It seems like the Holy Grail of workwear – a high end, designer uniform on a budget that is closer to high street prices. The reality is, with expert guidance and some designer know-how, good design can actually cost less.
It is important for a uniform design to reinforce brand values and also to appeal to employees. Uniforms are a powerful part of brand development for savvy companies. They successfully promote the brand values and build customer loyalty. But it is also important to give employees clothes that they love to wear. Increasingly within the workplace, potential new recruits are selecting where they work because of what they wear to work.
By following these top tips, employers can achieve a high-end look that satisfies the marketing department as well as HR, on a limited budget:
1. Cost savings come from good design
The design is possibly the most misunderstood element of the uniform cost. It is not the cost of the ideas, but how they impact on the manufacture of the items that influences the final budget. It might seem counterintuitive but good design can actually save you money. For example, a more classic look as opposed to an on-trend look is a better option because the uniform will not date as easily and will therefore have a longer shelf life.
2. Be clear on what you want from your uniform
The design is far from the starting point for the uniform. In order to create the perfect, commercially-viable uniform, it is vital to start with a clear brief and establish a firm budget. Incorporate aims and objectives from every department; marketing, procurement, finance, operations and HR.
3. Plan to lower total costs
Once the design concept has been agreed, proper planning is a key area where the final cost of the new uniform can be reduced significantly. A uniform with a wide range of individual items will push the overall cost up, as smaller runs of repeated items are more costly. Surplus costs can be avoided by selecting styles that can be used across departments. A good designer will take a creative look at wardrobes, establishing where staff grades can be distinguished through a shared range of items, such as shirts, using accessories like ties or waistcoats to differentiate job grades.
4. The right fabric makes all the difference
Costs can also be kept under tighter control if the corporate wear specialist has its own in-house design and pattern cutting teams that can apply their experience of those fabrics which best stand the workplace test. Will the fabric make the uniform durable, comfortable and smarter for longer? Has the fabric passed conducting rub tests, chafing protection tests, establishing their suitability for various working environments?
5. Consider lifespan and maintenance costs
The choice of fabrics in designing the range is also important when it comes to managing the lifetime budget. If cost is a key consideration, then use fewer fabrics and select machine washable versions. Uniform maintenance costs are often overlooked in the budgeting process – if the employer rather than the employees is paying to clean the uniforms, then dry cleaning will eat into the budget.
6. Clever sourcing
Design and sourcing go hand in hand. Where the product is manufactured has a direct impact on the product price. While European manufacturers are becoming more competitive, if high volumes are required it is possible to reduce costs significantly by sourcing manufacturers from further afield. Again, ask early in the design process what the suitable sourcing options are, work with the designer to explore these and understand all the commercial implications before finalising your design.
7. Incorporate smart details
The best designers take a key detail around which to develop a strong corporate look. Consider integrating the logo into scarves and ties, in the cut and seaming of tailored suits or embossed into straps or buttons. A flash of the corporate colour or palette can be cleverly incorporated into piping, contrast stitching and linings.
Whilst ideas are essentially free, it is the implementation of those ideas that can push the costs up. By applying specialist knowledge and experience, employers can provide their staff with a uniform that looks good today and holds its style well into the future, all within a very modest budget.
☛ Susanne Malim is managing director of Jermyn Street Design.