From its early life as a US Marines undergarment to the bold and branded shirts of today, t-shirts have remained a classic. But this foundational fashion item isn’t stagnating. The t-shirt industry continues to grow at a pace that far surpasses other garments in the rag trade.
A quick overview of the most important global and US t-shirt market statistics and facts reveal the following:
- In 2022, t-shirt revenue hit $38.88 billion
- T-shirt sales in the US will reach $46 billion by 2024
- The average American owns about 16 promotional t-shirts
- AI is starting to emerge as a trendy new t-shirt designer
- China holds 36,4% of the market share in global t-shirt exports
- T-shirt sales make up 65% of total global apparel sales
- China’s revenue from t-shirt sales will reach $5,7 million by 2023 year-end
- The global custom t-shirt printing market size was valued at $4,314 million in 2022
- In 2023, t-shirts supporting the LGBTQ+ movement celebrated a history spanning 60 years
- US election t-shirts remain a major political marketing tool
- By 2023, global custom t-shirt printing market size is expected to increase by 11%
Just a brief glance at these t-shirt industry statistics highlights the growth of the market and its expected ongoing trajectory. When looking closer at these stats and t-shirt trends the enormity of the market is revealed and the reasons behind it become clear.
T-Shirts In Numbers
T-shirts first attained iconic status in the 1950s when James Dean and Marlon Brando smoldered in body-hugging shirts that exaggerated their masculinity. Since then, they’ve undergone numerous transformations, become completely unisex, veered between being the ultimate in chic dressing and comfy PJs, and become branded status symbols. There’s even an International T-Shirt Day celebrated on the first day of summer in different parts of the world. And yes. The day was started by an online merchandise company in 2008!
They’ve also provided a platform for people to wear their hearts on their sleeves—literally. T-shirts with controversial slogans, those supporting specific causes such as the LGBTQ+ movement, and some that simply align people with a specific political party have all made an appearance, and continue to do so. These shirts play a huge rule in driving socio-political change, and have sparked endless controversy in some cases. After all, what better way to spread a message than to wear it on your chest?
Let’s take a closer look at 2022-2024 t-shirt industry statistics to see exactly how popular these garments are.
- T-Shirt Industry Yearly Growth
Sales of t-shirts continue to climb steadily year-on-year. Statista reports that t-shirt sales in the US will reach $46 billion by 2024, a mere year away. In 2022, t-shirt revenue sat at $38.88 billion, and in 2023, it’s estimated it will increase to $44.56 billion.
- Custom Tee Sales
Custom t-shirt printing has also become incredibly popular, with high quality online t-shirt vendors making it easy for consumers or businesses to order a plain T and customize it with a print or branding. This has allowed small printing businesses to thrive and for creatives to run small batches of unique prints.
Globally, the custom t-shirt printing market is predicted to increase from $6.9 billion in 2020 to an estimated $21.67 billion by 2023’s year end, and $6.9 billion by 2026. However, the US is a definite trendsetter in the printed t-shirt department, and it’s estimated that the average American owns 16 promotional t-shirts. It makes sense then, that in the US, this same market is already worth $3.1 billion, and it’s primed for further growth.
- T-Shirt Market Share In Global Apparel Sales
T-shirt sales make up an astonishing 65% of total apparel sales globally. As the world and markets have opened up following slowdowns following the pandemic, online sales of t-shirts are expected to grow from $19.29 billion in 2020 to $21.67 billion by the end of 2023.
In order, the top 5 countries earning revenue from T-shirt sales are:
China holds the largest market share for t-shirt exports as it’s responsible for 36.47% of global exports. With its huge population, China is also the largest single market for T-shirts, both in revenue ($5,689.00m in 2023) and in volume.
Global Retail T-Shirt Industry Statistics
T-shirts remain hugely popular the world over, with the global retail value of t-shirt sales totaling $180 billion. According to Statista, per person t-shirt revenues are estimated at $5.80 for 2023, while there will be around 7.98 billion t-shirts in the world by 2027.
But consumers are getting pickier with their purchases. With the increase in awareness of climate change, more and more consumers are demanding the use of natural and sustainably grown fibers in their T-shirt brands.
53% of t-shirt buyers choose to purchase from brands that prioritize eco-friendly manufacturing practices. Savvy consumers now prioritize sustainable practices when making their purchasing decisions. This is a trend that many brands have embraced in order to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.
Cotton remains the most favored fiber for t-shirts as it allows the body to breathe, is comfortable to wear, and it keeps you cool in summer and warm in colder weather. However, there’s now less focus on pure cotton and more focus on how sustainable the fabric is.
Best Selling T-Shirt Designs Lead The Way
The top 10 t-shirt brands globally are:
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Ralph Lauren
- Allen Solly
- Calvin Klein
- US Polo
Aside from Allen Solly and Uniqlo, all the other names on this list are luxury brands. Their immense market share highlights consumers’ desire for labels and for branded garments that enhance their social status.
When it comes to the best-selling t-shirts in the US, the famous I Heart NY t-shirts, Neon t-shirts, Vote for Pedro T, and John Lennon’s New York City t-shirt come out on top. Other favorite designs include Superman, Batman, the Rolling Stones Lick t-shirts, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, Hard Rock Cafe logo shirts, and Dare Tees. All of these iconic t-shirt designs continue to be top sellers and consumers can expect to pay between $20-$30 for one of these custom printed tees.
The global custom t-shirt printing market size is expected to increase at a CAGR of 11% from 2022 to 2023. This growth is largely due to the marketing opportunities that t-shirts offer. Not only do brands love using t-shirts to promote themselves (while consumers often pay for the privilege) many businesses and social movements use t-shirts as a way to spread their message.
Whether this is an advertorial message or a social one doesn’t matter—t-shirts provide the perfect long-lasting platform to get the word out.
Interestingly, in this digital age, the top t-shirt printing method in the US is still screen printing, with more than 56% of market share in 2022. Screen printing is followed by digital printing, and then plot printing, according to Statista.
Targeted T-Shirts Make A Statement
There is an increase in the use of custom printed t-shirts to create social awareness, raise a voice, and support a cause. But not all t-shirt customization is political. Many industries and sectors, including the construction, hospitality, logistics, wellness and medico-health industries use printed branded t-shirts as marketing material, to identify their workers, or as a uniform. Start-ups and small businesses also capitalize on the marketing potential of branded t-shirts, using them to get their name out.
Targeted t-shirts are similar in that they target particular demographic groups such as Air Force veterans, school teachers, political parties, or people who identify as queer. In March 2023, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated 60 years of wearing “gayness”. An LGBTQ+ advocate created a retrospective of t-shirts that spread the love, and showed just how important a role these garments have played in the queer movement.
Targeted t-shirts for political parties have also played a major role in society, and so-called political swag exploded in 2020 during the US Elections. Trump had already used MAGA caps and t-shirts to promote his cause, and fans across the US were proudly displaying their support. In 2022, Trump’s branded apparel was hit by “Trumpflation” as MAGA merchandise increased in price. A cotton Trump t-shirt that sold for $20 seven years ago skyrocketed to $36. However, fans are likely to continue to shell out for the shirts as all funds from promotional products are used as contributions for the party/politician’s campaigns.
5 Growing T-Shirt Trends
Fashion is a fickle business, but as we can see, t-shirts have stood the test of time. This doesn’t however, mean that they are immune to trends, and these are the t-shirt trends that we can expect to see more of in 2023 and 2024.
Each year, millions of businesses are set up globally. That’s a crowded market to reach your intended audience. More companies are turning to custom-printed t-shirts to spread the word and grab attention. T-shirts remain one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get your brand message across.
- The Rise Of Mega TV Series And Fandom
Fan bases and fan sites have grown exponentially with the rise of mega TV series hits and the advent of digital streaming services. What better way to show your loyalty than with a fan T-shirt?
Pop culture and cult favorites like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel and DC Comic Universe have massive fan bases and there’s a huge demand for branded apparel.
- Fostering Team Spirit At Work
Being part of a tribe is hard-wired in humans. Wearing our tribal colors unites teams and increases commitment and motivation.
But team t-shirts are not just for sports stars, they’re also ideal for the workplace. Having your team or crew wear custom-printed t-shirts promotes loyalty and bonding with a company’s culture and values. As remote work dips and more in-office interaction is required, branding is a great way to create a cohesive team feeling where there was previously a digital disconnect.
- Customer Loyalty
Freebie t-shirts are a big part of building customer loyalty. Handing out a free t-shirt welcomes a new customer to the tribe, making them feel appreciated. Customized t-shirts are also always welcomed by existing loyal customers, and in many cases are highly sought after.
- 24/7 Mobile Marketing
Great t-shirts can be worn anywhere, at any time. This is a totally free way to build a brand identity for a company, and it’s highly valuable. The more people who wear your t-shirts out and about, the more brand exposure you’ll get. As the world opens up after the pandemic, marketing via apparel is once again gaining traction.
The Future Of T-Shirts
So, what’s the future hold for the t-shirt industry?
It’s predicted that in 2024, we’ll see growth in:
Personalization: People want to stand out from the crowd, so the personalization trend of printing custom-designed t-shirts is going to explode.
AI designs: With the rise of AI image creation software like Midjourney, DALL-E and Jasper Art, custom AI t-shirt designs look set to be a hit.
Whether it’s fantasy characters, AI rendered images from prescribed datasets or doodle data from millions of people that results in a final commercially available product, AI t-shirt design gives everyone the chance to design their own personalized, customized t-shirt.
Sustainability: There’s been a lot of criticism of the impact of the cotton and textile industry in terms of water use and polluting effluent.
In light of this, greener production methods using sustainable materials will feature heavily in the future. The use of sustainable fabrics like recycled cotton, hemp, and bamboo in t-shirt manufacturing is also set to increase.
Design: On the design side, trend forecasters cite more organic and gentler design elements such as wavy lines and less harsh angles as a future design trend. Wellness mantras promoting mental health and creative, bespoke illustrations will also be big in design.
Best selling t-shirt designs that will remain popular include:
- Bootleg t-shirts that resemble worn out concert tees
- Crypto t-shirts advertising current or emerging currencies
- Anime and Japanese prints/characters
- Typography or lettering
- 50s Retro vintage designs
- Mirrored designs
- Plain text slogans or logos
Pixel art, peace, zombies, anime, retro and nature and conservation remain popular themes for custom t-shirts too.
Self-scented sports t-shirts: A sportswear trend that is on the rise, scented t-shirts combine science and style to ensure the wearer always smells good, no matter how hard they work out.
Brands like Capsport have released entire ranges of self-scenting sportswear that features ink with scented capsules and micro-sponges in the prints that soak up sweat and emit a scent for as long as 30 days. Once the scent has faded, it can be reapplied manually to continue giving off a fresh smell.
The numbers say it all.
T-shirts are part of our lives and won’t be going anywhere soon. The industry is set to continue its upward growth trajectory for the foreseeable future, and this wardrobe staple will remain exactly that. Short sleeve or long, crew neck, v-neck, scoop neck, plain or printed, the humble t-shirt is worth billions in the clothing industry.