You are what you wear

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
12 May 2014

15 May 2014 | Paul Snell

Paul SnellWorkwear is, perhaps, one of the more ‘emotional’ categories of spend purchasers have to deal with.

Workplace fashion is now about so much more than the simply functional. London Underground has turned to Wayne Hemingway for its next uniform. Virgin Atlantic has recently collaborated with Vivienne Westwood. No company (to my knowledge) ever asked David Hockney or Bridget Riley to consult on the printer ink it purchases.

Corporate clothing is not only about how the organisation is perceived externally, but also how it makes the person wearing it feel. Does it increase their confidence? Or are they embarrassed by it? As Stefan Stern points out, this can affect business performance.

There are also reputational issues to be managed, as one Japanese airline found out in March, experiencing a slate of negative media coverage concentrating on the height of the hemlines of its new outfit for female cabin crew.

And today, as our cover feature explains, purchasers must take account of the ethical concerns involving clothing. These are particularly prominent as last month saw the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which 1,133 people lost their lives.

The steps taken by major Western clothing brands in the aftermath of the disaster have broadly been praised, coupled with the recognition there is still much to do to improve the lives and working conditions of those in the supply chain.

Neither is health and safety the only ethical consideration. There is also pressure on purchasers to bring production back to the UK to support jobs and the economy.

Even if you manage to account for all these competing interests (not forgetting, you still have to get the best deal), such is the nature of the fashion industry that in six months time the clothing you have selected will be out of date. All this makes workwear a far from uniform purchase.

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