Market Share: White Castle Listens To Employees, Adds Durags To Uniforms
For employees, companies can use promotional products for a myriad of intents, from recognition and appreciation to incentives, on-boarding packages, gifting and brand unity. But when used as part of employee uniforms, specially curated products can also support and promote a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as shown by a recent update to White Castle’s uniforms, and one that marks an important milestone in the fast-food industry.
White Castle, which has 377 locations nationwide that are mostly concentrated in the Midwest and New York metropolitan area, wanted to update its uniforms to commemorate its 100th year in business. The company often surveys employees about their uniforms and found that many employees requested durags. Considering employees’ needs, White Castle designed one, marking the first time a fast-food chain has offered branded durags as part of employee uniforms. Durags are popular in Black American culture and became a cultural symbol in the ’60s. They are worn to preserve moisture in the scalp and create a wave-like effect on hair. They also keep hair covered and out of one’s face, which is particularly helpful in kitchen environments, or when working with food in general.
To design the durags and give the uniforms a refresh, White Castle requested the help of award-winning, Liberian-American fashion designer, Telfar Clemens. Clemens, who founded his eponymous brand TELFAR, a Bushwick, Brooklyn-based unisex fashion label, and who’s also a DJ, has a reputation for pushing the boundaries in inclusive fashion. His line, which is sold internationally, carries the slogan, “It’s not for you—it’s for everyone.” White Castle’s uniforms now include a t-shirt, polo shirt, visor, apron and durag, all designed in light and royal blue and black, and featuring White Castle’s logo with references to its centennial anniversary. Through the durags and refreshed uniforms, Fast Company writes that Clemens helped convey that fast-food workers are deserving of functional uniforms that are both sleek and fashion-forward, and which they’re proud to wear.
To further commemorate the event, photographer Elliot Jerome Brown Jr. snapped photos of employees working in the Bayside location in Queens, New York, as part of an intimate portrait series. Brown’s photos offer a look into employees’ lives during the pandemic, when they often arrived early and stayed late during a time when many stayed home.
The partnership between TELFAR and White Castle is a continuation of one that started in 2015, when the chain hosted TELFAR’s afterparty during New York Fashion Week at its Times Square location, complete with DJs and a make-your-own-burger bar. Clemens also fully redesigned its uniform in 2017, creating a unisex style for White Castle’s 10,000 employees, and also selling the uniform as streetwear fashion on TELFAR’s website. Proceeds from the limited-edition White Castle collection, featuring both TELFAR’s and White Castle’s logos, went to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Liberty and Justice Fund, a nonprofit human rights advocacy organization that provides bail to imprisoned minors.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.