Wearables Business

Who are we, anyway? – promoting the clothing industry

Who are we, anyway? – promoting the clothing industry – Column

Jeff Rundles


The subject has come up before, even right here in this column, but it needs to be talked about as much as possible: we, as an industry, need to do more about reaching out to the end-user community and branding our industry. Indeed, as times change, we need to take a hard look at just what our industry is, what our brand encompasses, and what as an industry, as a community, we can do to compete and thrive in the coming years.

I mentioned some of this some years back when I talked about the need for the promotional products industry, as a group, to advertise to the world at large. It came up at the time because I had read when the Morgan Stanley bank instituted a corporate casual dress code and, in seeking to define how it might manifest, hired Ralph Lauren to create it. I said then that the company went with a retailer not because it did not like the promotional products business, but rather because it had no idea the promotional products business dealt in apparel or, in fact, even existed. The bank went with Lauren because he was obvious and we were obscure.

If anything, we’re even more obscure now. I note with interest that the president of the Promotional Products Association International, Steve Slagle, addressed this very topic in his recent column in the PPAI magazine PPB. He noted that the Canadian association, the PPAC, is conducting an “industry awareness campaign” that includes billboards and airport signage promoting the industry, reaching out to the end-user community. Slagle calls on leaders in our industry to come together to devise a plan where all interested parties – suppliers and PPDs alike – could share in funding such an effort.

I join Mr. Slagle in calling on industry practitioners to figure out a way of reaching out to the end-user community. I’ll go further, though. It has to be more than just figuring out a funding method, although that is, of course, ultimately of paramount concern. I am concerned that we are having a problem deciding just exactly who and what we are, a very tough place to begin if we wish to then communicate our mission to the outside world.

In my conversations with industry practitioners I find people who no longer identify themselves as promotional products suppliers and/or distributors. Oh, yes, they have some business in our trade, but they look at themselves in much broader terms, as players in the uniform business, in the corporate licensing business, even in retail. They serve a wider mix of customers. Some PPDs – many PPDs – will arrange for cutting and sewing operations if the price is right and the order large enough. So sometimes they are buyers and sometimes sellers.

There are also traditional suppliers out there who work so closely with “certain distributors” that it’s hard to draw a distinction. And increasingly, especially when it comes to the larger, Fortune 500-type end-user customers, I am finding that what may be defined as their promotional needs are being fulfilled by people coming out of the mainstream advertising community who really don’t know about, and frankly don’t care about, the specialty advertising business.

If we don’t even have a handle on who we are, how are we going to communicate anything of value – value to us – to the end-user community?

Who are we, anyway?

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