Dude, Why's My T-Shirt More Expensive?
Everyone in our industry is sharing the same headache right now: rising, fluctuating t-shirt prices. Why is this happening?
First, a little background. As early as 7,000 years ago, cotton was being cultivated and spun into fabric in Central America and South Asia. It became an important crop in ancient Peru and Persia. Greeks and Arabs were fascinated by the crop in the classical period, but it didn't make its way to Europe until medieval times.
One 14th-century English writer suggested that because the fiber was as soft as wool, it must come from a tree with sheep hanging from its branches! Europeans developed a passion for cotton, and demand for it drove colonial exploration - and exploitation - for centuries.
Gandhi himself said the cotton trade was unjust to Indian farmers. During the last century, cotton lost some of its luster as new synthetic fabrics entered the market. Polyester came onto the scene in the 1950s, and the demand for cotton dropped dramatically. It got so precarious that U.S. cotton farmers banded together to promote their product. Remember the slogan and jingle "Cotton, the fabric of our lives"?
These days, it's hard to imagine a time when people had to be persuaded to buy cotton garments. What's changed since then?
First of all, demand is up - way up - but the credit doesn't go to savvy U.S. marketing. It's all about India and China. Combined, those countries make up half the world's population, and they're wearing more cotton garments than ever before.
Second, supply is down. Unfavorable weather in the world's big cotton producers shrunk the harvests. To top it all off, India is now exporting less cotton and keeping more of its crop for its own people. Then there are labor costs. Most cotton is turned into fabric in countries like India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Honduras.
Workers there are demanding better wages, and factory owners pass that cost along to consumers. These factors drove cotton prices to an all-time high this year.
Now, the market's turned volatile, with sharp spikes and dips coming at breakneck speed. This means a few things for our industry (and your marketing budget). Cotton may or may not be the fabric of your life, but it is absolutely the fabric of the promotional products business. About a third of our sales are wearables, mostly the classic 100% cotton screen printed t-shirt.
We've been around long enough to remember the days of the $0.99 t-shirt. Those days are gone forever. Now, no one will even print a t-shirt price list because the prices would change before the ink was dry.
And the prices that are quoted are higher than they used to be. If you're unaware of the global cotton situation, you might have sticker shock when you realize what your t-shirt project will cost.
Our advice? Take this as an opportunity to focus on what matters: ROI. When t-shirts were dirt cheap, it was easy to slap any old logo on them and never worry if they would actually be appreciated and worn by the people you gave them to.
Now, you've got to make sure those t-shirts are worth every penny. For example, if you spend a little extra time on your design and incorporate trends from retail graphic tees, the shirt will be worn more often and your brand will be seen more often.
Our art experts have lots more promo t-shirt tips to keep your shirts out of the dustbin and on people's bodies.