Looking to break away from the boys’ club or refine your women’s apparel approach? Andrea Engel, vice president of portfolio and supplier management for alphabroderOpens in a new window, Trevose, Pa., and Jennifer Tsai, vice president of operations and designer of the Lilac Bloom line for Tri-MountainOpens in a new window, Irwindale, Calif., shared some insights on trends and best sales practices for women’s apparel.

Current Trends Coming In …

Like any other apparel category, women’s apparel has its ebbs and flows with what’s in style. Engel shared one trend she sees becoming more popular: performance. “Everyone leads an active lifestyle these days,” said Engel. “We all want the performance features we enjoy incorporated into all of our clothing choices. Brands that tie together comfortable performance fabrics and styles that still look polished and professional are on the forefront.”

Tsai shared another trend that’s more about the appearance of the apparel. “Comfort and a flattering fit will always be in style,” she said. “One of the biggest trends we have seen over the recent years is the longer length of ladies’ tops from T-shirts to blouses and sweaters.

The short, boxy cut looks good on so few, and I think most women gravitate to styles that flatter their bodies,” she explained. “The longer length in tops has a slimming effect and we keep that in mind for all of our Lilac Bloom styles.”

Engel seconded the importance and rising popularity of fitted apparel. “Women are continuing to demand that manufacturers offer apparel that flatters all shapes and sizes,” she said. “In our industry especially, when outfitting any group or company, women are expecting professional looks that fit.”

… And Going Out

As some trends come in, others are going to go out. Currently in women’s apparel, what’s going out seems to be the edgy and uncomfortable. “It is hard to say what is going out of style because it seems like fashion always repeats itself,” said Tsai. “With that said, I do think that certain styles of 2013, like super-short shorts, spiked leather and wedge sneakers are on their way out … which is great for those that seek comfort! I think the trends that are short-lived are going to be the ones that are not practical and are uncomfortable,” she explained.

Advice For Newcomers …

If you’ve never bought women’s apparel before, it’s possible you could find the whole process daunting. For an outsider, there can be a perception of complexity about women’s apparel. There are different style trends, more complex sizing demands and whole new cuts of apparel to understand, all of which could make approaching it daunting.

This complexity, however, is more cultural stereotype than truth, and while there are new details to master for women’s apparel, they’re nothing so complicated or impenetrable that a small amount of research can’t solve. “Don’t be intimidated!” said Engel. “Get a few women together and talk about what women love and hate about the clothes they are given to wear in a work or group environment. Then ask your distributor sales team to map out the styles that fit your end-users’ needs,” she said. She also recommended ordering a few samples in various sizes so they can be tested for fit and comfort.

Tsai seconded the value of testing samples for those who are new to women’s apparel.  She recommended buying a full size run in the style that you’re interested to be able to touch, feel, and try them on, because all of the styles and brands fit a bit differently.  Tsai said, “A woman who generally wears a size 6 may find that she likes the size 4 better in a certain style because of the styling or the fabric.  There are certain fabrics that hug the body and others that drape better and are more forgiving.” she explained. Tri-Mountain tried to make it easy and allows sample returns within 30 days with no restock fee, so you can get a full size run into your hands.  This works much better than trying to return/reorder different sizes later on, especially if you are planning on having the items decorated!

… And For Those More Experienced

If you’re an old hand at approaching women’s apparel, there still might be a few things you can do to improve
the foremost of which would be to be careful of getting stuck in a rut.  Engel suggests for you to be curious and brave, because it is natural to gravitate back to what worked for you in the past, but taking chances keeps you ahead of the game. She said to be a category expert and use tools and mindshare of your distributor and marketing teams.  They’ll be happy to help you continue to look fresh and innovated and informed.

Tsai gave another bit of advice for the more experienced, which was to consider the durability and lifespan of the apparel you’re choosing. “A style that looks great off the rack or out of the bag may not always look great after wash and dry,” she said. Also, it is imperative to buy styles that hold up well after wash and dry, because you have to assume that those clothes will be put through the ringer.