The Apparel Textile Sourcing 2021 Product Category Championship Bracket

March Madness Means Brackets.

First, for those unfamiliar with how tournament brackets work – brackets are designed for sports tournaments, giving a rank, order and process that creates a pathway to determine one ultimate winner, typically via a series of single elimination head-to-head match-ups.

We took the bracket idea and thought it would be fun to create our own Apparel Textile Sourcing bracket showcasing our top 32 product categories in tournament “fashion” to crown this year’s winning ATS Category.

We researched, ranked and seeded the top 16 APPAREL and top 16 TEXTILE categories – #1 being the top-ranked category and #16 being the bottom-seeded.

*Seedings were based on a formula which included but was not limited to 2019-20 category sales, historical sourcing maps, as well as proprietary, provisional, online, and offline data, analytics, and anecdotal information created strictly for ATS and solely by the Director of ATS, and writer of this blog.  In other words I was the selection committee, the referee, the instant replay judge and scoreboard operator too!!

Voila – so here’s The Final ATS 2021 Product Category Bracket.

And here’s your tournament recap!…

Top seeds on the Apparel side were T-shirt and Jeans and top seeds on the Textile side were Cotton and Denim…but guess what?!…none of those four won the tournament!  This is after all, the year like no other – and very little went according to plan.

The bracket provided some stellar first-round matchups:


On the Apparel side of the bracket in the first round of note:

    • Underwear (8) vs. Sleepwear (9) – Underwear could have chosen to go commando in 2020 but they still managed hold down the consistently late- arriving Sleepwear.
    • PPE (5) vs. Workwear (12) –Workwear had a tough 2020 whereas Personal Protective Equipment became a known commodity in 2020 and isn’t going anywhere in 2021.
    • Socks (7) vs. Footwear (10) – Socks outperformed Shoes with the apparel crowd.  Socks had their simplicity of sizing and lower pricing as keys to victory.
    • Jeans (2) vs. Trousers (15) – Jeans blew out Trousers in 2020.  Even before 2020 trousers were having a rough start to the decade.  Zoom meetings put trousers on hangers in our closets all year.

On the Textile side of the bracket first round of note:

    • Cotton (1) vs. Hemp (16) – With 4:20 remaining in this match-up, Team Cotton mouthed good bye as 16-seed Team Hemp lost all steam.
    • Silk (8) vs. Leather (9)– This was a match made to be televised on Cinemax – does it really matter who won?  The winner was happy, so was the “loser”.
    • Wool (6) vs. Linen (11) – A very ATS Miami vs. ATS Canada matchup, hot vs cold.  In the end, the lighter, airier, less bulky Linen squad came away victorious.  We all wore more linen in 2020 since none of us went outside very often.
    • Home (3) vs. Technical (14) – Home used their “Home” court advantage and Technical textiles was just too methodical.


Round 2 (round of 16) matches of note:

    • Spandex (7) upset Denim (2) – Dupont allowed Lycra to join with Spandex and the unification led Spandex to upset Denim.  Denim has seen its look even copied by Spandex and this also put a big dent in Denim in 2020.
    • PPE (5) upset Dress/Blouse (4) – Before 2020, PPE would have been lucky to be a 16 seeded category, but as we all know, PPE came out of nowhere this year.   Dress/Blouse had their own issues.  Formerly a top seed, but not in the 2020 season, and likely not again anytime soon either.


The Quarter-finals (round of 8)

    • T-shirt (1)  vs. PPE (5) – PPE used it’s suffocating defense to clamp down on the T-shirts.
    • Jeans (2) vs. Athleisure (3) – Jeans folded under the pressure of Athleisure.  The flexibility of the Athleisure roster was just too much for the one-“denim” dimensional team to overcome.
    • Cotton (1) vs. Polyester (5) –Cotton and Polyester have seen quite a bit of intertwining over the years, but Cotton picked apart poly in this match.
    • Home (3) vs. Spandex (7) – Home is where the heart (and the kitchen, bed & bath) is, but Spandex is how to be comfortable at home, how to exercise at home, and in 2020 became how to also work from home.  Home Textiles lost their Home advantage in 2020 to Spandex.  Spandex got the upset win and we have a #7 seed in the FINAL FOUR.


The Final Four

    • Athleisure (3) vs. PPE (5) – PPE and Athleisure were both beneficiaries of the stay-at-home, work-from-home, exercise from home year that was 2020.  Both categories will see their seeding improve in future tournament brackets.  We aren’t going to have PPE beat Athleisure in our bracket.  Athleisure is about comfort and blending in fun and with work and play.  Athleisure moves on to the Championship.
    • Cotton (1) vs. Spandex (7) – Cotton is massive.  Has Cotton ever even lost an apparel tournament?  Yes.  In the mid-70’s polyester beat out Cotton two straight years (’76 & ’77).  By the way, that was the same decade that saw Bell Bottoms (’75) only tournament appearance on the Apparel side.  Cotton was too powerful for Spandex to upset.


The Championship

    • Cotton (1) [TEXTILES] vs. Athleisure (3) [APPAREL] – Is this the bracket where we see Cotton upset for only the third time in history?  Or is this another year where no matter what the external circumstances, Cotton finds a way to again finish as the Champion product category for Apparel & Textiles?
        • · The world is becoming more casual, and besides that, we aren’t all going (to fit) back into our belts.
        • We saw PPE beat out Workwear, Dresses, Blouses and T-shirts.
        • We saw Athleisure win over formalwear, jackets, coats, and jeans.
        • We saw Spandex make it past Denim and Home and almost upset Cotton.

Athleisure is for the workplace, the home office, for running laps and for running errands.  Athleisure was already strong before the last 12 months, but the last year has showed the consumers of apparel and textiles they have the ability to be comfortable, and fashionable at the same time…in a zoom meeting and also in the grocery store or the backyard.

Even with a return to normalcy during 2021, we don’t foresee Athleisure being anything but a top seed in our future brackets.  Tshirts and Jeans aren’t being replaced by sweats, hoodies, spandex and joggers but they have been caught.  Now let’s hold on tight and see what future direction the consumer takes and which 2020-21 trends stick as we all (hopefully) get back to doing our normal stuff again soon.

John Banker

Author: John Banker

Group Show Director - Apparel Textile Sourcing Trade Shows | A self-proclaimed Trade Show Guy since 2004, John’s only longer-term roles are husband, salesman, and sports fan. He’s directed trade shows since ’07, and been the Apparel Textile Sourcing Director since the brand’s inception in ‘15. He’s most natural selling the benefits of ATS and has travelled the world searching for sources…from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, from New York to New Delhi, from Beijing to Dhaka, Toronto to Miami and back again. All that and the fact that his boss nicknamed him ‘Wordsmith’ led to him writing blogs for ATS. He likes to think he's kind of funny too, so look for some of that.