Topline Chart of Top T-shirt Brands from Label Networks%uFFFD Spring Youth Culture Study 2009

T-shirts represent one of the highest growing markets in youth culture fashion, which makes this marketplace one of the most vital components towards understanding trends and market opportunities in youth culture today. In many ways, knowing what’s going on in the subculture of the T-shirt industry indicates where the marketplace is headed next, how spending patterns effect other categories (because there are correlations between T-shirts, sneaker culture, and denim), and where cultural shifts within youth markets are headed globally. For example, increase in importance in band merchandise and T-shirts and how this has greatly affected retailers such as Hot Topic, and how streetwear is obviously so affected by changes in trends in the T-shirt marketplace. There’s also been a growth in T-shirt brands springing from various non-profits which have affected the market for other, more traditional brands, and of course the whole “blanks” T-shirt movement with 1st-layer brands such as American Apparel. Generally, this section in our North American Youth Culture Study, is one of the most read sections in all of our Global Youth Culture Studies, as the North American marketplace tends to be the most creative when it comes to T-shirts as an industry.

T-shirts, which are often less expensive than other forms of apparel, play many roles when it comes to individual style, often leading into new directions for brands, designs, marketing, distribution, and in many cases, can lead to the launch of entirely new companies based on the success of a series of T-shirt collections (i.e., Volcom, Hurley, Famous Stars &Straps, American Apparel, Hot Topic, Glamour Kills, To Write Love on Her Arms, Threadless, and a variety of streetwear labels).

Macro Trends: What is your favorite T-shirt brand to wear?
There are 4 main categories that jump out as successful strategies when it comes to T-shirts in this Spring Study 2009 as indicated by the top types of brands when it comes to attracting 13-25-year-olds in North America. First, there’s the “blank” T-shirt movement as indicated by the ongoing success of American Apparel as the #1 brand at 19.7%. This is a significant increase from 15.7% in the Fall Study 2008, which is up again from the Fall Study 2007 at 10.8%. The increase in preferences for T-shirts that are somewhat brandless or blank, with greater emphasis on style, matches the current markets’ expectations for fast-changing, trendy, and relatively inexpensive apparel. This also taps into their DIY aesthetics as many American Apparel T-shirts, for example, are often added as first-layer pieces, accessorized, or changed by the wearer, this adding to the appeal as well.

As we noted back in the Fall Study of 2006, there’s a growing “middle ground” of mid-tier T-shirt brands within fashion that include brands that are not necessarily extremely inexpensive, such as many brands made for various big chain retailers like Wal-Mart. But they are also not necessarily “specialty” brands with higher margins either. They are generally pitched as an average brand, often made in America or a fair-trade eco-friendly brand, brandless band (no visible logo). American Apparel has been the leader in this growing mid-segment of fashion and now for 3 different waves of research, is ranked clearly #1, and it’s increasing. There are many reasons for this, including the variety of styles, which females particularly like for their current yet retro combinations, fitted silhouettes, and ever-changing styles (because they are vertically integrated with manufacturing in the United States, they can design, manufacture, and distribute quickly). They are also popular for their high threadcount, unique advertising and marketing campaigns (see Label Networks’ Profile Report on American Apparel), and the fact that many styles today include aspects of layering and accessorizing. This also accounts for why brands such as Fruit of the Loom are relatively high and Hanes, but unfortunately, they were late to the market on recognizing the blank, mid-tier, layering, DIY potential within youth culture fashion.

The second significant movement is the rise in importance of band merch and T-shirts from musicians, bands, and artists, which accounts for the strong appeal to Hot Topic, now at 8.6%, beating out Volcom, even though it has dropped considerably since the Fall Study 2008 from 14.7%, as well as Volcom at 4.5%, which is down considerably from 11.4%. The interesting change here is that Forever 21 (and other fast-fashion retailers) is now moving into top preferences among youth culture, with Forever 21 now ranking 3rd overall at 5.2%. This is an increase from 2.2% in the Fall Study 2008, and accounts for the 3rd movement in T-shirts as fast-fashion retailers are getting into the game.

This follows then with action sports-inspired brands, which used to dominate the genre, with Volcom at 4.5% and Hurley at 4.4% now tied with Urban Outfitters -which like Hot Topic tends to include band merch T-shirts into its merchandising, along with a large cross-section of brands, including many boutique T-shirt brands. Other brands to note are that Hanes is at 4%, and Famous Stars & Straps, which taps into motocross and tattoo-artistry designs comes in after at 3.7%. American Eagle has dropped considerably in T-shirt brand preferences now at 2.7% tied with Hollister, which has also decreased, then Nike at 2.6%. Threadless, which is also an online retailer, has increased at 2.2%, followed by H&M at 2.1% (see charts and graphs for additional top T-shirt brands).

When it comes to T-shirt brands, it’s also important to look further down the list. As we anticipated, brands such as Famous Stars & Straps, Glamour Kills, Delias, Threadless, H&M, and Affliction are doing well. LRG, Element, Vans, Billabong, and Fox Racing are also generally more popular, whereas brands such as Quiksilver and Roxy have dropped, as well as Aeropostale and Abercrombie & Fitch. In addition, while many people in fashion may think that Ed Hardy is a hot brand in youth culture in North America, it’s lower on the scale at .2%. Finally, given the long list of top T-shirt brands, it quantifies how the marketplace is moving in niche directions as more young people have new favorites, even so-called underground or extremely niche brands, which pop-up on the radar, indicating that there is a passion for new brands in this subculture. T-shirts are one category of fashion where opportunity continues to exist because of such capabilities for producing a following, creating designs, and manufacturing -even hand silkscreening -designs that can then be sold online, or on one’s MySpace page, or a variety of other DIY distribution routes.

For more information about Cross-tabulations by Gender and Age Groups, or for subscription information to the Spring Study 2009, part of the Premium subscription, email; (323) 630-4000.