Why Your Promotional Tee Ends up in the Trade Show Trash Bin

Two words: French. Tuck. You’ve seen it everywhere from the effortless style maven at your office, to (of course) Queer Eye. It’s when you casually tuck in just a portion your t-shirt (or button up) so you look oh-so-relaxed and not at all concerned with looks. The French Tuck isn’t the first trend the humble t-shirt has spawned (knotted on the side, anyone?) and it won’t be the last. From James Dean’s plain white t-shirt, to that coveted concert tee that you mistakenly (sort of) emancipated from a college ex, a good t-shirt is a staple of any wardrobe. But you know what type of t-shirt you won’t find tucked or tied? Your latest promotional shirt.

Let’s face it: there are a LOT of bad t-shirts out there. Who hasn’t been handed a promotional shirt and been asked to wear it, only to find it was sized for a linebacker? And what’s that fabric? It says 100 percent cotton on the tag but it feels like sandpaper, and it smells funny. You might wear a shirt like that because you have to, but the second it comes off it’s destined for the donation bin.

Who wants to spend precious marketing budget on a throwaway shirt? Nobody does. And yet, marketers do it every day.

To make a t-shirt that your colleagues, contest winners, or event attendees will want to actually wear outside the exhibit hall, it’s as easy as keeping an eye on some key details.

Love at First Touch: Fabric

There are two basic choices for t-shirt fabric: 100 percent cotton or a cotton blend, but even in those two easy categories there are abundant potential pitfalls. 

Extremely breathable, cotton is a nature-lover’s choice, especially when it’s 100 percent organic cotton, which Allmade uses exclusively. Cotton is also often a screen printer’s preference for how it accepts color and keeps that color true.

A blend of cotton with polyester, an industry standard, results in a fabric that is lighter than pure cotton, lies smoothly against the skin, and can stand up better to the washing machine over time. Allmade’s blend takes the standard blend one better by using 50 percent Repreve polyester — fun fact: it’s made from recycled plastic bottles — 25 percent organic cotton, and 25 percent of TENCEL Modal, which is a super soft, super high integrity cellulose fiber. It’s a blend that delivers a ridiculously soft alternative to cotton. Don’t believe us? We’ll send you one to try.

So: different fabrics, different virtues. The bottom line is that the biggest difference between keeper t-shirts and their misshapen and quickly abandoned counterparts has to do with the quality (the q-word, so important) of the fabric. Make sure yours is going to pass the touch test.  

Every Body is Everybody: Fit  

Do everyone a favor and remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Don’t default to ordering a case of men’s large shirts when you know you’ll be handing them out to humans of all shapes and sizes. Fit is key to how a t-shirt lays on the body — and how the person wearing it feels about the tee.

Quality t-shirts are offered in a variety of sizes and in cuts designed especially for men and women. If you know the sizes you need, order those. But mostly you won’t know who’s going to find his or her way to the trade show booth. If you have last year’s order, then use that as a starting point. But if this is a new project, start with this ratio for bulk t-shirt orders. Fit might seem like something you can fudge, but overlook it and you’ll put a serious dent in the chances someone will want to wear your shirt again.

Orange You Glad It’s Not Orange: Color

Now about the fabric color. You’re brainstorming in the small conference room with some of your brightest marketing minds and something about the whiteboard and those pungent markers makes you think: Let’s make a t-shirt that really pops!

Reality check: Few people can pull off bright colors, and as much as you want your promotional garment to stand out in the crowd, a screaming color is not your best bet if you want your shirt to see the light of day.

More muted colors complement a wider range of skin tones and fit seamlessly into a variety of wardrobe palettes. White, black, and grey are winning neutrals, but subtlety doesn’t mean you have to give up color altogether. Allmade shirts come in a range of modern color tones — colors that will make the right kind of statement without causing headaches.  

Don’t be afraid of color, just don’t go crazy.

Save Your Clipart for the Computer: Design  

That brings us to the actual design of the t-shirt. There are infinitely more poorly designed promotional garments than there are examples of great ones, which tells you right away that this is an area to tread carefully.

A t-shirt is not a brochure. It’s not a blank canvas ready to be filled with logos and slogans. Nobody wants to wear a T-shirt that makes them feel like they’re in a NASCAR race. Similarly, a clever joke that might play well inside your office, might not translate to the real world.

You’ve hired a designer for your trade show booth, and for your product packaging, and for your website. Why wouldn’t you hire a designer for your shirts? The answer to this hypothetical question, is, of course, cost and time. But a well-made t-shirt is worth the investment. Think back to that French Tuck. Now think about all of those people who grabbed your t-shirt and all of their Instagram accounts that are fueled by selfies and handstands on empty beaches. (Or at the very least, groups of friends sitting at tables with half-eaten desserts.) Would you like to see your promotional t-shirt again, but this time on the back of a real person? How much is that free advertising worth to you? Once you answer that question, the next step is to call in a designer and start with a quality blank t-shirt.

We’ve all experienced the deflation of donning a promotional t-shirt — often tucked (sans French) into khakis. And we’ve all experienced the euphoria of peeling it off at the end of the event only to toss it in the nearest trash can. While that moment is deeply satisfying, it’s exactly the opposite of what a promotional t-shirt should do. A promotional t-shirt can be as cherished as that shirt with the perfectly ironic, intensely hand lettered slogan that captures your personal philosophy but a promotional t-shirt that begs to be French Tucked must start with quality.

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