The Picture of Hard Work
WHEN IT COMES to office attire, individual style is something to be celebrated. Depending on the employer, stiletto pumps, ruffled blouses and form-fitting pencil skirts are acceptable corporate wear. However, there is something special—dare to say, desirable—about those businesses that maintain a traditional, uniformed dress code in a modern corporate culture that encourages individuality. Employees in these kinds of businesses tend to carry a certain decorum and professionalism about them—if not innate, perhaps deriving from their uniforms and what they represent. Think travel, hospitality, fine dining and automobile sales. It’s as if a uniform has the power to transform the most unlikely employees into diplomatic, friendly and convincing ones.
Long gone are the days when a uniform only meant an embroidered polo or piqué shirt paired with a stiff, flat-front pant. “Companies are becoming more innovative in the ways they utilize company uniforms,” noted Missy Garza, marketing coordinator at FeatherLite, Houston, Texas. She said, “jackets, shirts, hats, scarves and many other articles of clothing are being given to employees much more frequently to wear at company events.”
Garza further noted uniforms serve promotional purposes well because they “offer the customer something unique they can actually wear.”
Furthermore, there is something personal about uniforms. “When a customer wears a shirt with a company logo on it, that person clearly feels a special bond or connection with the company,” said Garza. “This person proudly displays the company logo on his/her person and the logo is more likely to be noticed than a smaller item, such as a pen or cup.”
With the rash of businesses being built or expanded all across the country, it goes without saying that many of these businesses are in need of uniforms. Thus, the category is an ever-growing one. Said Garza, “The sales of uniforms [have] increased. If you notice, the number of companies—such as car dealerships, fast food chains, restaurants and retail stores—have grown substantially in recent years, and the majority of them require uniforms.”
The promotional products industry is also seeing increased interest in another kind of uniform segment—workwear. Fred Haws, owner of Haws Embroidery and Specialty dba Carhartt and Walls Workwear Lines, Kansas City, Mo., said the popular Carhartt brand, comprised of heavy duty, canvas
-like jackets and coats, is building a name for itself in promotional circles. “Carhartt is really a strong brand name in the workwear market, so what people are doing a lot with that is co-branding,” he explained. Haws said workers want the Carhartt name that is associated with quality and durability as well as the opportunity to showcase their company’s logo. “By adding the company logo to [a Carhartt item], it’s actually kind of a co-branding product. They’re proud to put their name on such a prestigious product like Carhartt.”
Haws, whose company has been in the promotional products industry for just two years, further pointed out the rise in ethanol manufacturing in the U.S. in recent years has brought workwear to center stage. “We’re seeing an increase [in sales] because of the whole ethanol push,” he said. “A lot of farmers, corn and otherwise, are a big market.” He also stated the construction market still remains a strong buyer of workwear. One other hot industry for workwear includes mining. “It’s a big thing with miners because mining is actually big in a couple corners of the United States,” he said.
As has everything in the name of progressivism, uniforms also have undergone numerous modifications over the years. Garza said the recent surge in women’s promotional wear has spilled over into the promotional uniform sector. “Women are requesting uniforms in feminine colors and cuts that flatter the female form,” she explained. “Both men and women are requesting uniforms made from fabrics that are comfortable, lightweight and breathable. Stain-resistant, soil-release and liquid-repellent finishes are also desirable.”
The workwear market, on the other hand, is not one to relinquish long-standing traditions. Haws said fashion colors and cuts are largely non-existent in this arena. “[Carhartt] workwear is standardized with a really high-quality, 100 percent cotton—what they call duck—outer material,” he explained. “Throughout the generations, it has not changed, and it’s probably not going to change. It’s not an issue of fashion. It’s a product, a look and a feel that is standardized in the working community. It supersedes fashion.” However, there may be some change on the horizon, even for apparel that screams brawn. Haws admitted Carhartt, which solely caters to male workers, is currently testing a women’s line.
An important trend taking place in workwear, according to Haws, is the required inclusion of flame-resistant properties. “OSHA is pushing now some new regulations, and it’s requiring companies to outfit those who are working in hazardous conditions,” he said. “We have seen a surge in sales here as [people] are starting to ask for it,” he said.
A recent addition to Haws’ workwear line is Walls, a line of clothing similar to domestically made Carhartt, but at a lower price point. “Walls is made overseas so it’s cheaper, but the quality is still very good,” he explained. Under the Walls name, distributors have access to ranch/western wear—an apparel area Haws said is not represented well in the industry—as well as insulated clothing to outfit end-users who work in refrigerated environments.
FeatherLite’s offering consists of its Business Ready line of apparel for both men and women. “The line [is made up] of color-coordinating apparel, including aprons and silk ties treated with DuPont Teflon fabric protector, creating an invisible shield against spills and stains,” explained Garza, who added the line is ideal for “restaurant employees and executives needing coordinating shirt and tie combinations.”
Although since its inception in 1889 Carhartt’s signature mustard-brown color has had little variation, the brand has caught the eye of younger generations. “You’re starting to see it worn by high school students as a fashion statement now,” reported Haws. He also said NASCAR favorite Matt Kenseth has been the driver of the Carhartt car for a number of years. “We’re seeing the Carhartt name strengthening, and with that will obviously come an increase in sales and increase in people wearing the product casually.”
Haws encouraged distributors to become familiar with Carhartt and other uniform brands in order to sell the items more effectively. “Understanding the difference between the pre-washed duck material and the new duck material, or knowing the length and styles (with or without a hood) available, will be helpful for distributors.”
Like Garza, who said “uniforms in the promotional market have the potential to grow in substantial numbers,” Haws concluded workwear will grow “exponentially.”
So, whether the office is a glass tower or a grassy field, a tastefully put together uniform will get the job done.