6 College Apparel Trends

Win over high school and college kids with the latest apparel trends.

The Logos They Will (And Won’t) Wear

“Millennials can’t stand logos” Business Insider declared a year ago. “Teens don’t want to wear logos anymore,” asserted Bloomberg this past fall. What logos are they referring to? Retail brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale that splayed their names as big as possible – and then watched as millions of kids (and their paying parents) eagerly paid up for over a decade.

Now, in a quest to concoct their own style and avoid brand similitude, teens gravitate toward fast fashion lines such as Zara and H&M that eschew logos. Meanwhile, dozens of retail apparel brands are playing catch-up by de-emphasizing their logos as their bottom lines take a beating.

The pressing question: With an entire industry founded on the very notion of displaying logos, are promotional product companies now hopeless to entice the likes of Gen Y and Z?

Not exactly, say distributors and suppliers who work closely with the college and teen markets. “If you look at those brands like Abercrombie, they’re failing, and they’re trying to figure out what’s making them fail,” says Tony Poston, president of College Hill Custom Threads (asi/164578). Hot younger brands like Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide and Patagonia, he adds, “are putting prominent designs on shirts, and those are selling like hotcakes.”

In fact, Jamie Henry, manager of product development for Boxercraft (asi/41325), sees today’s teens and tweens embracing logos as their parents and older siblings did. With Victoria Secret’s ultra-popular PINK brand, “you can still find an extremely large or ‘blinged’-out appliqué of the word PINK on anything they sell,” Henry says, “but what is different is the 18-plus year old is not the target – a 15 year old now is.”

Still, industry apparel companies are rethinking the design aesthetic for this age range. “We have seen a shift away from big, bold logos,” says Ashley Holbrook, marketing specialist for Kotis Design (asi/244898). She describes a “less is more mentality” that includes the use of hand-drawn fonts, subtle custom woven hem labels and a renewed gravitation to left-chest embroidery.

High school and college students will proudly display their allegiance to a brand or group – but only if there’s a story they can align with, rather than a retail aesthetic that allows them to fit in. “It’s more about the cause and the why of the company,” says Kevin Ostromecki, a 22-year-old Philadelphia-area resident who started the merchandise brand Altix Clothing at 18. “What is this company for? Why am I representing it? Because I want to believe in that.”

But on the same token, advancements in fit, fabrics and variety have come so far in such a short time that brand loyalty is no longer unconditional. “In the past, if the [brand] message was strong enough, it could carry an inferior product,” says Mark Seymour, chief sales officer of Next Level Apparel (asi/73867). “That’s not true anymore.”