One of the most significant drivers of global change over the last decade has been technology. It has changed the way we shop, the way we interact with businesses and our expectations as consumers. As technology continues to change consumer behaviour, brands and their corporate wear must also adapt. Below are a few of the growing trends that we believe could influence the uniforms of the future.
Click and Collect Stores
As the online market developed, businesses feared the death of the high street. However, the introduction of click and collect services seems to have brought a new lease of life to brick and mortar stores, as it is now customer’s favourite retail tech.
Some brands have catered to this demand by introducing stores exclusively for their click and collect service. Argos have opened Argos Collect, their smallest ever store, based within Cannon Street station and a number of brands , including Amazon, ASOS and New Look, have teamed up with Doddle to provide pick up points for their click and collect service. The way staff interact with customers in an exclusively click and collect store differs to a traditional store and so the needs of the uniform also changes. The amount of time a customer spends inside these stores is greatly reduced, customer service is the main priority over sales and employees will spend more time carrying products and taking deliveries. Therefore, the uniforms require more casual workwear style clothing, but must also appear professional and welcoming to customers.
This is also true of home delivery staff. When a customer orders a product for home delivery, the only representative they meet is the delivery driver. So it makes sense that the drivers reflect the brand image and are easy to identify. However, most delivery drivers currently wear hi-vis tabards, meaning that one brand cannot be distinguished from another. We are currently working on a project with Ocado to develop their delivery driver’s uniforms. Our task was to find new ways of incorporating hi-vis into smarter, more brand appropriate clothing, we did this by using reflective strips and ‘O’ print to enhance the uniform rather than dominate it. As home delivery and click and collect stores become more popular, we may see that brands request different styles of uniforms for each service, meaning more variation in a brands range of uniforms and more experimentation with styles and protective wear.
For industries like fashion, where customers often prefer to try before they buy, it is more likely that their existing stores will adapt to become more Omni-channel friendly. Omni-channel marketing acknowledges the fact that consumers are no longer using one channel exclusively, but are using multiple channels simultaneously. River Island saw a dramatic increase in mobile traffic to their site and click and collect orders last year, due to more store openings and investment in IT. Alongside these developments, the brand also provided store staff with tablets, so that they have the same amount of knowledge as a customer entering the store with their mobile. Rather than separating each channel and trying to boost their performance individually, brands must look at how they can create a seamless experience by integrating these channels and wearable technology could help stores to achieve this. Virgin Atlantic have received positive feedback after trialing Google Glass with their airport assistants. This eyewear displays information, enabling staff to personalise the passenger’s experience based on historical data from their previous trips, whilst maintaining eye contact.
Currently, wearable technology has only hit the mass market in the form of gadgets. However, manufacturers are working to remove the need for additional accessories by developing smart clothing. This type of technology is in its early stages, although as it develops, smart clothing may be able to power handheld gadgets and respond to commands, meaning that uniforms could become the gadget.
If staff have all they need on their person, they no longer need to be stationary behind a till or leave customers to check a query. Customers could pay for their items with sales advisers on the shop floor instead of queueing up at the tills – a good example of this being Apple stores, which have easily recognisable staff in red t-shirts spread across the shop, carrying portable payment devices to process transactions. Barclays bank have also made changes to their store experience. Many of the bank’s branches have removed the partitioned cashier desks and replaced them with self-service machines. The role of cashier has been changed to community banker and these employees now greet customers on the shop floor.
In future, the uniforms could become power sources, using kinetic or solar energy to power themselves. Sleeves of uniforms could become in-store telephones, allowing staff to communicate with each other across the store or allow staff to deliver an announcement on the PA system. Uniforms could even display content like screens, such as promotions or products.
Easy Jet have already begun to trial smart uniforms. Last year, they unveiled plans for new uniforms that use integrated LED lighting, cameras and built in microphones to aid staff during an emergency. Having this technology integrated in the uniforms means that staff will no longer need to hold torches or microphones in an emergency, leaving both hands free to help passengers.
If we do adopt smart uniforms, this could be the first case of a uniform influencing the way we work rather than the other way around.
It’s not only technology that is allowing us to create innovations in textiles. Manufacturers of protective wear are becoming increasingly conscious of how their clothing looks and high tech fabrics influenced by nature may help to create stylish protective wear.
Manufacturers are currently developing clothing that adapts to the wearer’s body temperature and surroundings by taking inspiration from a type of squid. Some species of squid can alter how they reflect visible wavelengths of light using proteins in their skin. Scientists are trying to adapt this technique to control longer infrared wavelengths which carry heat. The developers won’t say exactly how they will use the proteins for radiation control yet, but fabrics like this could mean no more layers, bulky coats or arguments about air conditioning.
Nature is also influencing fashion through Biofabrics; materials that are made with live organisms/microbes. Biofabrics are created in labs and are made using bacteria and manipulated cell structures. These fabrics are grown and can take properties from materials in nature, i.e. the elasticity of rubber but the durability of leather. They can also be grown and moulded to create strong clothing without seams. If biofabrics could somehow be mass produced, this would provide the corporate wear industry with a new solution to waste management as biofabrics not only require less energy to create but are biodegradable.
3D and Digital Printing
3D printing has started being used to create clothing. The US Army are now interested in having their uniforms made with 3D printers and as this method becomes more mainstream, we could see more and more uniforms being made using 3D printing.
This method of manufacturing allows suppliers to create more comfortable clothing for their end wearers. It can create clothing with fewer seams for added comfort and provide a perfect fit for each individual. This is a particularly exciting prospect for the footwear industry. People rarely have two feet that are the same, but the mass market does not yet reflect this, even though ill-fitting shoes can cause significant discomfort and impact performance. Being able to mass produce tailored clothing that perfectly fits each individual would revolutionise the corporate wear industry. Employees would be able to enjoy a perfectly fitting uniform, which would increase staff satisfaction and performance.
As well as benefiting the end wearers, 3D printing could be a step forward for sustainable manufacturing. It uses fewer fabrics and leaves less room for human error. Furthermore, as 3D printing relies on code, it would be very simple to make alterations to a range, which would greatly reduce the time needed to get new uniforms out.
Watch This Space
The future of corporate wear looks to be an interesting one and we are excited to see what lies ahead, and look forward to being at the forefront by including these innovations into wearable designs for our customers. If you have any big ideas on how uniforms may change in the future, share them with us in the comments below.