The Benefits of Creating an Apparel Uniform Program


Bret Schnitker, Emily Lane


August 22, 2023


Bret Schnitker  00:04

The goal that we should be trying to achieve with uniforms today is getting employee by off getting design fabrication and comfort to the level where that could become their favorite.


Emily Lane  00:20

favorite garment.


Emily Lane  00:35

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily Lane.


Bret Schnitker  00:42

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.


Emily Lane  00:51

Clothing Coulture is produced by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience.


Emily Lane  01:01

Welcome to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today, we're talking uniforms. But don't turn that dial just yet. I promise this is going to be an exciting conversation. Bret, you always say uniforms might not be sexy to those in the fashion industry, but they certainly are sexy to the bottom line. And that's because there's a lot of benefits of a really well thought out uniform program, not just to the company that's providing uniforms to their employees, but to the employees psychological benefits, and of course, Consumer Relations to that company. So, Bret, let's talk a little bit about the opportunity that exists with uniforms.


Bret Schnitker  01:46

Yeah and I might be wrong too. I mean, uniforms certainly are being embraced more fashionably sexy, if you will, or stylish, you know, I think like all aspects of any business, there's always change and evolution and that's kind of brought about by, you know, the society as a whole, you know, understanding and accepting or wanting change in different sectors and uniforms. No exception. You know, I'm seeing you know, what I used to another thing I say all the time, which may be tongue in cheek is uniforms used to be sandpaper sewn together with catgut, it's you know, at one point, it was not super appealing, it didn't feel super good. It wasn't speced very well, it wasn't built ergonomically, it was just meant to point out a employee or a certain people group out of a mass of people in general.


Emily Lane  02:38

It was kind of disposable.


Bret Schnitker  02:40

Disposable, and it really it really didn't think about culture, DNA branding, it really didn't it was just like, hey, there's the guy who works at Al's auto shop, and he's wearing a, you know, you can point it out, you knew the mechanic, right? Or you knew that the gas attendant or you knew the flight attendant, you know, and they were never really considered. I think over periods of time, different sectors approached stylish views differently. And some were more focused on trying to create more style than other sectors. But, you know, today, uniforms and workwear, which is kind of an extension perhaps of uniform have really come into the spotlight as being fashionable. I mean, you know, it was kind of crazy when we are going to call out Carhart, you know, that's one of the big workwear companies today in the US, and boy, have they gone through such amazing evolution, they were the working man's clothing. And nowadays, you see them as fashion downtown Florence, Italy. Next, all the big branded shops, it's just


Emily Lane  03:44

An every brand is adopting a Carhartt style jacket.


Bret Schnitker  03:47

Yeah, the workwear meets fashion. And so, you know, I think that's one perfect evidence of this shift and movement in this space. And, you know, it's not dying. A lot of people are thinking, hey, we're casualisation of America. We're hanging out at home, our home office, and we just get to wear comfortable stuff. And, and I think that while that's true for some of the, of the working people out there, that uniform still have a definite place. And they solve a number of different things. And you know, first of all, we throw statistics out like today, global work wear and uniforms is around 17 billion, and it's supposed to grow to about 25 billion, you know, over the next upcoming number of years. And so the number itself is probably irrelevant because people don't have crystal balls, but it does show a growth right. It doesn't show that it's declining that it's a healthy industry. Yeah, certainly. Yeah. And I think that people are addressing these kinds of things differently. And there's there's a purpose and an intent behind uniforms and some companies have done it very, very well, creating a legacy that supports the branding DNA and those are out there. And mass, you know, the, the UPS is is one of the ones that many people refer to and blogs and articles about a successful uniform, guys in brown or, you know, others are out there and that are similarly represented. But you see the reasons behind it. And I think that that makes great sense. You know, when we there psychology, as you mentioned in your opening article behind that, when we were more likely as human beings to go approach somebody in a uniform signaling that they work at a place that having to figure out who works and who doesn't remember that uneasy, kind of walk through and you see somebody that's maybe arranging stuff in an aisle, and you're about ready to ask a question, you realize, oh, they're shopping, they're not, they're not tiding. And


Emily Lane  05:55

You don't want embarrass yourself, you don't approach them. And therefore the company loses a potential sales opportunity.


Bret Schnitker  06:00

Yeah. And so I think that there's definitely reasons to, to have some identifying markers. And that doesn't mean it has to look clunky, it can look really nice. But yeah, it's a benefit for both the consumer as they walk in, and the employer,


Emily Lane  06:16

Yeah, the consumer experience and the employer. And so you know, there are a lot of things that can go really right, and a lot of things that can go really wrong and developing a program. And, you know, I think, thinking about one of the benefits, meaning, you know, protection, you know, we we went through a phase where the pandemic affected our lives so greatly, and now, looking at opportunities to infuse benefits into apparel that can protect workers protect patients, you know, there's lots of different science that can be woven into these uniform programs, that can be a great benefit.


Bret Schnitker  06:53

Yeah, certainly applied to woven fabric or knitted, you can, you can add a lot of benefits that can help support that. And those technologies definitely exist versus, you know, people that are wearing, you know, their own clothing in and out of work, those are additional transit points or vector points for things to transfer. So yeah, that's certainly something that can be added, within uniform,


Emily Lane  07:16

what are other treatments that can be added to uniforms that can help protect the garment and the wearer?


Bret Schnitker  07:24

Yeah, when you get into protection for the wear on a garment. And especially if you're talking viruses or bacteria, the EPA has a very kind of strict kind of guideline for that, because there's so many ways to be infected. So they, they generally don't really allow you to say in the virus, and bacteria world protection to the wearer, okay. But they really refer to protection of fabrics. So those things can break down fabric, can break down fabric and create all sorts of issues for that fabric, create odor, that stays with the fabric. So there are a lot of treatments that you can do that are anti microbial, anti viral, that can resist the virus in contact with a particular fabric. That certainly in logic, although we can't really say that in, in practice, but in logic, you reduce the number of points that a virus or bacteria lives on a surface, sheets, curtains, uniforms, within a certain health environment, you would say it has the ability to wage small battles reduce, you know, transmission, in general across a number of surfaces, if you're reducing surfaces that are constantly resisting growth in bacteria. So I think those things are, you know, an important aspect of of that. But there are other things when we talk about protection in a bigger way, both to the fabric and the wear, if wearer is out in the sunlight all the time. Skin cancer is a big issue. So you can create things that have ultraviolet protection, and more skin coverage. So as people are out in the sun more often, you're going to greatly decrease the issues of skin cancer. If you're if you're thinking about that as a employer or something creating uniforms, those are certainly things to look at. There are there are soil and stain resistant treatments that you can apply to uniforms that basically invisibly protect against, you know, these things that come in contact with garments that in the end, without them you would have a damaged garment and it would cost the employer more to replace garments over a period of time. And it would certainly probably look less appealing for that brand equity of that guy to show up with big stains all over his shirt. Yeah, so and there's just a number of things like that that can be applied to garments too, in a variety of environments.


Emily Lane  10:10

So I'm seeing a lot of areas of opportunity for uniforms. We've talked a little bit about medical and some of those that are in the maybe more rustic space. But there are a lot of other categories that apply.


Bret Schnitker  10:20

Oh, certainly, there's, there's, there's any time that a employer wants to provide stronger brand DNA wants to provide some visibility in showing that a person works at a space, therefore increasing the potential for communication. Those are areas that that quite effectively should be conversations for for uniforms. And those could be hair salons, they could be flight attendants, they could be transportation employees, the list is really endless, we can see a lot of opportunities. And I would say, in some cases, if people in some ways put ego aside, I wear a uniform every day, it's a black T shirt and, and jeans or pants. Why do I do that? Well, perhaps it's easier, perhaps that I'm not having to think as much in the morning when I get up. Because I want to go about my day, I love fashion. But when it comes to personal decision, I, I speed up my day by having this kind of uniform, if you will, that I can put on and go about my day. There's statistics that say a a woman not to be, you know, limiting or you know, gender specific. But in many cases, a fashionable person, like much like yourself, who loves wearing things, will spend somewhere around 17 minutes a day making those decisions


Bret Schnitker  12:01

What am I wearing tomorrow? Exactly my point. And I think that if we were to be released from the pressure, and had a beautiful, comfortable, stylish arrangement of outfits that we could go to the closet every day that had these kind of performance characteristic, you just pull it off, you've thrown the washy throughout the day, you pull it off, and you put it on and you're comfortable and you feel great, you feel somewhat stylish, yeah, then, then we'd have more time in our day, we would have to make less decisions, we'd spend more money trying to stay up with the Joneses in fact.


Emily Lane  12:01



Emily Lane  12:40

Yeah, well, you're actually talking about something that I think is a pretty viable question. You know, a lot of people when they think uniform, they do think about the person behind the drive thru window, you know, thinking about that scratchy product that nobody wants to wear outside of their job, but we are really seeing a shift. And the intention behind creating products that people really love to wear, and there is a benefit to creating that in


Bret Schnitker  13:05

The conversations we're having with people that quote, want to explore a uniform, they're really not even wanting to call it a uniform, anyone wanting like lifestyle pieces or, or things like that. And I think that's them kind of putting the old away and thinking in a new in a new ask.


Emily Lane  13:24

Yeah, I think, you know, thinking about benefits to the wearer, you know, I like what you were talking about freeing up that mental bandwidth, you know, getting you getting you into a mindset, I also think that it's an opportunity for a company to really build that, you know, shared community, feeling, you know, like, if you're creating a positive work culture, and people want to come be a part of that community, you're, you're, it's kind of like this piece of pride that you know, people can can wear to be embrace.


Bret Schnitker  13:57

And there's something to be said for, I wear these clothes at home. And when I put on an outfit that's work oriented, some you know, in the old days, it used to be suits and ties and dress wear because you had this mind mindset that when you put those things on, you're going to work uniforms can be that kind of replacement, where it's like look, I am putting this on and therefore I am going to work and there is some evidence to suggest that it puts people in a proper mindset to be more productive and going about their day and when they come home and they take this particular item off and put on some comfortable casual clothes, their day is over at work begins a home.


Emily Lane  13:59

little bit of a routine or ceremony in that right like I'm I intention I'm going to work.


Bret Schnitker  14:23

Shift in the mindset.


Emily Lane  14:53

So you mentioned productivity like that is definitely, I think a key benefit for both the employee and the employer, what are some other key benefits for employers by offering? Aside from of course, the, you know, the identifiable nature of an employee, what are some other benefits?


Bret Schnitker  15:12

One big key benefit for an employer is this branding opportunity. You know, you are everyone, most larger companies work hard to create a brand. lifestyle of an organization, you know, what they stand for their attributes, their goals, their visions, and uniforms? Can you kind of sum up those things and tell the outside world, hey, here's something about us, we always talk about people where they, they buy a particular brand, and they want to be part of that club. Well, uniforms is really, essentially, a club garment. You know, I'm working for a particular company, and this company has certain values, visions, and goals. And hopefully, you can put those into a garment, you can talk about these cool attributes, and they become walking billboards, there's amazing marketing opportunities when, when, when those people are wearing those items. I remember years ago for a particular company, we built uniforms for a large telephone company, one of the largest, the largest in the nation. And we made some decisions even back to that to create lifestyle apparel, and that and the employees were given choices. You could buy this quote, sandpaper sewn together with catgut uniform, back then from a from a uniform supplier. Or you could buy this from this other group that we were working with this sort of a middle middle person. And you'd have to launder it yourself. But the quality of the goods would be really, really high. And we use


Emily Lane  17:02

Something you'd want to wear.


Bret Schnitker  17:03

Yeah, we use this amazing, beautiful high and silky denim that was super comfortable. And we analyzed linemen for mobility, we put underarm gussets and the fabric was used, frankly, for some really well known brands and the shirt retail was somewhere in the $100 range. And because of the volume that this large phone company needed, the price point was relatively good. It was certainly competitive with uniforms. But we also showed by increasing quality of fabrics, you wouldn't need to replace the item as often so that the overall net cost per employee would be reduced. And so they understood that they bought that. And I remember, it was amazing, because this was an indigo shirt. So indigo by nature fades, it fades. It's not a part of the indigo dye stuffs. It's not permanent. And so there was a life to a garment, you know, but it was many, many years. And I remember going into a gas station and I was filling my tank and there was another guy filling his tank near us. And this was years after the last shipment that we have done for this particular person. And so this shirt shockingly, I almost to this day, don't even know how I recognized it, but it might have had the symbol of the of the company on. The shirt was almost white and I couldn't help myself. I walked over and I introduced myself to the guy and I said hey, we made those shirts and he goes oh my god, this is my favorite shirt. And I said really and he goes yeah, so my wife keeps trying to throw it away. Because it is almost bleached white. And I keep pulling out of the trash because every day I want to put that on and and I think that should be one of the key goals and every time that guy wore that shirt, that symbol is on the back wearing it like not like he has to wear it. It become his favorite shirt. I think the goal that we should be trying to achieve with uniforms today is getting employee but by off getting design fabrication and comfort to the level where that could become their favorite.


Emily Lane  19:22

Their favorite garment. You know, I think that is the true marker of success when an employee wants to wear it outside of their work. I I remember you know, early in my working life working at a in a beauty department of a department store. And and I had my choice of which which beauty department I wanted to work in and I chose a particular cosmetic counter because they had the best uniforms. And they were known everyone was like I'm so envious. You have pockets and your uniform and all these things. You just think would have been well thought out, it had beautiful material they washed well, all those decisions that should be made when factoring, you know, developing an apparel program for your, for your brand for your employees. And, and I think that same kind of intention should be really like your, like you said should be put into it represent your brand.


Bret Schnitker  20:19

Employees need to be recognizing the overall cost of uniforms, versus the individual unit cost. Because that's always an interesting game played in this scene. Yeah, I'm not gonna point out particular suppliers, I'm just saying in general in the scene, they're like, oh, there's a par of three to five, and you have a six or eight months, you know, lifestyle, and you place those, and people look at the actual garment cost, they don't look at the replacement cost. If you were to spend more on the quality of the fabric, and more on the quality that garment, which we proven for a large casino out in Vegas, our uniforms have outlasted the remodel.


Emily Lane  20:22

And so that I'm so glad you bring this up. Because this is this is something I want to talk about a little bit.


Bret Schnitker  21:03

We made no money after delivering it.


Emily Lane  21:07

Yeah, well, but I do think that that is a wonderful case study. Because there are a lot of things to think about when wanting to make sure you're doing your program, right. We've talked about a few of them, you know, comfort, styling, all of those things. But really getting into each individual person, how they're working and living their lives each day on the job, I'd love for you to share a little bit about some of the decisions that were made to enhance the program. And maybe how inevitably, you over designed because they never fell apart.


Bret Schnitker  21:49

I think I think a lot of that is just actually spending time with the particular employee groups, it's kind of surprising how few uniform companies don't do that, you know, we we we followed and had conversations with their mechanical team people that went and fixed stuff right there. And, sure enough, 90% of the pockets in the kind of garments that were being designed previously had holes in them, because they were putting sharp objects in them, holes were blowing out, and therefore they were throwing the garments away, a simple shift of putting ballistic nylon pockets in there solved that immediately, you didn't have pockets blow out, you design the shirt a little bit better with better fabrication, and therefore you replace the shirt significantly less, we looked at cooling technologies for people that were you know, Las Vegas can be warm, guys are on the move. So Bell guys and valet guys, they were moving very, very quickly. And we're finding that a lot of the items for those particular groups were, you know, they were they were designed very, very warmly. And therefore there was a lot of perspiration and staining going on and just was uncomfortable. And so if you're creating venting technologies, cooling technologies, things like that, and mobility technologies, than then those guys are certainly a lot cooler, a lot more comfortable and you didn't have you didn't have damages to that respect.


Emily Lane  23:28

Those are all great considerations. And I'm sure you've seen the success of it the the success in that they've, they've never had to replace them. Um, you know, we were recently on a flight, and we saw some problem areas on a uniform. So there's definitely things that can go wrong, you know, we were looking at the the flight attendants and who were wearing a dark uniform with a contrast light contrast, trim. And that trim just looks dirty. And so the immediate thought was, ooh, they need to wash their uniform. But looking across the staff, it was very clear that this was a an issue with their dye stuff. So there's lots of areas to that, that that things can go wrong and need to be managed. You have some some insights there.


Bret Schnitker  24:18

A case where people are taking shortcuts to hit a price. And I think that dialogue needs to happen with these with the different end users, the different end users who are usually purchasing uniform are not experts in the industry. And so they put out typically what's called an RFP RFQ it's like a request for proposal requests for bid. And in that proposal, there's no detail or not enough detail, certainly. And they get in all these bids. And within all those bids, they're apples and oranges. Nothing's quoted the same because you have a picture but what's the quality of the fabrication? You know, what are the dyestuffs that you're using? How are you Assembling, you know, what are the specs, there's so few details in there. So people are always trying to find things to strip out of a garment to be the lowest, hopefully, in the lower rank of price point. That never made sense to me whenever a company would put out an RFQ RFP, because they would inevitably always get a lesser garment, right, because their decision making was always consistent. They put them from the cheapest to the most expensive, they throw out the most expensive, they throw out the cheapest guy, because it's he's a gutter monkey. And he was going to do poor quality. And he'd go somewhere to steps down in the middle. Uniforms at major companies always have budgets, they always know what they spend every year, they look to maintain those budgets, if possible, not spend more, the healthier decision is to sit down and put an RFQ RFP and say, here's our budget. Yeah, now put everything as much into the garment as you can to meet that budget and tell me what you're doing. Because if you were revers that whole process, many times people will know that that's the budget, they will try to put in new technologies, they'll put in new finishes. And in the end, the company benefits because they might go much like the situation that we had, they might end up utilizing less uniforms every year because those uniforms stay together longer. And their overall costs will reduce, even though their individual garment costs could maintain, or in some cases, they can make a decision on isolated cases to pay a little bit more. Because in paying a little bit more, the number of times they have to replace it over a number of years become significantly less. Those are decisions that are typically made based upon employee turnover. If you have low employee turnover, and people are on the job for a long time, invest more in uniforms, so you replace them less. And there's a host that we mentioned before about all these other benefits, right? Yeah, the branding statements and all that other stuff, employee happiness and all that. The challenge comes when you've got uniforms, and you have high employee turnover, then it becomes if the guy's in and out of the job in two weeks. How do you retain some of that DNA and then the quality and the longevity of the uniform becomes a little less important. So you know, we're not in a black and white world but in in companies that that have less employee turnover and really want to make statements, branding statements employee happiness, as as part of that mark, there's, I think, a different way to go about it.


Emily Lane  27:51

Well, that's all really wonderful inside I'm hearing you know, numbers really understanding your budget and what the investment means and could mean financially you know, it would a slightly deeper investment, making smarter decisions last you longer.


Bret Schnitker  28:13

Therefore the investments cheaper over long run.


Emily Lane  28:15

Exactly could could you impart more details that are brand worthy and make your employees happy? There's a lot of decisions to to embrace here and thank you for giving some of those guidelines. We do have a complimentary episode that I think could tie in really nice with this conversation which talks about small details to elevate product so I think there's room for uniforms to certainly accomplish that. It's those little details that add those branding characteristics. So definitely check that out. And don't forget to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture.

Watch the Video Here:

Click below to watch the entire episode.

The Benefits of Creating an Apparel Uniform Program