The “casual” t-shirt is something that no brand or retailer takes casually—it still constitutes a substantial chunk of sales volumes, if not being the mainstay of the product portfolio. Subir Ghosh browses through trends.

There are many who believe, not wrongly, that the best and safest bet to start an apparel business is to do it with t-shirts. It is a product category that has hardly seen a perceptible dip in sales—right from the 1950s when Marlon Brando and James Dean made them popular, hip and chic.

There are far too many angles to look at, and most of them still ring true—some truer than before. T-shirts remain fashion essentials and timeless. They are still a medium of expression, as they were when Disney-character t-shirts stormed the American markets over fifty years ago. To hammer a worn-out cliche—more than ever before, t-shirts are used to make political statements and aver social commitments. If you have to say it, do so with a t-shirt.

As societies, the world over, increasingly jettison the formal for the casual, the t-shirt perforce becomes a garment of choice. It remains easy-to-wear, far more affordable than other garment categories, and just as easy to discard into the bins too. As businesses relax hithertostringent norms on clothing in offices and athleisure sees an unrestrained boom, t-shirts become a must-have in most brands’ portfolios. There is a lot of variety around—you can buy organics, or round-necks, or spandex-made. You also have innumerable price points to choose from. Better still, you can customise one for yourself.

Cotton Remains Mainstay

For practical purposes, a garment’s story begins with the fabric, and the fabric indicators are clear—cotton remains the preferred fabric, be it in pure organic form or as blends. According to Sanjay Arora, business director of industry advisory firm Wazir Advisors, cotton and cotton blends retain the majority share in the domestic t-shirt market with a brute 94 per cent share. “The domestic supply chain for t-shirts (like other commodities) is cotton-dominated. However, man-made fibre (MMF) based t-shirts (with spandex) have been growing fast in recent years. The drivers include high growth in women’s westernwear and the athleisure segment,” he points out.

Arora’s observations find empirical resonance in those of brands and sellers alike. Remarks Rishabh Oswal, executive director of Monte Carlo, “Cotton is still the most common fabric used by t-shirt makers of the textiles industry in India. Cotton blends too have increased in popularity because of their cost advantages and convenience of use—they do not shrink or wrinkle as easily as pure cotton does. Polyester-cotton blends have seen an increase in popularity as the t-shirt segment itself gains greater penetration with India’s middle class set to expand by 19.4 per cent annually.”

Mufti’s founder and managing director Kamal Khushlani agrees that cotton is indeed the most sustainable fibre on earth and that it is still the preferred fabric used in t-shirts, and indicates that newer fabrics like linen blends, lycra, polyester and rayon blends are becoming more popular by the day because of their comfort, stretch and feel. “Athleisure—trending globally—has added to this phenomenon of casual, relaxed—yet, chic—wear,” he adds.

One of the reasons why cotton loses out—once in a while—to other fibres is that a 100 per cent cotton t-shirt has high chances of the colour fading away. So, as Kamakshi Kaul, vicepresident for design at Max Fashion, puts it, “most customers go for cotton blends. Organic tees are also creating a big impact in the market because people are focusing more on living in a sustainable way.