16 Feb 2017 20:29 IST

When uniforms get personalised

Hospitality brand Andaz wants its employees’ outfits to reflect their personalities too

Earlier this month SpiceJet unveiled a “redder, hotter, spicier” uniform for its workforce. According to SpiceJet CMO Debojo Maharshi, the new range of uniforms are designed to amplify the brand values of SpiceJet, though he adds that comfort also played a critical role while conceptualising the new outfits.

In the travel and hospitality sector, uniforms play a critical role in evoking brand connect, trust and credibility among guests. A survey done by JD Power and Associates some years ago found that customers perceived employees wearing uniforms as more competent, knowledgeable and professional.

From the employee perspective, surveys have shown that dressing alike to work promotes greater solidarity among the workforce, helps remove hierarchies and instills feelings of pride and responsibility for the organisation. Also, when designed well, uniforms can enhance performance at work. As Yatan Ahluwalia, director and head operations of Y&E Style Media, an image consultancy, says, “If you look good, you tend to feel good and perform well.”

Clothing certainly carries a great deal of symbolism so is it any surprise that retailers, hoteliers and airlines are investing a lot in outfitting their staff in smart attire? It certainly helps in visual branding – you instantly connect red uniforms with SpiceJet staff, blue with Indigo, yellow with Jet and so on.

Breaking the dress code

One hotel, however, is now breaking the dress code of its industry in novel fashion. Walk into newly opened Andaz – a Hyatt brand – at Delhi’s Aerocity and you will find the staff wearing clothes that are far from uniform. The girl who greets you at the front door is attired in a short blue-and-white jacket worn over a white top while her colleague is sporting a lacy blue long coat. In the restaurants you spot staff wearing denim dungarees.

Heddo Siebs, General Manager, Andaz, New Delhi says the hotel is setting a new trend in employee fashion by personalising uniforms. At the Delhi hotel, six sets of everyday wear have been designed by couturiers Lecoanet Hemant. Employees can choose any three sets which they feel will suit their personal style the most.

“We want our employees to be themselves to underline their personality,” says Siebs. He explains: “It’s so that they can look after guests as they would look after friends and family visiting them at home.”

According to Siebs, personalisation is a feature of all the Andaz hotels worldwide, though in every country they work with local designers. “For example, at Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, we worked with fashion designer Richard Chai on a collection of eight simple, sophisticated pieces for our hotel hosts,” he says.

Confusing guests?

Yatan Ahluwalia is a bit skeptical of Andaz’s approach, though. “It’s a new concept and I appreciate the thought behind it. But it will be confusing to guests,” he says disapprovingly.

It’s early days yet for Andaz in India. This is the first time the brand is opening here, so it is hard to fathom guest feedback yet. But the employees sound delighted.

Aakansha Khemani, sales manager at the hotel, describes how she has chosen three trouser suit sets. “All of them are very comfortable, which is completely different from the uptight boring blacks and greys that I have normally worn in my previous tenures with other hotels,” she says.

So will we see others adopting this approach? Unlikely, is the general verdict. Though employees today have a far greater say when uniforms are redesigned by their organisations. For instance, SpiceJet’s Maharishi says that all the trial sessions were done with staff and first-hand views on design and comfort obtained.

Ties for male cabin crew were actually introduced on popular demand from staff.

(This article first appeared in The Hindu Business Line)