Uniform Matters


Members of staff are an extension of the brand they work for, and what they wear matters greatly to them and consumers as well as reflecting a company's core values, writes Becky Wilkerson.

When considering the most important aspects of brands, one integral, but often overlooked, constituent is the uniform worn by their customer-facing representatives.

The emotions associated with uniforms are undeniable. For every company that invests in attire that proves to be successful, there is another that fails to align its uniform with the core brand or provide comfort and protection for staff, let alone any style.

The launch of McDonald's new uniform last year was judged a success for modernising what had traditionally been viewed as a dead-end job for teenagers. Conversely, National Express' see-through blouses for train staff made headlines earlier this year for all the wrong reasons.

For Virgin Atlantic, the brand's red staff uniform is so essential to its positioning that it was given a prominent airing in its recent 'Still red hot' 25th anniversary ads.

From a consumer's point of view, uniforms provide a semiotic link to the main brand and must reflect its values. 'Customers see staff as an extension of the brand, and the uniform makes them feel more comfortable,' says Andrew Downie, creative leader at brand communications agency The Team, which worked with train operator London Midland on the launch of its latest uniform.

'Customers expect staff to look and act a certain way,' says Peter Knapp, executive creative director, Europe and the Middle East, at brand consultancy Landor.

The main challenge is to ensure that the uniform is a direct and clear extension of the brand's personality. 'If done correctly, the uniform can be an essential component of the brand and the way it is portrayed around the world,' explains Joe Ferry, head of design at Virgin Atlantic.

The design considerations for staff uniforms are the same as those involved in rolling out an identity to any part of an organisation However, Silas Amos, creative director of innovation at design agency JKR, warns that 'people are not collateral'.

'A more nuanced approach is required that reflects the brand's spirit, rather than simply colouring a person in,' he says.

It must therefore be considered what aspects of brand identity are suitable for incorporation in uniforms. 'Brands need to work out which ones they particularly want to enhance or play down,' says Debbie Leon, director of apparel design consultancy Fashionizer, which has created uniforms for the Westfield shopping centre in London and Gordon Ramsay's restaurant at Claridges. …

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