Sustainability and nature-themed promotional products were a prominent trend. For example, Illini was promoting its popular blossom kit planters, which come in a variety of price points. Ideal both for work-from-home and back-to-the-office kits, the individual planters are shipped with a seed packet and peat pellet. Anything that “promotes growth” or is made of natural materials and is “putting oxygen back in the system” is huge right now, according to Crissy Ocheltree, national sales manager.
In the past, money trees were a popular seed to stock Illini’s blossom kits, but with ongoing COVID-related stresses, soothing plants like echinacea, chamomile, lavender and lemon balm are in demand. “The transition to stress reduction is where it’s at,” Ocheltree says.
Illini has also started a giveback program, planting a tree for every blossom kit purchased. That’s a similar tactic to Woodchuck USA (asi/98139), which designs and manufactures custom-engraved wood items and packaging out of its St. Paul, MN-based facility. Each product includes a “buy-one-plant-one” card, which explains that a tree has been planted on behalf of the recipient and shows the location where it was planted, according to Ben VandenWymelenberg, founder and CEO. “We’re just about to our 3 millionth tree that we’ve planted, so we’re super excited about that,” VandenWymelenberg notes.
Apparel made from recycled materials also continues to be popular. Everywhere Apparel (asi/53059) was touting its 100% recycled cotton basics. “We believe there’s already enough material out there in the planet,” explains Matt Boelk, vice president of partnerships.
Each Everywhere tee includes a QR code on the tag, which takes end-users to a website explaining the supplier’s “closed-loop” manufacturing system and how to order a return mailer. The shirts that are returned via the prepaid postage envelope are shredded into staple fibers and made into yarn that’s then used to make new Everywhere garments. Boelk notes that the process is not yet endless, but that each shirt can be recycled at least a few times, and the company is working to improve its manufacturing process.
“Closed-loop is the white whale or the holy grail of sustainability in that there’s no waste created,” Boelk says.
2. Fun and Games
Another big trend at ASI Orlando: products with a playful side. There were several suppliers offering custom playing cards and branded poker chips. Playing cards allow for ample customization options, according to Nicole Singson of the United States Playing Card Company (asi/92845). “That means 56 different images on the playing card side and back card design, as well as the box,” she says.
Some clients, Singson adds, “think outside the deck,” creating employee trainings or restaurant coupons and vouchers, rather than standard playing cards.
Doyuk Promotional Products (asi/50249) showed off pocket jigsaw puzzles – 99-piece puzzles that fit into a compact box the size of a deck of cards.
Ukrainian Bridge (asi/92406) showed off an array of custom 3-D wooden model kits, all of which had a mechanical component allowing them to move in unique ways. The offerings included a jewelry box with compartments that swing out when opened, a spinning carousel, an elaborate marble run, and a variety of cars, all of which can be imprinted with a company logo. “Most companies buy them to give to their employees,” says Vlad Khacherashvili. A safe, for example, could be a perfect gift to thank bank employees or reward new customers to assure them that their money is protected.
When it comes to apparel, tie-dye and animal prints continue to be popular, according to Steve Zimmerman, vice president of sales at J. America (asi/62977). Zimmerman noted that his company is adding eight new colors for tie-dye in its tri-blend hoodie for 2022 – with more muted “watercolor” tie-dyes winning out over rainbow colors and bold, spiral patterns. Apparel blanks in earth tones, like moss and dusty rose, are also strong, Zimmerman says.
Suppliers were also showing off innovations in apparel decoration techniques. Let’s Support (asi/61681) offered an alternative to traditional screen printing and embroidery with its embossing technique on sweatshirts and T-shirts. “It’s unique and something which people are looking for,” says Celil Kes, who notes that Let’s Support has been offering the technique for about two years.
In addition to having a striking dimensional look, the embossed logos also have staying power, thanks to a special treatment on the back that ensures the fabric won’t flatten in the wash, according to Kes.
Stahls’ (asi/88984) introduced its new UltraColor MAX direct-to-film transfers at the show, giving demonstrations of the technology during education day and on the show floor. “It’s a borderless transfer that’s fully digital, which means we can do unlimited color and really fine detail with no outline,” says Josh Ellsworth, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Stahls’.
Other benefits of the new heat transfers include how quick and easy they are to use and the fact that they can be applied at a low temperature, so they don’t scorch polyester or other heat-sensitive fabrics.
Ellsworth says promo distributors can learn the technology themselves, have Stahls’ train their decorator to do direct-to-film transfers or opt to have Stahls’ do the decorating for them. “Whatever way you want it, we can give you a borderless transfer,” he adds.