The Psychology of Uniforms

1 September 2014 | 0 Comments | Press

Rail Connect Magazine, September Issue

Enlightened train operating companies are recognising that stylish bespoke uniforms, which use good design to enhance functionality for everyday job roles, can help to give employees pride in their work – and that it pays to engage unions and staff in developing this valuable employee benefit. 

The recent news that 250+ UK Border Force staff claim their new uniforms caused them painful skin conditions and may sue the Government – with huge potential personal injury claims – was yet another wake-up call to every company that commissions staff workwear.  Duty of care issues and the importance of consulting with unions and employees at every stage of the process highlights the need for responsible TOCs to develop a close working relationship with a corporate clothing specialist that understands implicitly the psychology of uniforms.

When Eurostar put out the tender to create a chic designer uniform for its staff in three countries, London-based corporate clothing specialist Jermyn Street Design (JSD) won the contract. “Our capacity to work closely with Eurostar to manage change, consult with the unions and employees and contribute to their internal and external marketing, has been every bit as important as the ability to deliver imaginative in-house garment design and top quality development, tailoring and manufacture. All this had to be managed in multiple languages across three cultures,” confirms JSD Sales Director, Ann Dowdeswell.

With JSD steering the process, Eurostar involved staff at every step of the way. Over the 23-month design and development period, JSD consulted with each staff member and with the unions – and communicated all changes clearly. They carried out multiple wearer trials in the three countries, including a validation trial.  The process culminated in a fashion show video, shown to all staff – followed by the roll out, which took place simultaneously at London St Pancras, in Paris, Brussels and Lille in January 2014.  “With JSD to guide us, we have created a new look for men and women that projects a modern, fresh, professional and elegant style,” says Pascale Wilson, Eurostar’s On-Board Services Contracts Manager.

“Today we put more focus on the ways that good design and branding can enhance functionality,” says Managing Director, Susanne Malim, who founded JSD in 1981.  “We are creating stylish ‘fit for purpose’ working garments, across all job grades, ergonomically designed for both indoor and outdoor wear. Eurostar, for example, asked for concealed iPad and passport pockets in the coat.”

JSD understands the psychology of keeping employees engaged and enthused in the uniform redesign process, right up to launch date. For Virgin Trains, that meant them devising a quirky teaser campaign with giant footsteps or arrows on station platforms across the UK, informing staff “Your new uniform is this way>>>

The Virgin Trains contract was won by JSD in 2013 and delivered in just four months – an outstanding feat given that the size specification for female staff ranged from 6 to 30, and that Virgin required an unprecedented number of made-to-measure garments for 2,600 employees on trains and stations across the UK.  Despite the incredibly tight deadline, JSD still conducted a full design process. Virgin steering groups were set up, to ensure that the new look was employee-led; with insufficient time for a wearer trial, much of the staff consultation process was conducted after the launch.

The result is an intelligently developed collection, with an emphasis on functionality and ‘fit for purpose’ construction that allows employees to fulfil their varied roles and makes them easy to identify. In response to staff feedback, the winter coat was ergonomically designed so that job functions can be performed in comfort: “It’s changed the way our staff wear coats,” say Virgin Trains!

One procurement issue facing some TOCs is long waiting times due to poor supply. This can lead to major staff disillusionment – and be another catalyst for change. That was the case for Chiltern Railways, who switched their uniforms contract to Jermyn Street Design in 2013, because JSD has a proven track record for distribution and delivery.

Previously, this innovative UK train operator – part of Arriva plc – had had to adopt the group work wardrobe, and not promote its own distinctive brand identity. But alongside the strategy to change its image with faster and more modern trains, Chiltern determined to focus on identifying a uniform for its 550+ staff that reinforced the new brand. Employees, union representatives and management were all asked for feedback on the designs, at each stage of development. As well as design, JSD managed the manufacturing process and runs a full logistics service for Chiltern that covers stock control, online ordering and delivery.

“Each train client is unique, with a specific set of service requirements that we need to understand,” says Ann Dowdeswell. “That includes balancing the budget and balancing the brand. We want TOCs to think of us as a safe pair of hands. By consulting at every turn, we ensure that all the ‘fit for purpose’ elements of a job role are designed into the new uniform.

The devil is in the detail when it comes to planning the distribution, too: for JSD, it is very much a partnership. They have to understand the TOCs intimate operations, from access and storage on platforms to the different shift patterns, and those stations that are manned and thus able to receive deliveries. “By interviewing key staff and working together, we plan a fail-safe launch and ongoing delivery. Post launch communication is vital, too: our JSD team tracks management reports, and operates a dedicated helpdesk with experienced staff to manage queries, returns and collections,” explains Ann Dowdeswell.

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