It’s one of the smoothest, most luxurious garments in the industry. It’s comfortable, breathable, strong, and soft. It may be the most influential garment trend of the last decade. And most importantly, it’s a fabric that people actually love to wear.

Meet the tri-blend.

What is a tri-blend?

Simply, it’s a balanced blend of 50% polyester, 25% combed ringspun cotton, and 25% rayon. In these proportions, tri-blends offer an attractive combination of texture, durability, and style. Consider:
  • Cotton is breathable and comfortable.
  • Polyester is smooth, tough, lightweight, and wrinkle-resistant.
  • Rayon is soft and sweat-wicking, with an excellent drape that reduces piling.

If you’re still having difficulty imagining the versatility, imagine an NBA player demanding the durability and breathability of a game uniform, the drape of a warmup, and the feeling of silk. Sure, it’s a very high bar, but maybe that’s why the tri-blend is quickly becoming the go-to t-shirt in the promotional products industry.

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How did tri-blends evolve?

Simply, it was a respond to market demand.  100% and 50/50 fiber blends have their merits, but as early as 2006 it was apparent that there was market for a higher-end t-shirt.
In response, the past decade saw the rise of a revolution in the garment industry, with consumers increasingly seeking new fabrics and styles that better meet their needs. And with emerging manufacturing processes capable of weaving creative blends of synthetic and organic fibers, forward-thinking manufacturers like American Apparel, Bella Canvas, and Next Level rose to meet the demand.
This trend shows little sign of slowing, as 2017 continued to see the emergence of great tri-blend options from private label manufacturers.

What are the best uses for tri-blends?

It’s rare to see a material featured as frequently in high fashion, casual wear, and athletics. The implication is that you can use a tri-blend garment for just about any occasion. And, despite the unique qualities of the material, it is still robust enough to endure screen printing, yielding a uniquely vintage result.
While tri-blends are suitable for most occasions, we have to admit a weakness for the vintage-style print.  You know what we mean: 
There are several reasons tri-blend is the ideal choice for a vintage look:
  • First, the production process for tri-blends tends to create a very subtle heather-style pattern. This is typical look in older or aged cotton t-shirts.
  • Second, because of the multiple fibers and the intended drape, the fabric weave tends to be looser than a 100% cotton.  The added flexibility allows the designer to choose whether or not they want the shirt to show through the graphic, much like the effect shown above.

What’s the catch?

Up to this point we’ve focused entirely on the upside of tri-blend garments. Surely there must be a catch, right?
Well, that depends.  While it’s true that tri-blends represent a premium garment material and therefore cost a bit more than 100% cotton, it can make sense from an ROI perspective, especially since:
  • 58% of Americans own a promotional t-shirt, making it the most commonly owned promotional product in the US.
  • The Average time a promotional t-shirt is kept by the original recipient is 6 months.
  • Nearly 2/3 of t-shirt owners will pass it along to someone else when they’re done with it (rather than trash it), giving it a second promotional life.
The results: According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, t-shirts deliver an average of 2,450 impressions over their lifetime.  That alone should create a pretty good ROI.  But would anyone like to speculate that a softer, more durable t-shirt with an awesome vintage logo might get kept longer and worn more, thereby creating even more value?
So yes, tri-blend shirts cost a bit more.  But in the words of legendary investor Warren Buffett Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

Takeaways

  • Tri-blend t-shirts are a rapidly-growing category in the promotional products world due to their unique blend of breathability, comfort, lifespan, and drape.
  • While a tri-blend may be used for any purpose and in virtually any environment, the fabric has a natural and desirably vintage look and feel.
  • Tri-blend garments tend to be slightly more expensive than 100% cotton alternatives, but we suspect that it may also create relatively more impressions over its lifespan, thereby improving ROI.

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