CHICAGO — Those companies selling or renting uniforms will be offering their customers a bit more variety in 2014. As in previous years, customers will want performance, with products that look good, last longer, and are offered at a good price.
But after talking to several experts in the industry on this topic, they all mentioned that customers also want more choices in uniforms, so that uniform-wearers can have more say in what they wear.
Although uniform companies offer many different choices in fabrics, there is one clear-cut choice as the most popular. “The traditional 65/35 polyester/cotton blend remains the most popular feature because of its versatility to meet the needs of so many industries, as well as its overall comfort, function ease-of-care, durability, and price point,” says Adam Soreff, director of marketing for UniFirst.
“Poly/cotton remains very popular in many of our lines, but today’s fabrics also have lots of polyester, poly/wools, and poly/charmeuse blends,” adds Kristin Sharp, director of design and merchandising for Cintas.
CARE AND LAUNDERING FACTORS
Uniform companies do quite a bit of research and testing to ensure their products can withstand the rigors of industrial laundries.
“We develop uniforms to meet the needs and desires of our customers first. But they also must be designed to be durable enough to handle the industrial wash process,” Soreff says. “When it comes to our hygienic laundering, UniFirst utilizes custom enviro-friendly wash formulas matched to soiling levels, industries and fabric types of the uniforms we provide (from traditional industrial and business garments, to more specialized workwear like those in the food processing and healthcare industries).”
Cintas does extensive testing of all of its products before they are sold, according to Sharp.
“In our development process for uniforms, we test all our fabrics and garments at an outside lab in the following areas: fiber analysis, breaking strength, tear strength, colorfastness to washing, crocking light, perspiration, chlorine and flammability, to name a few. We also perform garment wash tests as well as drycleaning testing.”
“We educate our sales force and customers on the proper care of garments, and provide information on the importance of rotating garments on a daily basis to improve quality and lifespan of the garments,” Sharp adds.
For SanMar customers, the core products of polo shirts and T-shirts are designed for years of use, and therefore multiple washes in industrial laundries or at home.
“Our focus is to build a shirt that is comfortable, will last and showcase a logo well,” says Barb Herman, laundry apparel services division manager for SanMar. “These days, customers want a shirt that performs and is retail-relevant. Of course, a low cost is always helpful. We have polo shirts that cost less than a latte, but still offer performance.”
NEW STYLES FOR 2014?
All of the uniform company executives interviewed expect to offer their customers more choices next year. Cintas, for example, recently added United Airlines as a client, and has designed new uniforms for that airline’s employees.
“They had not changed styles in at least 10 years,” Sharp says. “They had heavy suiting; pants were pleated. Our new uniforms have navy as the primary color, and are beautiful, with a poly/wood blend, a lighter weight and better tailoring.”
Employees of some Cintas clients can utilize a dedicated website to mix and match their apparel.
“At Marriott, we have a separate website for uniforms, with separate categories for front desk, concierge, housekeeping and many other departments. Individuals have a choice within their categories,” Sharp says.
She does offer one specific fashion trend prediction for next year. “The color gray will be very strong in 2014,” she forecasts. “Many of our customers are asking for that color, because it goes well with many other colors.”
SanMar expects to retool some of its styles to keep them current or fresh-looking.
“Our chambray shirts, for example, now have triple stitching instead of single stitching, and our denim shirt has double pockets for both men and women,” Herman says. “While keeping our classic denim in the line to ensure customers have a choice, we don’t jeopardize long-standing programs that utilize the more classic style.”
“We represent 17 major brands,” she adds. “This gives our customers a wide variety of choices for any uniforms they might need, and this variety filters down to the end-users, who have more say in their style. With the food and beverage industry trending toward growth, restaurants and waitstaff are looking for ways to differentiate from the competition and keep departments or job types noticeably different.
“For instance, a server may wear a color block polo, while the manager wears a solid polo and the hostess wears a woven. If all of those styles are in the same color family, an image and brand can be created using apparel and logos. Oftentimes, this can be accomplished mixing brands as well.”
“Changes in work uniform styles tend to be evolutionary versus revolutionary,” UniFirst’s Soreff says. “In 2014, you’re likely to see a continuation of more fabric options being introduced, as well as wider color and pattern offerings to existing lines.”