Designing the Perfect Uniform – Step by Step Process to Avoid Disaster
Creating or re-designing a corporate uniform can be a daunting process, as virtually any business owner or manager will tell you developing a uniform that will please every person in your team can be – and often is – a thankless task.
There are so many body types, sizes, personalities and fashion tastes to take into account it is extremely difficult to select a product that everyone will like, unless your team are all of a similar age, personality and build.
But DON’T PANIC, all is not lost. On the flip side of the above argument, developing a uniform that the majority of people love and that makes your company look awesome, is a fantastic feeling once the job is done. It is a feeling we are proud to deliver to our customers every day. That is why we do what we do. Let’s be honest, there is always one person who will complain, the person that wins the lottery and then complaints about the bank charges, you can’t keep some people smiling.
A cohesive, comfortable, cool uniform will bring a team and company together like little else, the power it can bring should not be underestimated. Donning companies branded workwear subconsciously reminds staff there is a job to do and like we always say, staff who look and feel great, perform better in the workplace.
It is absolutely paramount to get the employees and team involved in the Uniform design process. Whilst this can be strenuous, the creation of well-worded surveys and a few sampling sessions can be the difference between a successful launch and a fail.
A small example, a client of Matrix the business being a high street jeweler opted for a very fashionable ruched sleeve on their female blouses in their uniform redesign – it was very pretty – however, the baggy ruched sleeve meant that whenever the team reached in the window to adjust a jewelry display they inevitably knocked over several others in the same window. It had a huge impact on productivity and on damages, to the enormous frustration of the teams who were adamant that had they been asked for their input, this could have been avoided.
We have written a separate article here about the process of gathering your employee’s feedback, check that out as your first port of call.
Consider staff variants
The chances of finding a universal uniform are very slim, in a hotel, restaurant or bar, almost impossible. Even in something like a Personal Trainer uniform for a gym, there have to be allowances for allergic reactions to fabric, sleeve and leg lengths, religious considerations, fit preference, maternity options and more. But taking these into account up front shows the care you have for your staff team.
We work with a wonderful construction and fit out company – some picutres of their team here – who by listening to their staff, managed to identify the needs between their various building trades, the pocket requirement of a joiner over a builder for instance, the difference in waterproofs between indoor and outdoor workers, define a managers uniform for ease of identification on site and much more – a great job all round. So listen to the team and consider everyone’s role is different.
Think from the Customer’s Perspective
Think about an evening dining in the Ritz, now think about popping out for dinner at TGI Friday’s, two very different experiences. If you swapped the waiting staff and their uniforms between venues and kept everything else the same, I am sure most would find it bizarre. Uniforms are one of the most visual aspects of your business and when designing a new uniform it is important to consider the setting for the clothing and create a product that enhances the feelings and ambience the customer is expecting.
In a hotel it may be one of cleanliness and prestige, in a tradesman appearing at your house it will be one of assurance and security, at a children’s soft play perhaps one of colour and fun.
A uniforms’ attributes should enhance your customer’s impression of their surroundings and enhance the overall look and feel of your business.
Think about your key staff roles
With your budget taken into consideration, it is also crucial in client discovery we take into account what you perceive to be your key client roles.
To use restaurant uniforms as an example, perhaps you have a large front-of-house team but a closed kitchen where the chefs will not be seen by the clientele. Chances are we will allocate a smaller budget to the Chef’s, making them comfortable and safe of course, but putting the majority of the design, product, and finishing into the front-of-house team where they will have the highest number of contact points with the customer. If in that same example, there is an open, very public kitchen – the time and budget would likely be split more evenly.
This can be an excellent way to save where possible and spend where it is likely to matter.
Style, Fit, Fabrics, Colours, and Seasonal Change
The number one mistake designers make when designing company uniforms is prioritising fashion over functionality. As we already stated, these outfits are meant to be worn by people who work from nine to five. They not only have to be functional but also comfortable. High heels always look nice on illustrations but I’m sure Karen from sales wouldn’t be so grateful if she had to wear them for eight hours straight.
Beauty is Pain, Comfort vs Design
Back in 2014, the legendary fashion designer Vivienne Westwood designed the new uniforms for Virgin Atlantic. There’s no doubt that the new outfits were elegant but, reportedly, the shoes gave blisters and the collars were so tight that made some of the staff members bleed.
There’s only so much productivity you can expect from a person who’s in pain. In comparison, the French airline Joon incorporated comfortable white trainers and ballerina flats into their uniforms.
The type of industry will have a big influence on how the final garments will look. It’s not the same to design workwear for a fast-food restaurant as for a spa in a five-star hotel. The position of the brand in the industry has to be considered, as well.
This can be a controversial subject with a potential new client, as a business we have been there with our own suppliers when building our showroom or designing our website, and the question comes “Do you have a budget?”
You immediately think, if I say £1,000, the quote will come for £999.99. There is some truth in that but in our experience, only a very poor company will take advantage of this question and if they do so, you have probably dodged a bullet by finding out upfront that they were not the company for you.
In truth, this question is crucial to help us build the foundations of the product ranges we can consider for you, the fabric selections, the finishing options, the safety concerns in trade environments, and so on. It is also crucial for us to understand your priorities for staff dress to allocate budget accordingly, and that leads us to staff roles. Use the example of the building company from the point above and you will understand how well this can be done.
Budget vs Bespoke – remember your first order, is not your last order, this is key!
Sadly, we see and hear this every single day. So it is time to design a new uniform and you are proud as punch. You have 100 staff and each person gets 5 items, so you meet the criteria for a bespoke product, GREAT!! You are going to design your own uniform and own the look.
So your first 500 products arrive and are distributed and then in two months time you need a small top-up order up to size Large, you call the supplier and wait …. “What do you mean I have to order 500 pieces again, I only need 50 Large” And …… you have fallen into the trap. A uniform manufacturer and distributer should always discuss the ongoing needs with you and help you to understand the processing curve with top-up orders.
With any client going down the bespoke road with the team at Matrix, we put them on to our Managed Stock Service, meaning that we take the time to understand their staff turnover, analyse previous orders for size ratios and build a stock continuation plan for them. So at the beginning of the contract, we can understand the expectations, take re-ordering into our own hands and guarantee that the client has stock available to them for the remainder of the contract.
Cheap vs Good Value
The age old argument, buy cheap, buy twice. We see have seen some truly insane decisions at both ends of the scale, by far the majority with companies trying to do a uniforms and PPE project so cheap that nothing is fit for purpose. If we don’t feel the fit is right for a product, it is crucial for us to let you know to set your expectations straight, or we look like the bad guys.
That being said, there is definitely room for products at both ends of the scale. One of our most fantastic clients, wonderful people, outstanding business and work ethic, buy some of our lower end priced products. The majority of their team work only on a project for a day or two, it is crucial for them to represent the business well and be kept safe during that time, but for the most part they do hand the uniforms or safetywear back to the client and so, it makes absolute business sense to do this as cost effectively as possible. As the notice they have for much of their work is very last minute, they also use our managed stock service to make sure everything runs smoothly.
On the other end of the scale, we could not be prouder as a business to supply the incredible team at Scotland’s Airline Loganair. Where the fabric, design, fit and style of everything we produce for the air hosts and hostesses of this incredible airline is bespoke. This uniform was awarded 5th place in the Uniform of the Year Awards by Confessions of Trolley Dolly and on of our proudest moments as a company. The uniforms they supply their groundcrew are equally impressive, abe to withstand the most brutal highlands and islands conditions and wet and warm down to -37 degrees, this company has spared no expense in ensuring it’s staff look and good, feel great and are safe in all conditions.
Just because a brand’s logo has bright orange tone, it doesn’t mean the uniform has to feature the colour as well. Bright and warm colours should be used sparingly, otherwise, you might run the risk of tiring everyone’s eyes. You should also be very wary of the colours’ effects on the psyche and their meanings.
To stay on the safe side, company uniforms should be made of neutral and/or cold colours with a few accents of warm shades. Think of the blue T-shirts that Apple’s geniuses wear at their shops. If you really want to stick to the bright tones, then go ahead, but make sure that it fits your industry and your customer’s sensibilities.
A brand guideline will tell you everything you need to know about a logo, the exact colours it uses, where and how it can be positioned and how it should never be used. For example, our brand guidelines clearly state onto which colours we can place the Printsome logo and which ones we can’t.
Some are more specific than others but in the end, they will all help you design a better company uniform.
Choose the Fabrics
When designing company uniforms, your manufacturer will probably be the one to advise you on the best fabric for each scenario but a good designer has to have notions of materials in order to plan the best possible garments. The first qualities we must consider when choosing textiles are:
- Stain resistance
When it comes to fabric, we usually get what we pay for so consider making an investment. Natural fabrics tend to be preferred but nowadays there are synthetic materials that offer a lot of benefits. Cotton breathes very well but it absorbs water and wrinkles easily when compared to polyester which doesn’t breathe as well but is impermeable and doesn’t need ironing.
Test the Design
Never ever send a company uniform to production without testing it first. Any serious manufacturer will make a sample for employees to test. Designs rarely come out the way intended on the first try so someone must wear them for an extended period of time and do everything they’re supposed to do in it.
Another test that must be done is to wash the garment in order to see how well the fabric withstands.
- Ask for feedback
- Take notes
- Make changes
- Ask for another sample
This process must be repeated until we have the uniform which fills out all of the requirements.