For client-facing businesses, uniforms serve as important brand reinforcement for employees and customers. Carefully chosen uniforms convey competence, professionalism and the appropriate corporate image. In addition, they help customers to identify employees—there’s nothing worse than mistakenly asking a fellow patron, “Do you work here?” 

Uniforms also eliminate the uncertain areas in dress codes and the awkward conversations between managers and employees following a perceived policy violation. And when companies provide uniforms, employees benefit by less money spent on a work wardrobe, less time thinking about what to wear, and a sense of belonging since everyone dresses the same.

Not surprisingly, corporate uniforms are closely following retail trends. “Retail fashion items are really taking off in the uniform market, especially for Millennials,” says Phillip Ambrose, creative director for Burnside/Sierra Pacific (PPAI 184396). “We’re seeing the industry heavily leaning toward these more fashionable items over the past five years, especially with plaids and flannels.”

Bill Kluber, vice president of PVH Corporate Outfitters (PPAI 216131), says, “It’s all about the fabric. Technical fabrics are growing in popularity for use in the hospitality and service markets. Ease of care is critical—customers want wash-and-wear fabrics that do not require ironing.”

According to the national nonprofit organization, the school uniform debate rages on. Proponents say uniforms promote equality, prevent gang violence, identify non-students and reduce distractions. Opponents insist uniforms squelch individuality, violate rights to freedom of expression and are a financial burden to many families. Teachers are overwhelmingly in favor of them, the majority of students would rather choose their own clothing, and parent opinions are mixed.

Less contentious is the argument for athletic uniforms. Everyone can agree that it’s beneficial to be able to identify who is on which team—not only for the players, but also for the fans. And from Little League to the pros, there continues to be a lucrative market for fan merchandise and coaching apparel. 

Sue Wilcosky, marketing manager for supplier Transfer Express (PPAI 690341), says she is seeing more uniforms with sublimated patterns. “This can make decorating a challenge,” she says. “In response, we
have developed a water-based, dye-blocking product called AquaTru™. The product line includes custom transfers as well as numbers, which have been popular with sports teams.”


Case Studies

Custom Conquest
American Solutions for Business was working with a large client in the service industry with extensive uniform program needs. To help his client stand out from the competition and build brand awareness, Senior Account Executive John McNerney recommended custom uniforms. To meet the exact PMS colors, the fabric was dyed prior to cutting and sewing the patterns. The ordering process required meticulous attention to detail, since uniforms were required for over 800 employees in sizes ranging from XS to 6XT. The first order was for 4,000 uniforms, and a repeat order has already been placed.

Source: American Solutions for Business

Made-to-Order For Multiple Locations
Bloom Senior Living has eight senior living facilities across the U.S. The company asked Axis Promotions to create a made-to-order webstore that allows management to order apparel for staff at each property. The website includes uniform pieces for all departments, including housekeeping tunics, chef wear and nurses’ scrub tops. The goal was to keep the apparel professional, comfortable and cohesive. In response to demand, Axis also added lifestyle apparel that both the staff and residents can wear, such as a trucker cap, beanie, pullover and t-shirt.

Source: Axis Promotions


What To Look For In Work Uniforms

Apparel magazine recently interviewed Richard J. Lerman, former president of the North American Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors, to get his take on the future of the business uniform industry. Here is what he said to watch for:

  • Ecommerce. End users want to be able to buy their uniforms online and have them delivered to their homes.
  • Fashion. As dress codes in the private sector become more casual, so too will uniforms. The focus will be on comfort for the wearer and communicating a welcoming, more relaxed vibe to the consumer.
  • Consolidation. In the public sector, manufacturers have fewer independent distributors to sell their products. This may limit the number of bids that a client such as a fire department may be able to get.

As the industry evolves, Lerman predicts that end users will have more say in what they wear. He notes that many hospital employees are already allowed to order scrubs from the online provider of their choice. In addition, some businesses may choose to go the route that some schools have chosen—rejecting uniforms with an original design in lieu of sportswear or business casual outfits that can be bought online.


Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.