Rebranding Workwear: 5 Factors to Consider
Workwear: how important is it, really? And perhaps more importantly, what role does work clothing play in brand change? I frequently get this question in my work as a project manager for major brand change projects. My answer is simple: workwear is one of the most important elements in a rebrand – for two reasons. First, your employees are your organisation’s ambassadors. This helps influence how your customers perceive your brand and, ultimately, your organisation. Second, workwear affects your employees’ work experience. Whether they wear their uniforms with pride or reluctance makes a big difference in how they work and how they represent your brand.
Follow our 7-step approach, based on best practices from over 2,500 rebrand cases:
What are the different types of workwear?
There are several different types of work clothing. Some are purely functional, designed to help your employees perform their roles comfortably or safely. Others are more for aesthetics, worn mainly to promote your brand:
- Promotional clothing for events and campaigns.
- Representative clothing, such as those typically used by employees in customer-facing roles (i.e., hotel employee uniforms).
- Work-specific clothing, like mechanic coveralls and work trousers, as well as uniforms used in the care and service sectors (i.e., jeans, tunics, shirts, sweaters).
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as rain gear, helmets, safety vests, and protective footwear.
Why is it important for workwear to reflect your brand?
Uniforms are visual brand carriers. They are a crucial element in your offline brand strategy, helping establish brand recognition. Take DHL, for example. When you see someone in the iconic yellow and red uniform at your door, you know immediately who they are, which company they work for, and what they’re there for.
Workwear also helps employees feel a sense of affinity with your organisation. When employees feel connected to the brand that they represent, they can more effectively play their role as your brand’s most important storytellers.
“Take DHL, for example. When you see someone in the iconic yellow and red uniform at your door, you know immediately what they’re there for.”
How organisations rebrand workwear
Organisations execute workwear rebranding projects in different ways, and this usually depends on what their situations call for. Based on my experience, these are usually three ways companies introduce new uniforms to their organisation, with the first two being the most common:
1. Natural cycle replacement
As with most other brand carriers, organisations refresh their work clothing periodically. In this case, the new uniforms are introduced gradually, and it is not uncommon to see new uniforms being used alongside old uniforms. While this is not an ideal setup, especially from the branding point of view, this solution is the most cost-efficient way of rebranding workwear.
2. ‘Big Bang’ replacement
For organisations where work clothing is a vital part of brand identity, the uniform change is usually more radical. This often coincides with large-scale brand changes, with the new workwear reflecting the brand’s new visual identity.
3. Rebranding existing clothing
There are also scenarios where the workwear rebranding involves updating existing workwear, for example through logo replacement. Although it is less common, this type of workwear rebranding is still a possibility.
In this blog, I mainly want to discuss ‘Big Bang’ work clothing rebrands. This is the most complex approach, not so much because the process is long and complicated, but because there are many factors to consider.
7 steps to a successful rebrand
A practical step-by-step plan for brand, marketing and communication managers.
5 factors to consider when rebranding workwear
Here are the main factors to consider in a workwear rebrand:
1. Employee acceptance
Employees are most impacted by your workwear rebrand. After all, they are the ones who will have to wear the uniforms every single day. Not only do their work clothing affect how they work; they also impact your employees’ overall feeling of belonging within the organisation. That is why they need to be represented in the workwear selection and development process.
“Employees are most impacted by your workwear rebrand. That is why they need to be represented in the selection process.”
Here are some steps you need to take to ensure employee acceptance and comfort with the new work clothing:
- Organise garment fittings to make sure that employees are happy with the fit and quality of their new work clothing.
- Provide workwear options that accommodate employees’ more specific needs (i.e., special sizes, religious considerations, etc.).
- Put together a technical working group with sufficient employee representation to make sure that employee opinions are heard.
- Communicate the rollout of new workwear with your employees to help increase their enthusiasm and acceptance.
2. Workwear laws and regulations
Some countries have very specific laws on employee uniforms, particularly where it concerns taxes and employee safety. Make sure to consult these legal requirements before making major decisions on your workwear rebrand.
3. Standard vs. custom-made workwear
Work clothing can either be purchased off-the-shelf or made to order. Their difference mainly lies on convenience and cost:
Between the two options, buying off-the-shelf workwear is easier, faster, and, in some cases, can be cheaper. All you need to do is provide the supplier with logos and simple design instructions. The supplier can then apply these onto readily available garments, usually through embroidery or sealing. This eliminates the long process of selecting and testing garments. Though undoubtedly convenient, this option comes with its own disadvantages. For one, the design selections are limited to whatever suppliers have on hand, which can change due to a myriad of reasons (i.e., discontinued production). There aren’t as many colour, design, and sizing options either, so it may not be possible to accommodate every employee’s needs. But if speed is your top priority, buying off-the-shelf is the best way to go about your clothing rebrand.
Customised workwear is the best way to ensure that your work clothing meets your company’s exact needs. You can opt to have one agency create the uniform design for you and then find a manufacturer to produce the garments or go directly to a manufacturer that has its own design team. Although this can be more expensive than buying off-the-shelf, ordering the uniforms in bulk can significantly lower the cost. In situations where visual identity – not speed – is the primary goal for the workwear rebrand, customised uniforms are often the better option.
4. Garment production and responsible choices
Besides looking into a manufacturer’s production capacity, it is also important to consider their location as it can affect the production process and cost. Majority of work clothing manufacturers are located in Asia, particularly in China, Bangladesh, and India. There are Europe-based garment manufacturers, most of which are in Turkey, Italy, Portugal, and parts of Eastern Europe. Here are some crucial factors to consider when choosing from which region to source your work clothing:
Price: In general, garment production in Asia is significantly lower in cost than their European counterparts (by up to 50%). And though the cost of transportation raises the total cost of having your uniforms manufactured in Asia, it is still substantially lower than workwear made in Europe.
Time: Having uniforms produced in Asia is slower, because the development process (i.e., sharing, assessment and testing of fabrics and samples) takes longer due to the distance. Delivery is also expectedly slower as shipping from Asia can take between two to four months compared to the few days it would have taken to transport the uniforms by land within Europe.
Working Conditions: The global garment production industry has long since been hounded by issues of inhumane/illegal labour practices as well as sustainability issues. Although these are a bigger concern among Asian manufacturers, Europe’s garment industry is not exactly problem-free. Countless initiatives and labelling standards have been created – both from within and outside the garment industry – to assure customers that production practices adhere to ecological and humane labour standards. Though these initiatives do provide assurance, there is still the question of credibility. Which of these standards and labels are most widely accepted or are most credible? What do these labels and initiatives cover? To help provide you with a little more clarity, I’ve compiled an overview of some of the most popular initiatives and labelling standards and the specific issues they cover.
“Countless initiatives have been created to assure customers that production practices adhere to responsible labour standards.”
Recycling: Introducing new workwear also raises the question of what to do with old work clothing. While donating to charity is always an option, many companies are reluctant to do so because of the uncertainty of where the uniforms ultimately end up. No company would want to see their old company logos on a child soldier being featured on the eight o’clock news. While some suppliers do offer to collect your old uniforms to recycle, this often comes at an additional cost and is mostly symbolic than functional or even financially justifiable. That is why it is important to carefully research your recycling options.
5. Measuring, ordering, and logistics
Besides actual production concerns, rebranding work clothing also comes with other challenges, including getting the correct measurements, ordering, and uniform distribution:
Measurement: Discrepancies in sizing standards is one of the most common challenges that come with ordering custom-made workwear. For one, sizing standards may vary from region to region, and a large-sized garment from one supplier may be different from that of another. There’s also the issue of regional differences in physique, which can also affect garment fit. While allowing employees to physically try on garment samples may seem like the most practical solution, it isn’t always possible especially for larger companies. The best way to go about this would be the use of supplier-standard size tables, to conduct online advice, or to use virtual avatars.
Ordering: Different suppliers also have different ordering systems. These systems are usually designed for employees to register their clothing and sizing information on an online tool. In picking a supplier, make sure to request a demonstration on how to use their ordering tool, and include requested functionalities in the tender procedure to facilitate efficiency and accuracy. It is also advisable for organisations to create a points-based system for clothing stipends, as opposed to simply providing a financial budget to maintain equality.
Logistics: As far as logistics is concerned, getting the uniforms from the supplier to your warehouse is the easy part. It’s what comes after that presents a bigger logistical challenge. It is important to create a plan that facilitates the process of getting the uniforms to the correct employees to prevent mistakes and mix-ups. It is also important to have a clear policy on returns, particularly on costs, for situations where employees receive the wrong workwear or in less-than-ideal qualities.
Need help with workwear rebranding?
Rebranding work clothing is too often a lengthy and complex process. I’d be more than happy to help you map out possibilities in your workwear rebrand projects. Feel free to contact me via LinkedIn or get in touch directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.