In April, Images joined forces with the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) at Marketing Week Live 2016 in London, to discover how marketers and corporate buyers view branded garments


For the two days of the Marketing Week Live show the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) and Images team quizzed the never-ending queue of marketing professionals who were waiting for Andrew Clark of Fruit of the Loom to sublimate a T-shirt for them.

Educational requirement One of the most eye-catching results from the survey was that of the people interviewed, a full 11%* were not able to name what technique had been used to brand any items of clothing that they had ordered in the past. “There is a massive, massive educational requirement,” points out Gordon Glenister, director general of the BPMA. “It’s one of the reasons why the BPMA and Images did this event. Our stand was inundated all day, each day, and Andrew did a really good job of explaining the dye sublimation technique. They could see it, breathe it and feel it: he was educating people and they were fascinated.”

Most used processes The technique that most people said they’d used on branded garments was embroidery with 59% choosing stitch over print. Unsurprisingly, screen printing was next at 50%, followed by heat-applied transfers at 28% and direct-to-garment (D2G) at 9%. Based on the respondents’ feedback, there appears to be a lot of room for the growth of D2G, while techniques such as 3D-decoration and stones were met with a blank look from all the respondents.

Combining these results with the anecdotal evidence we gathered over the show demonstrates that there is a huge gap in buyers’ knowledge and experience. What is of concern is that these are not people off the street – these are marketers who regularly buy promotional items and who are not aware of the breadth of decoration techniques available to them and their clients.

We also discovered that 56% of the marketers buy their branded garments direct from a gift supplier, 17% from a promotional or design agency, 16% from an online-only supplier, and just 11% from a garment decorator. Our take-away: there is definite potential for garment decorators that are willing to be proactive in educating customers to win more direct orders.

Garment choices Predictably T-shirts topped the garment charts with 76% of the respondents having used them in the past year. Fifty-two percent had used polos over the same period, 31% hoodies, 24% fleeces, 16% jackets, 11% shirts and blouses, and 2% knitwear.

Bespoke potential Another indication that decorators should be talking to clients more is that 72% said they would consider ordering bespoke garments; however, this contrasts with the finding that only 23% follow supplier recommendations, with 63% saying they research and select their garments online and 8% using printed catalogues for their research.

Quality over cost Happily, quality came out top of what buyers look for when opting for branded clothing, with price next, then style. Offering the lowest price is not necessarily going to bag the job; instead, high quality, stylish products at a reasonable price should be the aim when pitching for business from this crowd.

Perceived value It’s also worth noting that 61% of the marketers rated the value of branded clothing as average when compared with other branded promotional items, with 30% viewing it as having a higher value.

Taking the results as a whole, it seems buyers need educating and decorators need to start talking if they want to increase their market share. “We’re still a reactive industry,” concludes Gordon. “When we get out and talk to people we should be saying, ‘This is a great way to build your brand’ rather than ‘Do you want some T-shirts?’. That’s the message: let’s look at what we could have.”

* All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number