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Corporate fashion: how to create a successful launch

Julia Bernert

Published on 18.11.2019

Today, companies are prepared to invest millions in a consistent corporate identity that embraces everything from the company letterhead right through to corporate behaviour across all its different divisions whilst simultaneously avoiding any potential pitfalls. So it is perfectly logical that companies do not want to leave the appearance of their employees to chance either – especially if they come into direct contact with the customer. However, anyone who knows what the outfitting process is like for staff, also knows just how difficult and gruelling this particular task can be. Without a great deal of tact and diplomacy it can be a real nightmare. But why is introducing corporate fashion often such a minefield and what can be done to avoid problems arising in the first place?

Service enterprises, in particular, often provide no tangible product that can be experienced in a physical way by their customers. Instead, customer perceptions of the company’s services solely depend on the direct contact that occurs between employee and customer. Corporate fashion can help improve this contact and even help to steer it. Clothing always has a cultural significance and lends its wearer attributes that can also be useful in customer contact. Lufthansa’s uniforms, for example, lend their wearers authority thanks to their military feel. They suggest surety and confidence to the passenger. Couriers tend to dress in a sportier manner, implying speed and reliability. Anyone wearing corporate fashion stands out as an employee of that company. This makes it easier for customers to identify a contact person. A further consequence is that people in uniform stand out more, they are always immediately identifiable as members of the company so that they are also under more social control. It also helps promote team spirit within a company.

However, the control potential of clothing has its limitations, especially among large and heterogeneous teams of employees who should be dressed uniformly. We all rely on our own subjective individual everyday experiences when it comes to judging clothes. Something a young man may enjoy wearing may be totally unacceptable for an older person. Clothing is littered with a whole plethora of individual attitudes regarding colours, designs and materials. If you do not want to risk bad-tempered staff then, you will need to compromise which, of course, severely limits your design opportunities. We have also all learnt to express our individuality through fashion. It is not easy for everyone to forego this freedom just because of their job. Thus, for example, women often have more problems accepting uniformity than men do, and consequently tend to underline their individuality visually more with accessories. Furthermore, we also tend to see what we achieve at work as being a result of our own individual performance. This is why, for example, people in senior positions and with a high level of education tend to have greater problems with donning corporate fashion which makes them look the same as everyone else. This is why, for example, banks in Germany have hitherto been unable to introduce corporate fashion, despite several attempts to do so. Uniformity tends to be viewed more critically in Germany in comparison to other countries anyway. It is only really accepted if the uniform is intended to create a uniform image for the customer – i.e. the outside world. A uniform that is purely directed inwards and not worn by people with customer contact tends to be rejected and is greeted with feelings of mistrust.

So what do we learn from all this? Trying to introduce corporate fashion without respecting the needs of the wearer can have the opposite effect to what was originally intended.

Principles of successful corporate fashion concepts:

  • Involve those affected and encourage active staff participation in the project
  • Go for clothing designs and colours that enjoy broad acceptance
  • Integrate diversity by creating a broad wide-ranging collection of garments
  • Use easy-care materials / minimise care required
  • Offer the opportunity of having workwear cleaned centrally
  • Have a fixed routine for updating designs (between 2 and 4 years)
  • Carry out wearability tests during the concept phase
  • Free usage of the clothing

BU: The new uniform of the Chinese Hainan Airlines signalizes tradition rather than authority:
Image: Hainan Airlinesss