11th Annual Wearables Apparel Design Awards

We honor the best in apparel and decoration – and share the secrets behind these unique looks.

Best Woven Shirt/Blouse/Knit Top

Background: Flannel shirts are a great alternative to traditional woven shirts and work well as casual office wear, according to Rhea Aslin, senior director of brand management for SanMar. “We’re based in the Pacific Northwest, where plaid flannel is a wardrobe staple,” Aslin adds. “We find that these are great options for resorts, lodges, coffee shops and breweries.”
Best Feature: Plaid flannel is timeless and seasonal, and has unisex appeal.
Decoration Tip: Embroidery is the most popular decoration method. For something bolder, consider a screen print across the back of the shirt. Both tonal and contrasting designs will work, depending on the intended end result.

WINNER: Flannel Shirt (W668); Supplier: SanMar (asi/84863)

1st Runner-Up
Pima Cotton Henley Tee (02880P8)
Supplier: Alternative Apparel (asi/34850)

2nd Runner-Up
Denim Tie-Dye Shirt (PS-119)
Supplier: Scully (asi/86020)

Best Outerwear

Background: Boxercraft is always striving to stay on top of trends in casual wear, according to Sherri McCarrell, marketing director for Boxercraft. The Sherpa Pullover makes a bold statement, but it also offers superior comfort and warmth, she says. It has a relaxed fit with a unisex style that easily pairs with jeans, sweatpants, joggers and leggings. “It’s by far one of Boxercraft’s best products,” McCarrell says.
Best Feature: The mid-weight polyester sherpa mimics the look of lamb’s wool and is built for long-lasting comfort and durability.
Decoration Tip: Be sure the embroidery design you’re using has been digitized for a high-pile fabric. Extra underlay, a knockdown fill and strategic use of water-soluble topping can all help keep your stitches from sinking too deep into the plush fabric.

WINNER: Sherpa Pullover (Q10); Supplier: Boxercraft (asi/41325)

1st Runner-Up
3-in-1 Jacket (EB556)
Supplier: SanMar (asi/84863)

2nd Runner-Up
Yukon Jacket (3311)
Supplier: Vantage Apparel (asi/93390)

Best Use of Color

Background: One of Culture Studio’s clients wanted to bring a single-color design to life in the sunlight. This type of special-effect printing is becoming more popular, with so many outdoor concerts and festivals popping up. Garments with color-changing designs add a surprise wow factor that end-users are sure to appreciate. “You can get very creative with blends and the artwork to gain colors, since UV printing is limited to a certain amount of color,” says Joey Santo, vice president of production for Culture Studio.
Best Feature: No doubt the UV-activated print that changes color in the sunlight.
Decoration Tip: Don’t lay down too much ink. Find a good medium where you have enough coverage that the ink gets bright enough in sunlight, but not so much that when the ink fades inside, it becomes invisible.

WINNER: Color-Changing Tee; Decorator: Culture Studio (asi/700559)

1st Runner-Up
All-Over Print Pocket Tank (105)
Supplier: FPS Apparel (asi/53475)

2nd Runner-Up
Quarter-Zip Anorak (5809)
Supplier: Charles River Apparel (asi/44620)

Best Polo

Background: This polo uses the same polyester UltraCool moisture-wicking fabric that has proven a hit with other styles from Tri-Mountain, according to John Perez, marketing rep for the company. The company believed the popularity of the fabric would translate well to this colorblocked style, he adds. Tri-Mountain also worked to keep the price point of the polo low.
Special Feature: To keep the colorblock yoke more youthful, Tri-Mountain chose brighter color options like green aqua, coral and lime green.
Decoration Tip: A classic left-chest embroidered logo would look striking against the colorblock yoke.

WINNER: Colorblock Polo (K017); Supplier: Tri-Mountain (asi/92125)

1st Runner-Up
Metallic Ink Sleeve Polo (222513)
Supplier: Holloway Sportswear (asi/61430)

2nd Runner-Up
Classic Eco-Jersey Polo Shirt (29090)
Supplier: Alternative Apparel (asi/34850)

Best Apparel Innovation

Background: Suntex started offering these slip-on shoes because of their unique look and high perceived value, says Gwen Kelly, customer relations and product safety manager for Suntex. The hardest thing to pin down was sizing; Suntex was able to simplify things by finding five general sizes that fit most adults.
Best Feature: The full-color dye sublimation turns the wearer’s feet into a literal walking billboard.
Decoration Tip: Sublimation has no color limitations, so it opens up endless design choices. Consider spicing up an item by recreating a stunning sunset, iconic cityscape or other photographed image.

WINNER: Athleisure Slip-On Shoes (DP-1); Supplier: Suntex Industries (asi/90160)

1st Runner-Up
Solar UPF 50+ Shirt (M700 men’s/M750 ladies/M780 youth/M785 toddler)
Supplier: Vapor Apparel (asi/93396)

2nd Runner-Up
Glow-in-the-Dark Emblems (PG12345)
Supplier: Penn Emblem (asi/77120)

Best Performance/Athletic Garment

Background: When Champion product designers looked at introducing a sports bra to the embellishment market in 2017, they knew they needed a bra that would stand out both for consumers and embellishers. They leveraged both comfort and innovation to create this winning style. It makes sense to offer sports bras that can be customized, since the garment, paired with performance bottoms, has become part of the team uniform in many sports.
Best Feature: The best feature is what it doesn’t have: seams. Minimal seams minimize irritation for distraction-free comfort.
Decoration Tip: Minimal seams also make this bra ideal for all-over sublimation. Consider offering personalization, a huge trend with millennials, who have grown up with the ability to create custom designs.

WINNER: Sports Bra (B900); Supplier: Champion Branded Printwear (asi/59528)

1st Runner-Up
Performance Quarter-Zip (CE401W)
Supplier: alphabroder (asi/34063)

2nd Runner-Up
Birdseye Mesh Quarter-Zip (7260)
Supplier: Dunbrooke Apparel Corp. (asi/90518)

Best Hoodie/Sweatshirt

Background: The idea for this sweatshirt’s custom-lined hood came from a brainstorming session FPS Apparel owner Jay Feinberg had with a client. The customer loved the extra pop of color and brand recognition the custom lining brought to the garment and placed an order for several hundred hoodies, according to Kevin Johnstone, sales and marketing manager at FPS Apparel. “We showed the concept to more customers after that, and the custom-lined hoodie was born,” Johnstone adds.
Best feature: The customized hood lining is the attention-getter, but the 24-piece minimum puts small custom apparel orders within reach.
Decoration tip: Dye sublimation can be a great way to get a full-color logo onto a garment in a cost-effective way.

WINNER: Classic Pullover with Custom Lined Hood (CG185); Supplier: FPS Apparel (asi/53475)

1st Runner-Up
Crewneck Sweatshirt (09575F2)
Supplier: Alternative Apparel (asi/34850)

2nd Runner-Up
Layer-Knit Zip Hoodie (F7090)
Supplier: Tri-Mountain (asi/92125)

Best Trendy Hat

Background: Kotis Design’s college division is known for pushing boundaries and staying up-to-date with trends on campus. “Seeing how hot faux fur was in retail, it was a given on our part to incorporate it into our custom knit line,” says Ashley Holbrook, marketing specialist for Kotis. Metallic threads and a marled design complement the faux fur to create an overall luxe look for the beanie.
Best Feature: This hat’s made for fun, but the faux-fur pom is tops in every way.
Decoration Tip: Faux fur and metallic embroidery can elevate something as simple as a knit beanie, giving it high-fashion flair.

WINNER: Custom Knit Beanie; Distributor: Kotis Design (asi/244898)

1st Runner-Up
Flag Mesh Back Cap (i2011)
Supplier: Cap America Inc. (asi/43792)

2nd Runner-Up
Shortbill Ball Cap (H0105HW)
Supplier: Alternative Apparel (asi/34850)

Best Accessory

Background: “We believe in making swag that people want, and we like to do it ourselves when we can do it better,” says Holbrook. That mission is how Kotis came up with its Tailgate Tote. Kotis wanted to get around design limitations of other premade tote bags, so the in-house cut-and-sew team created a bag from the ground up, enabling eye-catching edge-to-edge printing.
Best Feature: Canvas totes are popular right now, but the all-over edge-to-edge print sets this apart from the rest.
Decoration Tip: Large icons make a bold statement.

WINNER: Custom Canvas Tote; Distributor: Kotis Design

1st Runner-Up
Traveler Backpack (1039)
Supplier: DRI DUCK (asi/50835)

2nd Runner-Up
Pantone-Matched Dress Socks (PDS501)
Supplier: Pop! Promos (asi/45657)

Best Digital Decoration

Background: A distributor came to Eversole Run in search of a unique shirt for a deep-sea fishing tournament, so the supplier developed an all-over fish scale design with vibrant colors to match the theme of the tournament, which was held in the Gulf of Mexico. “We were able to deliver the finished order in 21 days, just in time for the event,” says Matt Masters, general manager.
Best Feature: The shirt’s moisture-wicking performance material: functional and great for decoration.
Decoration Tip: When using dye sublimation, be sure to maintain a clean workspace. Dust and moisture can prevent a full and consistent transfer.

WINNER: Performance Shirt (M8648); Supplier: Eversole Run (asi/53040)

1st Runner-Up
Sublimated T-Shirt
Decorator: Culture Studio (asi/700559)

2nd Runner-Up
Dress Socks (47DLDTG-BLK)
Supplier: Sports Solutions Inc. (asi/88876)

Best Screen Printing

Background: Only a few design firms have access to the University of Washington’s “vault logos” – Kotis Design is one of them. To take advantage of this, the decorator created a throwback piece with enough fashion sense to make it wearable beyond game days. Subtle design throughout and a pop of branding on the hood lining made this hoodie into a show-stopper. “It’s a favorite among our office’s University of Washington Husky fans,” says Ashley Holbrook, marketing specialist.
Best Feature: The custom-printed edge-to-edge hood lining.
Decoration Tip: Make a piece more wearable and attractive to a larger audience by using subtle branding, like hood liners, woven labels and other contrasting features.

WINNER: Retro Hoodie with Liner; Distributor: Kotis Design (asi/244898)

1st Runner-Up
Vintage Gas Design
Decorator: AxelRad Screen Printing (asi/128297)

2nd Runner-Up
Spider-Man Design
Decorator: Culture Studio (asi/700559)

Best Embroidery

Background: The intricate design on this sweatshirt was inspired by an Emerald City Embroidery employee’s first trip to China. “I thought it would be fun to play on the yin-yang using a classic Chinese dragon, along with an older interpretation of a Western dragon,” says Jesse Elliot, digitizing product manager for Emerald City. “I had a simple outline sketch I used for the dragons, knowing I only wanted large, satin scales on the Chinese dragon, and a more flat, textural look for the European dragon.” Extra underlay gave the scales more loft.
Best feature: Elliot used different stitch types, textures and angles to create the detailed dragon images, while limiting the color palette to three shades per side of the yin-yang.
Decoration Tip: When laying columns of satin stitches together side by side, alternate the angle of the stitch with each column. If the columns all have the same stitch angle, they’re more likely to feather or look rough.

WINNER: East Meets West Sweatshirt; Decorator: Emerald City Embroidery

1st Runner-Up
Mustang Biker Jacket (FW3140)
Supplier: Fersten Worldwide (asi/53974)

2nd Runner-Up
Camera Bag
Supplier: HPI Emblem (asi/62066)

Best Multimedia

Background: Kotis used four decoration techniques to create this custom hoodie, which features a 3-D embroidered flame on the left chest and heat-pressed black velvet vinyl on the right chest. The back includes an oversize cut-and-sew panel, featuring screen printing, velvet vinyl and embroidery. The garment marked the 10th anniversary of AugFest, an event Kotis has often created apparel for, says marketing specialist Ashley Holbrook. The event “continues to push our design, production and printing team’s boundaries, year after year,” she adds.
Best Feature: The intricate decoration on the back of the hoodie mixes media in a well-thought-out and striking way.
Decoration Tip: When combining decoration techniques, it’s important to think things through. Try layering the decoration methods and playing with texture in your designs.

WINNER: 10:10 Life Hoodie; Distributor: Kotis Design (asi/244898)

1st Runner-Up
Pantone-Matched Beanie (PBJ100)
Supplier: Pop! Promos (asi/45657)

2nd Runner-Up
Twill and Tech Appliqué Pullover (3274)
Supplier: Vantage Apparel (asi/93390)

How the Winners Were Chosen
In the fall of 2017, Wearables asked for apparel, accessory and decoration submissions from suppliers, decorators and distributors. Finalists were selected by the Wearables editorial team, judging the products on design appeal, wearability, features and look. Using the same criteria, our readers then voted on the finalists to determine the winner in each category.