A stylish uniform makes a strong brand impression and can improve how employees feel about their jobs.
For many of us, the idea of uniforms conjures up images of high school, or of some part-time job we once did that has long since slipped off the CV. But correctly conceived, planned and executed, staff uniforms can play an important role in the success of an organisation.
“We’re a culture based on first impressions,” says Pamela Jabbour, CEO of Total Image Group (TIG).
“Leading franchises ensure their environment, team, marketing and messaging are consistent, and that all elements to do with their brand are a clear representation of the ethos or culture of the company. Staff uniforms are a large part of this messaging, yet they are often overlooked,” says Jabbour.
TIG is a family-run business that designs, sources and manufactures leading-edge uniforms for businesses across Australia. Established 11 years ago, TIG now has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and China, and on any given day, over a quarter of a million people wear their uniforms.
Speaking from experience, Jabbour explains what a uniform says about your business.
“It says who you are, what you’re about and where you’re heading,” she says. “It can say organised and in control if done correctly.”
Jabbour’s advice is that being “the flamingo in a flock of pigeons” may be the most cost-effective part of a company’s marketing strategy.
Airlines have been quick to understand this. Earlier this year, Chinese carrier Hainan debuted their new flight attendants’ uniforms at the Paris Couture week to much acclaim. The new attire combines classical Oriental art-inspired patterns with the silhouette of a modern Western suit.
According to the airline, the fifth-generation uniform change was driven by their strategy to become one of the world’s most prominent carriers. Two years ago, they opened a discussion with top designer, Laurence Xu that entailed going through more than 1,000 design blueprints and trying out over 100 samples of garments and accessories before they arrived at the final collection.
Jabbour is convinced there’s a correlation between employee performance and dress. “An unkempt, cheap outfit equals lazy output, equals poor impression. Staff who take pride in their dress sense take pride in their work.
“Imagine going to the bank to deposit money and you are greeted by an employee in trainers and a T-shirt. Would you trust that they are doing their job correctly? An outfit can speak a thousand words, and when replicated correctly by each employee, the message to clients and the public is priceless.”
The power of a well-designed uniform also helps to engage employees, she says. “It creates a team feel and shows that you’re on the same page and working towards the same goal. It has a collegiate effect, sending a powerful message, particularly when socialising as a group or taking part in a charity fundraiser.”
It also takes unnecessary pressure off employees over what to wear to work and how to maintain a smart appearance, says Jabbour.
“Uniforms set a precedent and create a standard that employees need to conform to. Common sense isn’t always common, particularly when you’re trying to control your brand image across such a broad space.”
While Jabbour isn’t keen to name and shame when it comes to poor corporate uniforms, she says there are certain things that good (and bad) uniforms have in common.
“A good uniform looks well put together and pays attention to details – what I call a ‘top to toe look’. A bad uniform? When they’re focused on fashion over practicality, or focused on economy. If cost is your primary objective, then consider what impact that has on the brand. It’s almost not worth putting your logo on a cheap shirt,” she says.
For any employer considering a uniform refresh, it’s an opportunity to create an immediate point of difference for your brand that is a cost-effective marketing strategy and an employee morale booster in one package.
“A new logo, brand or office space without a classy uniform is like a cake without icing,” says Jabbour. “It’s the finishing touch that brings it all together and ensures your company image is complete.”