Compared to clothes produced with man-made fibers, cotton clothes are more popular among consumers.
Compared to clothes produced with man-made fibers, cotton clothes are more popular among consumers.
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Graphic, logo and tie-dyed tees have been popular with various circles for decades, from kids to hippies to jocks and gamers. But the popularity of athleisure and the rise of high-end streetwear has stepped up the T-shirt game with luxury designers and celebrities going up against active and surf-skate heavyweights, all of them vying for the attention and wallets of consumers who are in a constant search for newness.

“Graphic tees are very important right now, especially among the youth,” says Anthony Moni, men’s stylist at Rag & Bone’s SoHo location in New York. He commented that the culture now is people want to represent something they have on.

Most of the T-shirts at Rag & Bone are made of 100% cotton. They also retail at a higher end price point, too: base tees retail for US$75 while fun graphic models go for about US$120 and its signature dagger embroidery tee sells for US$125.

All-cotton tee shirt lines appear to be the trend among the better labels and designers. But it’s not by accident that they’re using the natural fiber, rather than a synthetic. These brands are making a direct appeal to what today’s shoppers say they want.
Compared to clothes produced with man-made fibers, more than 8 in 10 consumers say cotton apparel is the most comfortable (87%), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. Consumers also say it’s the most sustainable (85%), trustworthy (85%), soft (85%), authentic (83%) and reliable (81%).

At G-Star RAW’s SoHo store, camo-style tees are trending right now for men, according to the store’s manager, especially the style that has the word RAW splashed across the chest. She said that although camo-styles tee are the trending now, printed tees are popular all year round.

But one thing nearly all consumers do want in their t-shirts is the authenticity of natural fibers. In fact, nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say they’re actually bothered when brands and retailers substitute man-made fibers for cotton in their T-shirts, according to Monitor research. Women are significantly more likely than men (64% versus 53%) to be irritated by this.

Additionally, the majority of consumers (65%) say they’re willing to pay a premium to keep their T-shirts cotton-rich, according to Monitor data. That’s because about 4 in 5 consumers (79%) say cotton and cotton blends are their favorite fabric to wear. Additionally, more than 7 in 10 say better quality garments are made from natural fibers like cotton.

That explains why so many high-end streetwear and athleisure companies use all-natural fibers for their casual knits. Off White, A Bathing Ape and OVO (October’s Very Own) all have graphic, message, fun or irreverent tees that are all-cotton or cotton rich. Supreme also deals in 100% cotton in its T-shirts — although every item it offers is completely sold out.

All of these elevated casual brands hold special appeal for young men. The Doneger Group released a survey of 350 men that found “a consumer who clearly sees fashion as a way of standing out but who is somewhat intimidated by it, presenting an opportunity for retailers to help modern men through guidance, looks and products.”

The Doneger survey found 48% of men describe style as a means of self-expression. The modern man also “wants to attain chill guy status, a relaxed way of showing his individuality to stay ahead in work, life and love.” And like the Monitor survey, Doneger found that 64 % of men are willing to pay more for clothes made with higher quality materials.