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The Shapeshifting World of Uniforms

8 min read
Jason May 3, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way the uniform industry works. The sudden surge in orders, supply chain disruptions, shutting of physical stores, and evolving consumer behaviors in the last two years are now pushing the uniform providers globally to relook at their business dynamics.

Right from procurement to production and the eventual fulfillment of orders, uniform manufacturers, retailers, and distributors are taking aggressive steps to revamp their business model in every aspect to suit the frenetic shifts in how uniforms are made, worn, and sold in the post-pandemic world.

In this article, we take a closer look at the key developments in the uniform industries and how businesses are setting themselves to capitalize on soaring market demands after two years of lull.

How Uniform Businesses are Preparing for the Post-pandemic Run

One of the major changes across sectors has been the accelerated adoption of eCommerce among businesses and suppliers alike.

As millennials make 73% of B2B purchasing decisions, they are more inclined toward a self-serving sales model to research, buy and track orders at their own convenience. At the same time, the pandemic induced closure of brick-and-mortar stores left uniform providers with no choice but to embrace digital as their primary sales channel.

Besides the rapid digital transformation across the industry, uniform businesses have also started to focus on a more sustainable approach for enhanced user comfort, cutting down production costs, and aiding in environmental fare.

Innovation in Medical Uniforms

After the COVID breakout, uniform manufacturers serving the medical industry are pivoting toward microorganisms and fluid-resistant scrubs and medical workwear to offer better protection and comfort to healthcare professionals around the world who continue to put themselves in the harm’s way daily for the sake of patient safety.

Leading manufacturer of medical wear, VESTEX, recently launched FDA-approved workwear for enhanced worker’s safety in places prone to microbiological contamination. VESTEX fabric is designed to protect uniforms and work apparel by reducing the acquisition, retention and transmission of microorganisms on clothing. Based on the research reviewed by the FDA, VESTEX earned an exclusive endorsement from the American Hospital Association (AHA) in 2015 following the proprietary AHA Signature Due Diligence Process. Recent studies concluded VESTEX is more effective than conventional uniforms at repelling fluids and reducing the retention of methicillin-resistant staph on the fabric. 

Earlier in 2021, popular engineer and fashion designer of Nonie, Nina Kharey, had launched the world’s first antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial scrubs called Folds. They are made from post-consumer plastic including recyclable and sustainable materials. Kharey had worked with a European lab then to come up with a nanotechnology that is used in the making of these scrubs. Folds offers all the luxurious features of a high-end scrub uniform like 4-way stretch, self-cooling and moisture-wicking capabilities.

Even Swiss-based hygiene technology company, Livinguard, joined the bandwagon by launching its own line of self-disinfecting scrubs and lab coats made using EPA-registered textiles. These scrubs help reduce bacterial levels in the medical setting.

Livinguard is also working with various clinics, hospital systems, and medical associations to adopt the highest hygiene standards for the better well-being of employees, patients, and customers. Available in a wide range of colors, these self-disinfecting scrubs also have numerous pockets to enable the wearer to carry essential work items and personal belongings safely.

Innovation in Public Safety Uniforms

While the medical industry clearly has been gravitating towards sustainable uniforms for added safety and comfort, public safety industries have focussed more on durability and fitment.

One of the most important innovations in this sector has been the introduction of America-made VP3 bullet-proof vest. Made-in-the-USA and NIJ-Certified Level IIIA, the BulletSafe Vital Protection 3 (VP3) Vest is the crowning achievement of BulletSafe’s impressive collection of life-saving products. Easily concealed beneath a working uniform, this vest is ideal for law enforcement, security personnel, and anyone working in a dangerous profession. At $299.97, this vest is affordable for working-class citizens and provides the necessary peace of mind to perform their job and return home safely.

Able to protect against most calibers up to .44 Magnum, the VP3 vest is lightweight and fits snugly to its wearer via the provided height-and-weight chart. With American-based manufacturing, the size specifications are reliable and simple. The XS vest weighs 3.9lbs, and the largest size, 4XL, weighs 6.9lbs. It has wrap-around, front & rear ballistic panels to maximize protection over the heart, lungs, and other vital organs, and it can carry even larger plates in its Velcro pockets to provide Level IV protection against rifle calibers.

Next in line is UniFirst’s IQ series FR workwear offering flame-resistant (FR) and high visibility personal protective equipment (PPE). This innovative collection contains National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Category 2, 2112-compliant arc-rated safety garments that are revolutionizing the FR industry by addressing long-standing issues of garment weight, breathability, and comfort that are often commonplace when wearing more traditional FR protective workwear in warmer climates.

Innovation in Corporate Uniforms

The corporate sector has seen some progressive steps being taken by airline companies that put employee comfort and happiness above all else while defining uniform rules.

Ukrainian airline,  SkyUp, in a welcome move has decided to do away with the obligatory high heel requirement as part of their crew’s uniform policy. The new rules allow cabin crews to sport comfortable sneakers, making their long shifts a little less taxing. This decision came on the back of SkyUp’s marketing head, Marianna Gygoras’s, vision to break away from the stereotypical sexualizing of cabin crews and deliberate romanticizing of a profession that involves sheer hard work.

On the other hand, Alaska Airlines, having met with allegations of discriminatory uniform rules toward non-binary and gender non-conforming employees last year, is a welcome change to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. The new guideline gives employees the option to wear pronoun pins with their uniforms to ensure they are not misgendered, and the names of uniform kits will be changed to reflect fit instead of gender identity. 

Other notable innovations in apparel & uniform industry

1. SmartTex Shirts: Developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in cooperation with DSI Aerospace Technology, the medical faculty of Bielefeld University, and textile research partner Hohenstein, SmartTex will use integrated sensors to transfer physiological data from astronauts to Earth via a wireless communication network. SmartTex will be tested as part of the Wireless Compose-2 (WICO2) project by ESA astronaut Dr. Matthias Maurer, who will leave for his six-month ‘Cosmic Kiss’ mission on the International Space Station (ISS) on October 30, 2021.

2. Invention of World’s First 100% Recyclable Fiber: In a breakthrough innovation, a textile innovation company, Evrnu®, announced the launch of the world’s first high-performance, recyclable lyocell material made entirely from cotton textile waste: 100% NuCycl r-lyocell. The use of cotton textile as a raw material ensures this bio-based fiber replaces virgin cellulosic and other plastic-based textile materials while maintaining recyclability. Evrnu has even launched a premium t-shirt made with this new fiber designed by Carlos Camos. 

Increasing Adoption of Ecommerce by Uniform Businesses

Not only has the pandemic changed the way uniforms are made, but also how they are sold. With millennials making 73% of B2B purchasing decisions, they are looking to have a self-service uniform buying website to search, order, and track workwear at their own convenience.

As a result of this, more number of uniform manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are adopting a 100% digital sales model of serving uniforms to their clients. Enterprise eCommerce solutions built to handle the complexities of uniform industry are the need of the hour, as they play a pivotal role in reducing marketing overheads while giving buyers a highly personalized uniform buying platform.

Integrated B2B eCommerce platforms for uniform manufacturers that enable their distributors and wholesalers to order online, track and manage sales data from a single platform and give them the freedom to control how their brand is represented by their customers is one major reason why eCommerce is emerging as a dominant force in the post-pandemic times.

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