As 2024 unfolds, we are nearly four years past the onset of the COVID pandemic, a period that has seen transformative shifts in various sectors, including the decorated apparel and personalized gift industry. These years have not only witnessed a departure from traditional methods but have also ushered in new, innovative approaches to better serve our customers in the evolving landscape of the personalized apparel industry. Despite the challenges that remain, each obstacle presents unique opportunities for growth and innovation. In my conversations with numerous industry professionals on the 2 Regular Guys Podcast and through my work with Our Success Group supporting hundreds of small businesses, I’ve gained insights that shape my forecast for the decorated apparel trends 2024 and the broader personalized products community.
Key Challenges Facing Apparel Decorators in 2024
I always like to start with the challenges because, in every challenge, there’s an opportunity for growth. By acknowledging what we’re up against and adopting an abundance mindset, we can find innovative solutions. Two challenges I see are:
- Supply Chain Disruptions: We’re still grappling with issues in global supply chains that affect the availability and cost of materials. I believe some of this stems from the missteps distributors made before the pandemic, which then allowed them to use the pandemic excuse to bolster their profits. As decorators, we must re-examine our vendor relationships, and get creative with how that relationship is leaning. If your relationship with your key product vendors is merely a website login and you are forced to play only by their rules because that is just the way it is, I would say that is a telltale sign that it is time to make some changes. Your distributors play in a competitive market just like you do even if they act as if they are the only game in town.
- Uncertain Economy and Rising Costs: The inflationary pressures are pushing up the costs of production and materials, which may also impact consumer spending power. This will certainly remain a challenge in 2024, especially with the presidential election with more consumers holding on to discretionary spending. This will mean that decorators need to focus more on the problems they solve and make sure they don’t become a commodity to their customers. If the only selling point your customers have to go by is whether can you give them the lowest bid, you will struggle in 2024. You have to figure out how to make your services more about the value you bring and less about the price they pay. Those are two different things.
Opportunities Amidst Challenges
As noted challenges bring growth opportunities, and as I see it, there are several promising opportunities for product and garment decorators.
Expanding to Online Stores
The move towards online sales has been significant. From $3.5 trillion in 2019 to $5.7 trillion in 2022, a notable 62.86% increase in global e-commerce sales illustrates that this trend isn’t slowing down. As decorators, we should be helping our customers capitalize on their online presence, be it through setting up online stores for local organizations or becoming merchandise suppliers for online influencers.
Customization and Personalization
The growing demand for personalized apparel is an opportunity to stand out from the competition. The key lies in efficiently managing numerous individual orders instead of large bulk ones, which means a deeper dive into understanding fulfillment, forming robust partnerships with shipping companies, and adopting a more customer-centric business model.
Strategic Focus: Niche Markets and Ethical Production
Beyond the opportunities, we need to understand the hurdles that might be in front of us. In 2024 the customer priorities are going to be torn. Sustainability is no longer a buzz marketing term, but a requirement. The buyer has increased awareness and demand for eco-friendly and ethically produced apparel. Understanding what that truly means to your customers is crucial. The challenge for the buyer will be the balance between that demand and their price sensitivity. I do feel there will still be economic uncertainties, and the buyers may prioritize affordability. But they will still demand quality and durability. There is already a shift towards long-lasting apparel and lifetime personalized products moving away from ‘fast fashion’ and trinkets and trash. The challenge for the decorator will be finding the balance of those 3 points that will meet their customer’s needs.
My suggestion is to focus more on niche markets or specific demographics that align with sustainable and ethical production. Then focus less on mass-produced, low-margin items that face stiff competition and might be less profitable.
2024 Outlook: A Balanced Perspective for Apparel Decorators
My outlook for 2024 is positive yet reserved. Considering the economic outlook and business spending trends, there could be moderate growth in profits, especially for those who adapt to changing consumer preferences, embrace e-commerce, and invest in new technologies. However, this growth might be tempered by cost increases and economic uncertainties so decorators must make decisions based on their unique business foundation, not based on some guru’s general get-rich formula. Decorators need to be very clear about what their reason and values are, who exactly their ideal customers are, and what specific internal challenge they can solve for their ideal customers. The decorators who have clarity and confidence can look forward to a rewarding 2024, especially those who are focused on service and fulfilling their reason for existing as a company.
What is your outlook for the industry in 2024 and beyond?