Corporate workwear is no longer uniform and requires strategic thinking
Uniforms have always had the dual task of being both homogeneous and conspicuous. On the one hand, they serve to create a standard corporate image across all staff and on the other, they are an exercise in branding and ensuring your organisation is distinguishable from competitors. Within this, uniforms often need to be differentiated to reflect rank and seniority in an easily recognisable way. In fact, the term “uniform” has become something of a misnomer in today’s society.
Improving equality and diversity within the workforce is an important goal for many organisations, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion and culture. In the UK, half of its c.31 million workforce is made up of women, 11% are from ethnic minorities and an estimated 16% have disabilities. Diversity reflected via workwear initiatives can help engender inclusivity and show employees they are respected and valued.
A more diverse workplace
Wearing an outfit that fits you, suits you and reflects a bit of who you are makes a huge difference to how happy and confident you are presenting yourself as a company representative. Many companies have recognised this and are incorporating diversity into uniform design as a key aspect of their diversity policies.
However, this can pose a challenge to companies who have to balance these additional clothing requirements with budgets and economies of scale. The solution lies in finding an experienced supplier able to provide forward planning, research, talented designers, flexible sourcing, and a well-structured supply chain process.
One size does not fit all, but if you think inclusively from the start of a design project, you can get closer. This is where research comes in. Identify the age and size profile of your employees to help determine the fit, style and shape of the garments you’ll need. Body shapes have evolved over the years, as diet, work and lifestyle habits have changed and leading global fashion retailers use advanced size tracking technology to profile their customers. Knowing the latest size measurement trends for chest, waist and hips will give you a more accurate base profile and can save you a lot of adjustments later on. If your workforce is more ethnically diverse, you’ll have to factor height, size and shape into the body profiling too.
He wears/ she wears
We live in a more unisex world where many women feel more comfortable in trousers than skirts and where for certain jobs, it may be more practical to wear trousers. Many companies with high staff turnover opt for unisex ranges, particularly in retail, as reducing the number of stock lines helps with forecasting and budgets. Designers need to factor this in when they create a workwear range – and not just the core range items.
Global companies also need to consider the dress codes of the countries in which they operate, where religion or local culture may dictate that employees, usually women, should be clothed in more modest attire, which could mean long sleeves, trousers or longer-length skirts. There may be additional requirements such as a hijab or other head covering, which Gucci did, as part of its new uniform range for its retail staff. Adding one simple item of clothing can make a big difference to how engaged your employees are.
There’s often a big focus on dressing for gender or religion, but less on how a uniform redesign can reflect legacy shifts within an organisation. In some industry sectors such as railways, employees grow used to certain historical or hierarchical dress codes and there can be a reluctance to let go of these. However, customers are less interested in job grades and rank but care about receiving efficient service and being able to quickly and visibly identify a company representative. Engaging employees early on during your uniform redesign process can improve staff buy-in to new ideas and reduce any resistance you may face.
As diversity comes in many forms, companies often find there are people that do not fit into a particular category and must be addressed individually. In these instances, it’s best to work with a supplier who can provide a tailored solution. This might also be useful for employees with physical disabilities. Clearly, this is a more expensive and time-consuming process that can take around 8 weeks, so in the majority of cases, your supplier should work with you to avoid too many made-for-measure uniforms.
Incorporating diversity into your workwear range needn’t add expense or complexity if handled right. Find an experienced corporate uniform supplier and work together with them from the outset to identify your employees’ needs, and you will find it much easier to design and produce an attractive range of garments that embrace the diversity of your workforce and make them feel included.