We’ve been creating bespoke uniforms for over 34 years and in that time we have helped many brands transform their corporatewear as part of a rebrand. We know that a rebrand is a very important and significant exercise, therefore we thought we would share with you the most important factors to consider when embarking on a new uniform as part of this process.
How important is the uniform to your rebrand?
The employees within a company, who meet with customers face to face, bear the mantle of your brand and affect the level of customer service your clients receive. It is vital that the essence of a company’s brand is built into the design and enhances functionality as well as comfort and style.
A successful rebrand requires consistency across all aspects of the business, which should include what your employees are wearing. This consistency in the brand image helps to build a familiarity with the customer, which encourages customer loyalty and trust, as people understand who you are as a brand and the standards they should expect from you. If your staff uniform does not accurately reflect your brand values, you stand the risk of sending out mixed messages, which could alienate your customers.
Moreover, the press coverage surrounding a rebrand builds anticipation and raises expectations (Eurostar even dressed a famous statue with their new uniform), so when your customers first step into your rejuvenated stores and meet your staff, they will be judging your brand and whether they will purchase from you. This is why having a uniform that evokes the right emotions in your customers and reinforces brand values is so important.
So what are the most important things to consider when going through a uniform rebrand?
1. What are your competitors doing?
Analysing and understanding who your competitors are and what they are doing is an important part of the process, as this allows you to determine how you compare within your market.
As a key part of our design process, we look at your competitors to understand what works, what doesn’t and why. This enables us to make decisions for your brand based on a strong understanding of the market. Once we have identified what works well, we then need to determine how best to differentiate your brand. For example, for a high-end brand we would look at how we can use detailing or fabrics to emanate luxury.
Uniforms not only identify brands but they can also identify industries. Certain roles require particular design markers to make the employees identifiable in their role – for example, airlines often have similar style uniforms as customers have specific expectations of what airline staff wear. Our challenge, when working with these industries, is to find a way of keeping these distinctive garment types whilst differentiating the brand.
2. Understanding the ethos of the brand
An important consideration during the rebranding process is how much of your brand heritage and story will be brought forward.
Some brands who have previously rebranded to a more modern look actually decide to go back to their roots and bring heritage to the forefront of their branding. This nostalgia can be very powerful and can project a reliable and classic image. However, some brands find that holding on to a small part of their heritage whilst modernising everything else can work to attract a new audience.
Capturing heritage with a bespoke uniform allows the finished garment to be truly unique and can be done subtly, as to not conflict with the rebrand. When working with St James’ Court Taj Hotel, our design team visited the hotel, to discover historic architectural details and incorporated these in the designs. We identified the iconic scallop shell –¬ the emblem of St James of Compostela – still on the hotel gates, and integrated a geometric shell design into the silk scarf and tie, in soft shades of opulent gold, teal and grey.
3. Creating a clear and concise brief
We divide the design process up into key stages, the first is to establish your brief. To help create this, we use a 4 page briefing document which we use to gather information about your company, staff job roles and the specific equipment the staff need to use to carry out their jobs Your supplier will use the brief to not only design your new range, but cost with global suppliers so they need some idea of budget and timescales. We then establish a draft allocation schedule which is a working document we use to agree the allocation of items for the new range by job role, this then collates the total manufacture quantities by item and helps establish the budget by department. This background work is usually done at senior stakeholder level with Operations, HR and Procurement input. Once we have all the background information, we can then begin discussing design features, such as colour, style and fabric.
Style – The questionnaire we give to clients at the outset of the project will inform us of the key objectives we need to design into the range. Whether it is formality or informality they require, however most brands will ask that staff are easily identifiable in the busy environment and look approachable rather than intimidating. Another tool we use in the design process is WGSN, a worldwide trend forecasting programme to keep up to date with the latest in colours, fabrics, technologies and silhouettes, as we are always conscious that we need to avoid fad fashion but do need to design clothes that staff will love to wear.
Colour – Uniforms don’t have to strictly imitate the brand logo colour scheme. Many brands have a range of colours that work together create the brand colour palette. In a project with Center Parcs we used the green logo colour sparingly and created an entirely new, original colour palette that complimented the staff’s working environment. Warm woodland berry colours were chosen to emulate Center Parcs passion for nature and the outdoors.
Fabric – The fabric you choose is particularly important if you are promoting eco-friendliness as a strong brand value. We audit everything – from the fabric used at the initial design process right through to the environmental effect of delivery, and wherever possible we base our delivery schedules on shipping, not air freight, to reduce our carbon footprint.
4. Is your project “top secret”? We recommend staff be included in the process
We always start with a design brief and we ask for the company brand guidelines from the outset so we can create clothing that is on brand, but another important consideration is what employees think of the uniform. The departments to involve are usually – HR (union reps particularly); Operations (what they need to do in their new uniform?); procurement (the money people – what is the budget?) and finally marketing. It is very important that a company have representatives from various departments included in the uniform steering group so that we can create a uniform that is not only a builder of the new brand but that is fit for purpose. If any departments are missing then this can cause delays when they become involved at a later stage, for example, we could design something that meets the marketing brand brief but later discover that it doesn’t meet the procurement budget.
We also recommend carrying out staff focus groups so we can capture what staff like and dislike about their current range. It is important to capture these before we start the design process as the staff are often the main point of contact for many of our customers – they are the brand ambassadors. If they feel good about themselves, they usually offer a better service (experts call this enclothed cognition) and the clothes we design have a big role to play in making this happen. As well as focus groups we also use surveys, fashion shows and internal PR to gather staff opinions. The main aim is employee engagement and clear communication at each stage of the process. Whether this is through staff focus groups, surveys and then subsequent wearer trials. If the staff are happy with the new uniform in the development stages, the word spreads.
5. Creating a realistic project plan and timescales
The key to a successful design and product development project is to set realistic Gantt chart timescales and clearly outline the project stages and responsibilities. We can then monitor and control against the key stages and report on these too. It is always good to have an understanding of the new uniform launch budget from the outset. This will help determine how many items in the range, which departments we clothe, how many items they receive (the allocation) and what stockholding you put in place to fulfil future orders for new starters. The designers will then make sure they select fabric and design a range which works within the budget.
The three biggest challenges we face when rolling out a new uniform are:
Time – The first challenge is allowing sufficient time for a rebrand project. We need at least 9 to 12 months to allow time to design, consult, sample, and trial and then manufacture the uniform. If you want a wearer trial in the correct colour and quality of fabric, you need to allow 3 months for this.
Remaining stock – Another consideration is the old uniform and what happens to the remaining stock. Our clients often ask us to work with charities to recycle or upcycle their remaining stock. However, we work with them in run up to the launch of the new range to get through the stock so there is as little as possible remaining.
Sizing – The other challenge with each new range is ensuring that staff select the right size when they place their order. We encourage the use of size sets, which means each staff member can try on key range items and then select the size which best suits them before they order so we can avoid a high return rate.
We recommend learning as much about the process as possible but if our clients do have any concerns, and we have dedicated JSD Account Managers on hand to communicate the solutions we’ll deliver. That’s from the exclusive design process, to working with your staff to develop and trial the chosen designs, before we manage the uniform rollout.