May 27, 2017

A T-Shirt's Journey

What’s in a T-Shirt? The Story Behind the Swag

Hi everyone, Ping here. You know that our team here at The Icebox loves designing and producing premium branded t-shirts for our clients. Our Creative Experts keep up with the latest and greatest trends in the apparel world, so we’re always coming up with exciting new ways to use t-shirts to promote brands. Our office space doubles as a large, and very cool showroom. Seeing all these t-shirts displayed around the office helps me stay inspired; it can be easy to forget how complex and interesting the story of a t-shirt’s journey from cotton field to co-ed uniform can be.

I thought I’d share with you the story of the tee. This video gives a great intro:

The humble t-shirt has been around since about 1920, and since then it’s woven itself into the fabric of western fashion and popular culture. T-shirts are a $2 billion market! But why are t-shirts so popular? Well, it’s really because they’re for everyone! You can find shirts in so many cuts, styles, and sizes, that everyone from your 80-year-old grandma to your pet Schnauzer can find a cool tee to love.

The story of the tee begins in the cotton fields. Most t-shirts contain at least some cotton, a natural fiber commonly grown here in the United States. Cotton is plucked from its plant, sorted to remove debris and seeds, and cleaned in a cotton gin. Machines spin and comb the cotton to prepare it for knitting on a loom. After the knitting process is complete, the cotton looks like a rough fabric in a dull gray hue.

The “rough draft” cotton, as I like to call it, is processed with chemicals to help provide the appropriate texture and dyes to shift the fabric to the right color.

Once the fabric creation process is complete, it goes to a sewing facility, where crafty machines cut it based on the shirt pattern being produced, and skilled workers sew the pieces together into t-shirts! After the shirts are inspected for quality, they are packaged and sent back to the US, typically to print shops or distributors where they’ll eventually be made into custom-branded tees.

Now this is the fun part. When someone places an order for a custom shirt, a graphic artist creates the design that will eventually be printed on the tee. One the design is finalized, it’s printed onto a clear film called a film positive. The film positives are then placed against a special screen that has been coated with light-sensitive emulsion. When the screen is exposed to light, the reverse image of the film positive design is left on the screen.

The screens are then loaded into special screen printing presses, and ink is loaded based on the specific colors requested by the customer. The press coats the shirt with ink and the design is revealed! Each color in a shirt must go through a separate run of the press.

With the design in place and the finished product complete, the shirt is packaged and shipped to the customer for their soccer team, music festival, charity event, or other branding initiative. T-shirts can serve as a fond reminder of participation in social activities and charitable causes long after the event has wrapped. They remind us of little league games and family reunions and college clubs. The humble t-shirt is far more than just a simple garment, it’s truly a walk down memory lane. So, the next time you reach for your favorite t-shirt, remember, that tee has made quite the journey in its lifetime!

Looking for your next perfect tee for a giveaway, event, or recognition prize? Our team of Creative Experts can walk you through all the ins and outs of the world of shirts. Contact us today to get started.

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