BY JO AUSTIN
Looks matter, but when it comes to crew uniforms so too does comfort, functionality and durabilty. Jo Austin talks uniform textiles to those in the know
Delta recently unveiled a new uniform collection, a collaboration with acclaimed fashion designer Zac Posen who partnered Delta employees directly for over 18 months to develop a functional yet stylish wardrobe for the team.
On launching the new look Delta CEO Ed Bastian said: “This collection is the future… we’re changing the game in the industry.” While the look and style of the range of classic cuts with bold colour palettes won praise along the fashion catwalk, those in the know were as much interested in the fabrics as Posen’s innovative new look.
The uniforms will be produced by global lifestyle retailer Lands’ End which will manufacture and supply uniforms to approximately 60,000 Delta employees worldwide. A versatile fabric has been chosen, one that stands up to the active, fast-paced airport and onboard environment.
Following the reveal, Lands’ End began crafting uniform prototypes for Delta’s 1,000 wear testers, who will be sporting the uniforms on the job from December-March 2017.
These wear testers will identify any changes needed to improve fit, form or function before the final garments are produced. Ultimately, however great the designs look it will be the functionality and comfort that count most.
It’s a process textile manufacturers encourage. Barbara Schothorst, managing director of Netherlands-based Emergo Textile Projects (ETP), a division of the McGregor Fashion Group, says there are two main factors in uniform production.
“In Europe, at least, what counts most is the lifecycle of the product and the price. Sustainability is also key, and that goes for all company uniforms, not just those for airlines.”
The traditional type of fabrics used for tailoring are pes (polyethersulfone), wool blends and lycra, and these are still the most popular in the manufacture of tailored uniforms.
Uniforms in general have a lot to endure and should not decline in quality faster than a standard set by the TCO (Textile Commission’s Organisation). Airline uniforms, in particular, suffer more than average due to staining and hotel dry cleaning.
Schothorst believes that so long as there are no seriously compatible alternatives in terms of technical performance at equal prices this choice of fabrics is unlikely to change.
Materials that have been created through recycling processes are gaining strong publicity but do not yet meet the requirements for tailored uniform clothing. Yarns that are spun from fibres of discarded materials (recycled) need to be mono in order to get a strong yarn or otherwise need to be mixed with new fibres. The fabrics or knit that can be produced from these processes don’t yet pass the tests for uniform clothing. And the same goes for materials from alternative, sustainable natural fibres.
Uniforms cost money, which airlines consider as an indirect spend. However much an airline wants to make a statement about its sustainability, it basically comes down to cost. Schothorst is convinced that the uniform should also be evaluated as important in terms of marketing, awareness and positioning. “It is all part of the formula that enhances the overall product and really impacts on first impressions”.
Many companies are working on new concepts and there are certainly new possibilities out there, like ETP’s Smart Uniform for example.
Smart Uniforms are produced in an innovative new fabric composed of polyamide and elastane. The material is sustainable, gives more freedom of movement and is easily cleanable. However, it requires some courage to use. ETP (etp.nt) has made lifecycle assessments of this sustainably-produced material and is forecasting a recycling ability of up to 80%.
It would certainly take airline uniforms in a new direction but it is more expensive to use than regular materials. It would, however, not only mean savings in terms of CO2 it would also save a lot on dry cleaning cost/allowance, since the uniform would be washable. The fact that it is practical, very comfortable, lightweight and doesn’t wrinkle are also advantages.
ETP is very keen to pilot the uniform with a willing airline.
SkyPro in Portugal, probably best known for its crew shoes, aims to be at the forefront of the innovations and has set up a research team to work on a project called ‘The uniform of the future”. Function, adaptability and design are the main focus of this multi-disciplinary research team looking at advanced smart textiles, special finishing and wearable technologies.
The range of fibres and finishing solutions is so broad that it is possible to buy aviation uniforms with all kinds of functions and technologies, including temperature and humidity management to help crews stay fresh and comfortable in hot or cold environments.
The project team aims to establish scientifically validated standards for aviation uniforms and create a uniform that will work as a second skin. The new technology will strive to offer real improvements in the wellbeing, aging and performance of aviation professionals.
The research team is co-working with CITEVE (Technological Centre for the Textile and Clothing Industries of Portugal), one of the world’s most advanced centres in textile research, and some of the world’s leading airlines.
Vera d’Orey Mayan, marketing director at Skypro says: “Around the world professional uniforms are being reinvented by specialists and researchers in the most renowned textiles research centres, advanced uniform companies and universities, but technological innovation and knowledge doesn’t guarantee the right uniform unless those wearing them are satisfied.
The challenges of aviation uniforms have to be solved by a multi-disciplinary research team looking at the material science, technology and aviation specific cabin environments.”
Skypro has already worked with airlines such as Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabia Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta, Virgin Australia, Ethiopian Airlines, TUI group, LAM, TAROM, Air Astana, TAP and Air Mauritius.
Some great technology does seem to be coming. Technology may soon allow textiles to monitor a crew member’s body and health and even protect against mosquitoes or illness. Smart textiles could include sensors, circuits or RFID technologies to help manage human resources by tracking the crews working hours and mileage flown, their state of health and fitness to fly. On a more mundane level, self-cleaning technologies are also being introduced which could have a huge financial impact on airlines.
Measuring the body anthropometrics using a 3D body scanner technology for the perfect fitting could also be the next big break-through in global aviation. As airlines employ more multi-racial crews with different biometrics and anatomies, each and every unique body can be provided with the perfect uniform.