demand for all things red, white and blue as a wave of patriotism sweeps the country

Star spangled wearables: The Attack on America has skyrocketed the demand for all things red, white and blue as a wave of patriotism sweeps the country

Brian Anderson

The Attack on America has skyrocketed the demand for all things red, white and blue as a wave of patriotism sweeps the country.

the wave of patriotism that swept across the country after the Sept. 11 Attack on America caused an enormous surge in sales of decorated apparel, the likes of which many industry veterans have never before seen. The power of wearables has never been so apparent as it has been since the attacks, with concerned Americans nationwide clamoring for patriotic apparel.

Especially white T-shirts and caps, but also extending to anything red, white and/or blue, with shades of gray like ash and steel also serving as appealing canvases for patriotic designs and messages of support.

Perhaps you’ve been involved in projects calling for wearables with American flags or “USA” added on, or done T-shirt orders with designs featuring slogans like “God Bless the USA” or “United We Stand” on them.

Millions of dollars have been raised for the relief effort through the sales of T-shirts, headwear and other items, screenprinted or embroidered by local decorators and sold at outlets like grocery and department stores with the understanding that most of the cost would be donated.

Rumors of record sales days flowed in from suppliers across the country in the days following the attack. What had been a down year for most industry suppliers due to the sagging economy has reversed course in the wake of recent events. While the cause is unfortunate, the effect has created a shockwave of activity throughout the industry.

Ken Feldman of supplier KC Caps said anything red, white, blue or khaki has been flying out of his warehouses. He reported selling “thousands and thousands of dozens” since Sept. 11, but he hasn’t had to worry about running out of caps.

“This is where big inventory pays off’ Feldman said.

There’s definitely a lot of activity on anything patriotic,” said Neil Cooper, whose outerwear company has seen a run on its wool/leather jackets that feature a flag on the front and “USA” on the back.

At Colorado Trading & Clothing Company, there has been such a surge in orders of red and navy fleece that the company is scrambling to keep up. There was no way to plan for such a big, immediate demand in certain colors like the one caused by the terrorist attacks.

The major mills have seen their capabilities challenged with the dramatic sudden surge in sales, but to the credit of the mills and the wholesale suppliers who distribute them to promotional products distributors and decorators, there have been few reported sourcing problems.

“Our business is certainly up,” said Laura Burrows, spokeswoman for Hanes Printables. She reported that sales have increased 30 to 40 percent, consisting mostly of T-shirts and fleece in white, red, navy and the color steel.

“Demand has been very strong and it hasn’t slowed down,” Burrows told Wearables Business in early October. “As soon as we can ship it, the wholesalers turn it around right away. The demand is that strong.”

At Broder Bros., Director of Marketing Pam Fishman said, “We have been as busy as we’ve ever been.”

And with so many fund-raising efforts and companies doing their own patriotic projects, “I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to stop any time soon,” Fishman said.

The company had to change gears very quickly. Staffers in the call centers worked lots of extra hours to keep up with the high volume of orders that started flowing in immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The phones have been very busy. Everybody’s worked very hard to get the orders out,” Fishman said.

The feeling of being able to help contribute to America’s newfound sense of nationality by supplying PPDs and decorators with the products that become signs of support worn by the general public have made the extra hours worthwhile from more than just a financial standpoint.

“We feel good about supplying goods for patriotic reasons,” said Todd Turkin, president at Broder Bros.

Broder Bros. even printed up patriotic T-shirts for its employees. The company has also donated a significant amount of money to the relief effort.

Turkin said he thinks the large wholesale supplier will see a lift in demand through the holidays. “This is definitely bigger than even Desert Storm,” Turkin said, referring to the increased demand for red, white and blue wearables during the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

“It’s just been an extreme demand for goods that I’ve never seen before,” Turkin said. “And I’ve been around forever.”


Brian Anderson is the Managing Editor of Wearables Business.


Decorator’s ‘United We Stand’ tees could net $1 million to relief effort.

The decorated apparel industry is doing more than just supplying the country with patriotic wearables in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 Attack on America. From large manufacturers to single-person distributorships, stories have poured in about ways industry people have stepped up to supply more than just their goods and services to the relief effort — but financial assistance, as well.

One such story comes from Denver-based decorator Graphic Elements. By the day after the tragedy, the wheels were turning among the management and staff to figure out a way to help. Printing patriotic T-shirts, selling them at high-traffic retail locations and donating the proceeds to the relief effort seemed the natural way to get it done.

“Everybody wants to say something, and they figure a T-shirt or a sweatshirt is a good way to do it,” said Lon Winters, president of Graphic Elements.

A brainstorming meeting led to discussions with regional grocery store chain King Soopers and media mogul Clear Channel Communications, which announced its own Clear Channel Relief Fund shortly after the alttack.

Sample designs were created by the night of Sept. 13, and the idea was presented to King Soopers and Clear Channel the next morning. By that afternoon, the presses were rolling with an eagle/flag design and the motto, “United We Stand.”

Between Sept. 14 and 18, Graphic Elements printed between 30,000 and 35,000 a day, running 24 hours a day. More than 130,000 of the shirts were printed and shipped to King Soopers locations throughout the region, where they were sold for $10 with $7 from each sale being donated to the cause. The remaining $3 covered costs.

“It was one of those things we were able to do, and it was somewhat satisfying to be able to do something,” Winters said.

As of early October, the project had raised more than $900,000 for the Clear Channel Relief Effort. Winters was optimistic they could hit the $1 million mark.

Graphic Elements worked with Denver-based supplier Imprints Wholesale to source the shirts, the vast majority of which were made by Gildan. Winters said Gildan and lmprints-Wholesale both came together to minimize sourcing problems while keeping prices in line even as the use of different styles became necessary.

The project dwarfed other big quickturn jobs Graphic Elements has done. When the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup earlier this year, the shop did a total of 25,000 shirts.

While Graphic Elements has since gotten back to more of business as usual, Winters said he thinks the decorating business overall stands to gain from a long-term point of view as a result of Americans’ newfound interest in all things red, white and blue. The company has seen a big run on patriotically embroidered hats, and other USA-related orders have been flowing in since the tragedy.

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