Great Western Railway (GWR)

The launch of these new uniforms is an important step as we seek to bring about a renaissance of rail marked by the biggest investment on the Great Western network in more than a generation.” – Mark Hopwood, MD of GWR

“The biggest overhaul since the steam age – a renaissance of rail.” That’s what the train operating company Great Western Railway is calling its £7 billion investment to modernise the network, with a rebrand that prepares for the onward journey by looking back to its distinguished Victorian past. Stations, trains and staff uniforms are all being upgraded. So that’s why GWR checked out Jermyn Street Design’s track record of working with other major Train Operating Companies during rail franchise re-launches. They discovered we have in depth experience of matching our offer and delivery to a TOC’s needs during the critical transition period. Result? GWR commissioned JSD to create cutting-edge corporate clothing designs that capture the great 19th century heritage of God’s Wonderful Railway (as the Victorians called it) within a contemporary uniform that is entirely relevant to today’s rail travel and travellers.

Over the next three years, what was formerly First Great Western will switch from the oldest fleet in the country to the newest. It’s like the transition from steam to diesel. “But this is not just about new livery and new uniforms, it is about hearts and minds,” asserts Diane Burke, GWR sales and marketing director. “Our people have to behave differently and they have to act differently.” So what the rail company needed – as a critical part of that transformation – was a stylish uniform that employees would enjoy wearing and that would encourage their engagement in the entire process. Cue Jermyn Street Design.

“GWR want to be seen as a leader, out in front of other TOCs,” explains JSD Sales Director, Ann Dowdeswell. “So we needed to dress their people in ‘feel good’ workwear across every job grade – there are 55 different product styles in all. But as well as our unique in-house design capability, it was JSD’s flexibility and approach to quality service that won us this contract. That and the fact that we know from experience how keeping staff on board is a vital part of any new uniform roll-out for TOCs. We’ve worked with GWR to orchestrate a huge employee engagement process – including the largest road show JSD has ever run, to 3,800 staff across the GWR region.”

Along with studying the new Pentagram brand identity, the initial brief for JSD in-house designer, Christina Burke, was mainly pictorial: “They showed us nostalgic photographs of the old railway and staff, to convey what it was like to travel back then,” she says. “I sensed a touch of romance, of glamour and style: travelling by train was THE way to see your loved ones back then. Then there was the new colour identity. The client’s intention was to bring back deep, dark Brunswick (racing) green for both the train livery and the uniforms, and they wanted it highlighted with silver to echo the GWR lettering.”

So colour was definitely the starting point for Christina’s design expertise. “Green is a notoriously difficult colour to wear for many people,” she shares. “I knew I had to take the green theme but make it more acceptable for the staff – many different shapes and sizes – that would be wearing the uniforms on an everyday basis.” She spent time researching the GWR heritage, putting together colour and mood boards. “It was important to identify tones of green that would not replicate, but rather complement and accentuate, the train livery.”

Then Christina identified a fabric swatch “which lit a fire in me. It was a subtle tweed mix of different greens combined with a hint of blue. I matched it against the different skin shades in our studio and everyone could wear it … what’s more, it sat nicely against the green of the train livery. A traditional herringbone tweed was a perfect start point for that heritage effect stipulated in the GWR brief. We worked with various mills to perfect the fabric and the colour, before selecting the cloth.”

From that base, she could move to silhouettes. “JSD proposed concepts for garments that won’t date. We deliberately avoided the latest fashion statements and instead created a classic edge but with a clean finish and quality feel,” explains Christina.

“It was important for us to put a spin on heritage: this is a new uniform, with echoes of yesteryear.”

The presentation of mood boards, concept ideas and a rail of examples to GWR’s Sales and Marketing team went well. “They loved the way we had interpreted their brand and JSD was awarded the contract,” remembers Ann Dowdeswell. “From there it was all about making sure the commercials worked.” Time frames were tight, so it was full steam ahead (no pun intended): to create a wardrobe for all job grades from the ticket office staff, to on-train operators, drivers, customer service – everyone pulls their outfits from the main wardrobe. From past experience, JSD designers knew that bespoke accessories and trims would be key to pulling together the collection and differentiating between job grades.

“As a one-off, they asked us to think about the Customer Ambassador uniform,” says Christina. Previously, these customer-facing staff had been dressed in purple, to identify them easily on the station concourse where they were known as ‘Ribenas’. GWR were adamant that they no longer wanted an ‘alien colour’ but that the uniforms still needed a stand-out component.

“After experimenting and rejecting different fabrics, I opted to make the Customer Ambassadors identifiable by the gold accessories they wear … and from that point we moved to colour coded green or silver accessories for all of the other staff grades and roles. The ladies’ scarves – a twill textured effect entwined on a tonal backdrop – are especially important in this colour coding,” confirms Christina. “They work across the entire uniform collection, painting a picture on a blank canvas.”

The colours throughout the collection have been minimised to two shades of green – light and dark – with black. Three different fabrics – including that heritage herringbone tweed – are used for the tailored items. All the mens’ and ladies’ tailored jackets are in the lighter green, with contrast black detail; skirts and trousers are in the dark green. The waistcoats for men and women are traditionally styled (and longer line for ladies), with three subtle changes of colour. As one GWR staff member commented: “Much better than being all in one green – I don’t want to look like a Leprechaun!”

“It’s a deliberately subtle mis-match of colour that’s repeated throughout the range.”

For the first time, GWR female staff can choose to wear a dress – and it’s very much a non-uniform look. The design cleverly utilises the two types of fabric, to flatter any shape: the centre panel is dark green twill, with the shoulders and sleeves in the green herringbone tweed. And there’s another first-time option: a soft round neck blouse with tucks and pleats around the neck in a soft green. Work shirts for men and women are in a pin dot easy care fabric or (for men) a check. And there’s black knitwear ¬– a longline cardigan with a green detail and silver trim in a fine, easy care yarn for the ladies and a men’s v-neck sweater.

Keeping employees warm on trains and platforms is essential, so JSD added a zip-in lining for both mens’ and ladies’ coats. For the first time, ladies have a shaped and fitted coat – more feminine and flattering than in the past. And drivers, both men and women wear a shorter outerwear jacket – a different design for winter and summer. The distinctive GWR logo appears on bespoke buttons, belts and zipper-pulls.

GWR came to JSD in part because of our hands-on knowledge of rail franchise roll-outs and managing staff reaction,” confirms Ann Dowdeswell. “We worked closely with their procurement manager, who checked-out our specialist warehouse facility early on. But most emphasis went on engaging staff throughout the process.” GWR set up a New Uniform Steering Group of 50 staff chosen from across their operation, a complete mix of job grades, ages, gender and size. In May 2015, JSD ran a high profile presentation event in a Bristol hotel to take group members through the design journey and to unveil the uniform, talking them through each style and inviting feedback on like and dislikes. “They were talked through the project plan and timescales, and the online ordering process, and announced the sizing road show. We also measured them for the wearer trials – 30 names were later pulled from a hat for those trials.”

In Summer 2015, JSD was back in the same hotel, handing out packs to those taking part in the wearer trials, explaining the objectives and telling them: ‘You are now ambassadors of the new range’. This wearer trial coincided with the September 2015 relaunch of the GWR identity, where it was vital that key staff should be seen wearing the new uniform. Once the trial was complete and feedback gathered, JSD presented a statistical report to the GWR marketing team.

While all that was happening, JSD worked with the GWR team at Paddington to co-ordinate the largest road show we had ever run, to 3,800 staff in 20+ key points across the network. “It was a huge logistical exercise, the most client staff engagement we have ever experienced,” says Lucy Smith, the JSD Account Manager assigned to this contract. “We made up four uniform sets in different sizes for all the key garments (although in some cases designs had not been signed-off and were still at development phase). Staff were invited to try on the wardrobe of clothing and fill in their order forms. There was a sizing validation trial, and then we went into production.”

JSD set-up an online ordering facility, with a dedicated customer service team on a Helpline to help with enquiries. Because of the high staff numbers, GWR appointed uniform co-ordinators in the largest stations and depots to place initial online offers. After the rollout, staff will take over their own online ordering, with a dedicated end-user portal.

Over Christmas 2015, uniforms were distributed to staff at Paddington Station. The major rollout across the network comes starts on 20th February 2016 and involves JSD in massive logistical planning. Every station has different access features that need to be identified and fed through to JSD’s specialist international warehouse and logistics partner, Davies Turner. Ensuring that every staff member has the correct uniform for step-out date is a monumental task. “Our warehouse teams will pick-and-pack 700 orders per week over a six week period,” confirms Lucy Smith. “Every staff member receives a box from which they pull a suit carrier with their jacket and coat, plus a GWR trolley bag into which we pack as many garments and accessories as possible. And off they go!”

“When it comes to a uniform re-launch, our customers are not just looking for cutting-edge design. They want that to be matched by state of the art logistics backing-up a seamless delivery programme. They want their staff to be able to track orders and to re-order and return items easily. We have the experience, the staff and the technologies for them to do just that.”
Susanne Malim, JSD Managing Director