By Abigail Boatwright
Open up any young woman’s closet and you’re guaranteed to find a t-shirt sporting a design or a saying. Graphic “tees” aren’t just for the young—increasingly, ladies of all ages are sporting tops that represent values, refer to pop culture or just plain make you laugh. So why are they so popular, and what makes them fresh now? We asked a group of designers and retailers to weigh in on the popularity of t-shirts, and how to make them work for your retail store.
Graphic t-shirts have been around for years, but these versatile garments are reinvented over and over again, keeping them popular for each new generation. How have they stood the test of time?
Kim Neuendorff of XOXOart & co in Fayetteville, Texas, designs the graphics adorning her company’s shirts. She says graphic tees are popular because their affordability makes them appealing to most customers. “You can own a lot of t-shirts,” Neuendorff says. “You can have one that you can wear one day, and then you can change and have a completely different t-shirt the next day, and they cover every genre.”
Jill Beerman of ATX Mafia, based in Austin, Texas, says her company’s shirts embody positive female messages that appeal to customers young and old. “People like to wear something that is a statement about themselves,” Beerman says. “A t-shirt is also a great easy [and] thoughtful gift because the givers can buy a shirt they feel would fit the recipient’s personality.”
People often enjoy graphic tees that make a personal statement.
Kathy Satterfield of Original Cowgirl Clothing Company based in southern California says T-shirts convey messages in an easy and fun way. “Graphic tees are popular because they share what we are feeling, who we are or who we would like to be,” Satterfield says.“They share experiences and connection with others; [and] the opportunity to influence and engage in pop culture, be part of current events and reminisce with past experiences. There are T-shirts for every genre, every income level and almost every event in history.”
Boutique owner Randa Yezek of Southern Jewlz in College Station, Texas, says T-shirts are ideal for her store because they not only promote the company with its logo on every shirt, but also are ideal to reach many segments of population. “They’re affordable, they are lightweight, they are comfy and they are versatile,” Yezek says. “And the more we sell, the more people out and about are seen wearing clothing that is recognizable as ours.”
Alisha Smith, owner of Dos Gringas Collection, a mobile and online boutique out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, says T-shirts appeal to her customers rooted in the horse show and rodeo crowds due to their ease of wear. “It’s easy to show your personality with a graphic tee,” Smith says. “And my clients that live the horse show or rodeo lifestyle find T-shirts fit their lifestyle well, but can still be fun and stylish.”
Fresh and Fun
Graphic tees stay at the forefront of trends with improvements in design technology. XOXO Art & Company utilizes direct-to- garment printing, which allows Neuendorff to create her designs by hand using watercolor paper, watercolors, pencils and markers for a completely unique look.
“The art I make has many layers, so the colors become more vibrant and there are more gradations,” Neuendorff says. “Direct to-garment printing allows me to actually do a painting on a piece of paper and reproduce almost that exact painted work on the shirt.”
Satterfield has found that using new fabrics and styles, such as dolman and burnout baseball T-shirts, helps her products stay cur- rent.
“We have several fabrics made from soybean and bamboo that incorporate a fresh style with existing prints,” Satterfield says.
Yezek says styles including loose-fitting shirts, racer-back tanks and sleeveless tops with armholes that showcase layered items have blended new style with interesting graphics. Color also plays an important role in staying trendy.
“I’ve seen more and more colors available from T-shirt companies,” Yezek says. “We are seeing seasonal colors, such as mint, purple or lilac, for spring, in addition to black, white and gray.”
Identify your customer base and choose designs and garments that will speak to those customers, rather than trying to follow every trend.
Tank top graphic shirts are popular for Southern Jewlz. Yezek says they can be worn alone in summer and layered with a denim or plaid shirt for fall or spring.
Smith prefers to carry lightweight, slightly fitted T-shirts instead of skintight tops for all-day comfort. She also likes to carry shirts with special elements, such as fringe, metallic writing or Swarovski crystals.
For the graphics themselves, Smith says tops with sayings in trendy fonts are the best way for her shirts to stay fresh.
“There are so many fun fonts available now that it’s easy to just do a great shirt simply with fonts versus an intricate design,” Smith says.
ATX Mafia creates new shirts each season that are grounded in the company’s roots because its target market is women with similar backgrounds: born and raised southern, possessing a strong Christian faith, and lovers of sports and hunting. “It’s all about the message,” Beerman says. “We work hard to have a unique message. We try to evolve and stay fresh and relevant.”
These experts have used printed fabric for some of their shirts, with popular patterns including stripes, camo, floral, Aztec and serape.
Neuendorff searches for untapped sectors of the market and works to create designs for those clients.
“We look for that shirt that a girl in college would love and a lady in her 50s would love,” Neuendorff says. “There are so many target groups that have not been touched.
“We’ve come up with lines of T-shirts for kids that show animals through [Future Farmers of America], 4-H and rodeo. We’ve started looking at the clients that love the cabin life, with moose and bear motifs. We look for things we can draw from that our clients will think is new and different.”
ATX Mafia has found designs on tank tops especially popular.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success doing fashion-forward tanks,” Beerman says. “Tanks have really resonated with our clients and retailers.”
Satterfield’s designers work closely with the company’s customer base to get a sense of what Original Cowgirl Clothing Company’s customers want and need.
Beerman relies heavily on constant market research to create designs that speak to ATX Mafia’s client base.
“We believe in research, and we do a ton of it,” Beerman said. “We help predict trends, and we try to stay ahead of the curve.”
Yezek knows her core clientele wants Texas A&M University-related gear come July, August and September, so her shirts are maroon-based and printed with slogans that appeal to the Aggie sports fan. At other times she gears T-shirt lines toward FFA or rodeo clientele.
Americana and patriotic themes are a big trend these experts have spotted and incorporated into their lines. Yezek says a thunderbird motif also is increasingly popular.
These sources recommend identifying your customer base and choosing designs and garments that will speak to those customers, rather than following every trend. You’ll have better success with unique and fresh items for your specific clients, and the versatility of graphic tees mean your options are endless.
“We stay within our core values for our shirts,” Beerman says. “It seems to resonate with our customers and I think it helps us stay relevant.”
Abigail Boatwright is a Fort Worth,Texas-based freelancer. She has written and photographed for horse publications for more than eight years, and covers topics including stock horses, equine health, event coverage, training, profiles, travel, fashion and food.