April 14, 2024

Uniforms and their messages

Uniform design policies are evolving. They are not just about brand but need to appeal to both passengers and employees too...

Uniforms are not merely practical workwear. They ensure staff are easily identifiable, can forge a sense of team belonging and, beyond that, are a way to project a brand’s image.  

Keith Yates, the Executive Chairman of Yates + Partners, and his team have worked with many travel brands on this and he identifies three key steps. 

The first thing is to define what the brand seeks to align with. Next comes work to identify a look and style that resonates brand integrity with the target audience. And third is gathering customers feedback regarding the value proposition.   

Yates recently worked on the branding design for Bahrain International Airport’s luxury lounge, The Pearl, and recalls: “This was an interesting process. Inclusion was an important factor for the brand, with a view to encouraging all types of guests to visit and spend time in the lounge; while generosity – a fundamental element of Middle Eastern hospitality, and openness were also drivers in shaping the lounges.”

During the process, airport representatives were presented with life-sized models of the proposed uniforms for chefs, lounge ambassadors and bar hosts. “We talked about the brand and asked questions such as does this uniform signal inclusion? Does it exclude? Is it too formal? Does it fit with the Middle Eastern view of generosity?” recalls Yates of a key meeting. 

“By giving our client real things to consider, I think they were able to understand much more about what they wanted. Uniforms are integral elements in branding,” he adds.

He believes the same principles apply for onboard uniforms and branding, saying: “My personal view is the presentation or expression of the crew in the cabin is more about how an airline intends to position its brand than anything else. A good example is how Virgin Australia ditched its casual shirt look for the more classic red dressy look of the current uniform with the intent to better position the carrier with the ‘travelling for business’ customer.” 

Employee priorities

Nikki Dines, Air New Zealand’s Chief People Officer, believes uniform supports team spirit. She says: “Our people feel really proud wearing the Air New Zealand uniform, which is intrinsically linked to the airline’s brand identity. We are continuously reviewing our uniform and grooming standards to understand what is important to our customers, our people and the environment we are operating in.”

Since 2019 the airline has allowed employees to display tā moko (culturally significant Māori tattoos) and tattoos. “This is part of our wider mission to create an environment where Air New Zealanders feel comfortable to be themselves,” explains Dines of a policy which allows people to express their individuality and cultural heritage.

“Air New Zealand remains committed to building and nurturing a diverse workplace that reflects the make-up of Aotearoa [New Zealand]. We know having an inclusive tattoo and tā moko policy helps us to attract a wide range of people to join the airline, and to support our Air New Zealand employees to be themselves,” says Dines of the benefits.

Likewise, Virgin Atlantic allows visible tattoos and has a uniform policy that factors in self-expression. Changes to uniform policy were in part designed to broadened the airline’s appeal as an employer. “We have seen cabin crew applications increase as a result of our change and the campaign around it, and have also received applications from more diverse applicants,” reveals Anna Catchpole, the airline’s Senior PR Manager.

“We really listen to our people. They are our greatest asset. This update came as a result of a conversation with our new recruits and similarly, in 2019, we offered our cabin crew the choice whether to wear make-up as well as the option to wear trousers and flat shoes,” she says.

Being comfortable with a uniform and all it stands for is important for staff in an industry that continues to face recruitment issues following the pandemic.