Valerie Hayman Sklar, president of Detroit-based Corporate Specialties, helps B2B companies enhance their marketing with branded products.
Spring 2020: T-shirts and joggers became the preferred work-from-home “uniform.” It was a time when we needed comfort, and wearing cozy clothes gave us that sense of solace.
But that was then; this is now. Workers are returning to hybrid offices. Meetings are off Zoom and back in person. And the sale of business attire is up, according to a New York Post article. Employees are refreshing their wardrobes, and if you are incorporating branded corporate apparel into your employee relations benefits or structured uniform programs, there are certain factors to consider.
Three Questions That Bring Clarity To Branded Corporate Apparel Programs
To maximize ROI from branded apparel expenditures, you must choose garments that make sense for your brand and are items employees will love wearing.
But there’s more to purchasing perfect pullovers or selecting sublime shirts than you might think. Before determining any garments, get strategic. By beginning with a big-picture view, you’ll be better equipped to make the right choices down the line. To get started, ask yourself these questions:
1. What garments align with your corporate culture?
Just like someone’s clothing choices say a lot about that individual’s personality, corporate apparel must align with your brand’s persona to create a unified image. What’s your corporate culture like? Relaxed or formal? Whimsical or conservative? Casual or tailored? The answers will direct you toward styles that are a good match.
Where a landscaping company might be drawn to moisture-wicking polo shirts, for instance, a luxury real estate firm may find blazers, tailored button-down shirts (and perhaps coordinating branded silk ties, pocket squares or scarves) more in keeping with its brand identity. For a casual look, go for blazers plus imprinted t-shirts, keeping the logo narrow so it fits within the lapels.
Style works in conjunction with functionality. What kind of work is done while wearing the apparel? Inside or outside? Little exertion at a computer or more laborious tasks?
Take an apartment community as another example; leasing consultants typically have a tailored appearance and need garments that can be layered (shirts, pullovers, vests, jackets) since their jobs require traditional office work combined with walking out on the property during all seasons. Conversely, maintenance staff need durable garments to withstand the job’s required physicality plus heavier layering options (coats, hats, gloves) for extended time spent outside in inclement weather.
Color is also a factor. Choosing colors that match or coordinate with your official palette is a logical extension of your brand. Color can be implemented via the garment’s hue, or you can use neutral fabric to showcase decoration colors.
Speaking of decoration, this is where your logo comes to life. How you approach decoration techniques depends on brand personality. Is your brand bold? Then high-contrast colors and large imprints could work. Is your image more subtle? Going for smaller, embroidered logos or tone-on-tone decoration options may ring true.
By looking at how apparel style, function, color and decoration combine for a unified image, you’ll be able to create a suite of garments that represent your corporate culture properly and professionally.
2. Is corporate responsibility and sustainability a consideration?
Many organizations have defined corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives for the products and services they provide. Do these same standards apply to your organization’s branded merchandise? (Hint: They probably should.)
Employees and consumers are savvy. They can spot when a company isn’t living up to its brand values. So, consider how you express these values via your corporate apparel.
What does this look like in practicality? Take an organic farm or organic cosmetics company, for example. It would be logical to use wearables made from organic cotton, bamboo or hemp so the brand promise of being organic carries through to the firm’s merchandise.
Furthermore, a municipal recycling center might be interested in fabrics made from recycled polyester fibers, recycled plastic bottles or even recycled insulation to stay true to its mission.
Additionally, a nonprofit organization supporting women and children would want branded apparel made ethically with a fair wage, and a government entity or political party would benefit from USA-made products.
Whatever your corporate values are, be sure your branded apparel doesn’t contradict your ideals. Having alignment between your principles and your merchandise can strengthen the connection you have with employees while further telling your brand’s story.
3. How can you create opportunities to build community around your branded apparel?
Once you have the garments, what are you going to do with them? How will employees know what’s appropriate?
For those with official uniform programs, expectations should be outlined in the employee handbook. For those where corporate apparel is a perk that can be worn anytime, look for ways to incorporate it into business routines and rituals.
You could choose a day of the week for employees to wear their apparel to instill a team atmosphere. Have fun with it. Maybe you utilize a hashtag like #workshirtwednesday, and you encourage staff selfies as well as post pictures to corporate social media accounts.
If you’re doing community outreach or supporting a charitable organization, such as having a cleanup day at a local park or participating in a 5k walk, I recommend creating shirts for the event. This not only builds team spirit but also keeps other participants visible and easily identifiable — and of course, the photos will be on point.
Using branded apparel as a means of creating community and a team environment helps further employee engagement initiatives and helps cultivate a positive culture that’s essential to boosting morale and instilling loyalty.
Takeaway: Corporate Apparel Programs Build Connections, Community And Your Brand
Starting with a sound strategy is a sure-fire way to ensure corporate apparel and uniform programs resonate with employees and stay true to your brand. Answers to the above questions will guide you and help you navigate all the options that align with your brand and budget.