True To Your 'Self'

For anyone who deals in T-shirts, the self-promo tee accomplishes a wealth of goals.

The self-promotions never stop for Allegra Print & Imaging of Arkansas Inc. (asi/372419). Calendars at the end of the year. Christmas gifts. Pie in July, with the company’s logo on the packaging. Notepads, eyeglass cleaning cloths, pens, lip balm and much more. And, of course, T-shirts. “It’s one of those things I don’t feel comfortable doing business without,” says Lisa Buehler, part of the husband-and-wife team that founded the company nearly 25 years ago, about self-promos. “If I give somebody a business card, it may end up in a desk drawer, it may end up in the garbage, it may end up in a stack on their desk. Who knows?  But if they have [a self-promo] they are using, it’s front and center every time they pick it up.”

For companies that trade in apparel, the T-shirt is the centerpiece of the self-promo game. Cheap yet creative, they are the most accessible vehicle for companies to display their apparel expertise, from decoration to design to branding. According to ASI’s Ad Impressions study, shirts rank second among all products for positively swaying opinions. “We’re in the industry of embellishing stuff,” says Jeff Wolff, marketing manager of decorator Endless Prints (asi/188303). “And I feel like if you don’t have that stuff, you’re telling somebody you don’t believe in your product.”

Self-promotions are an art, with any number of worthwhile goals that can be achieved when deployed skillfully. These are just some of the many ways that the self-promo T-shirt gets the job done.

“We wanted that shirt to be worn on a Saturday when someone’s just walking around, and not feel like they’re branding for us.”
Jeff Wolff, Endless Prints (asi/188303)







1. To Demonstrate Your Branding Genius: Top 40 distributor PromoShop (asi/300446) met Golden Goods (asi/57695) at a trade show and was instantly drawn to the supplier’s flair for retail style. “We wanted them to create an edgy, kitschy piece of artwork for a T-shirt,” says Kris Robinson, PromoShop’s executive vice president & chief sustainability officer. “They came up with that design and we loved it.” The resulting pop art graphic was an instant hit with the distributor’s employees and clients, leading to reorders after the initial batch of 1,200-1,400. Most important, it demonstrated PromoShop’s ability to think creatively and convey its brand without just using its logo. “At the end of the day, if you can show somebody you get branding,” says Golden Goods Co-Founder Jeff Scult, “it shows you can get their branding.”

2. To Tell People What You Do (With Personality): After acquiring sign company Image 360 in 2010, Little Rock-based Allegra had a wealth of services to offer clients: promotional products, commercial printing, signs and more. Moreover, the Buehlers wanted to convey their company’s culture, the cool projects they do and their dedication to giving back to nonprofits. “Frankly, when it says we’re passionate about our people and our clients, it really speaks to us giving back to the community,” Buehler says. “And people say, ’That is totally you guys. I see it in every one of your employees.’” Thus was born Allegra’s self-promo shirt, which is given out to clients and also worn by the production staff when working in-house or out on the job. “It’s our creed,” she says, “it’s what we believe in.”

3. To Support A Good Cause And Earn Business: As part of its membership in the Athens, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Precision Imprint participated in the chamber’s Business Before Hours networking event, where members could come in to tour the shop. The decorator created shirts for the visitors that emphasized the importance of buying local. “The buy local initiative is a big deal lately, with so many buying online what they could just get down the street,” says Owner Randy Shoup. The cause gained instant traction with the Chamber, which made the shirt available to 27 Athens businesses and others, who purchased a total of 775 shirts. Precision Imprint printed the shirts, replacing its own original logo each time with the logo of a fellow local business. Graphic Designer Heather Eubanks spearheaded the entire initiative. “Heather put in a lot of time and effort to make this happen,” said Shoup, “and it just rolled along, putting us in contact with business owners we previously had no relationship with.”

4. To Celebrate Major Milestones: The Beefy-T from Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528) turns 40 this year, and the T-shirt company has been celebrating in a number of ways, including a display of vintage printed Beefy tees at various trade shows. In addition, Hanes worked with Rick Roth, owner of Mirror Image to create a 40th anniversary T-shirt design. “We wanted to use a ’now’ fashion-forward technique combined with a ’then’ vintage aesthetic,” says Roth. The design apes the look of today’s popular appliqué designs, but with a dash of sleight-of-hand: it’s actually printed with halftones and high-density specialty ink for a “faux” sewn-down look. ”We wanted to design a shirt that you definitely want to wear today,“ Roth says, “but is so well made that it ends up being the last shirt left in your T-shirt drawer.”

5. To Announce Big Changes: Heritage Sportswear and Virginia T’s merged two years ago, joining both company names with a ’+’ sign to assure customers it would be business as usual. This year, “we stepped forward toward building our identity as one strong company with experience and history within the industry,” says PR & Promotions Manager Cindy Baker. Now known as Heritage Sportswear powered by Virginia T’s (asi/60582), the supplier wanted to maximize its exposure to customers at the start of the year, particularly with two major trade shows where it was exhibiting. Twine Graphics of Franklin, Tennessee produced a vintage print on a soft tri-blend tee from Next Level, one of Heritage’s new brands for 2015. Says Baker: “It served multiple purposes: it introduced Next Level and its availability to our customers, introduced our logo to our customers, and provided a soft, wearable show sample for decorators stopping at our booth.”

6. To Create Something People Want to Wear: Wolff had a simple plan for his Endless Prints self-promo tee: “We wanted to include a T-shirt because that’s what we do, but we didn’t want the shirt to be a billboard.” Throwing around ideas that played off the company’s name, the staff landed on the idea of a hot air balloon, suggesting freedom and endless opportunities. The design was hand-illustrated, vectorised and screen-printed by Graphic Designer Toni Johnson, and the shirts are included in a welcome pack for customers who reach a certain buying tier. “We wanted that shirt to be worn on a Saturday when someone’s just walking around, and not feel like they’re branding for us,” says Wolff, whose company has also done self-promo jackets, hats, scarves and more. “It’s just a cool shirt, and if somebody happens to ask who it came from, they can tell them.”

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C.J. Mittica is the editor of Wearables. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @CJ_Wearables.

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