Updated: Jul 13
Ralph Goldfinger is Co-CEO of Toronto-based apparel manufacturer Canada Sportswear. Since 1954 his company has been supplying wearables to retail outlets and corporate customers across Canada. An apparel expert who has experienced fashion fads and industry changes across decades, we asked Ralph for his insight on today's top trends in branded apparel, and how uniformdesign, decoration, and manufacturing has changed.
1. Uniform Customization and Individuality
Many organizations have recognized the importance of allowing employees to express their individuality while maintaining a cohesive look. As a result, there has been a rise in customized uniform options. This can involve offering a range of colours, style variations, and accessory choices to suit diverse preferences within a unified uniform framework.
2. Uniforms made with Sustainable Materials
With a growing focus on sustainability, there has been a shift towards environmentally friendly uniform options. Uniform manufacturers are incorporating more eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and bamboo fabrics. This change reflects a broader trend of adopting sustainable practices across various industries.
3. Uniforms with Modernized Silhouettes
Uniform silhouettes have been modernized to align with contemporary fashion trends. This includes slimmer cuts, tailored designs, and cleaner lines. The aim is to create a more polished and fashionable appearance while retaining a professional and cohesive look for the organization.
4. Technology Integration in Uniforms
Uniforms have started incorporating technology-driven features. For example, some uniforms now have integrated smart devices, such as RFID tags or embedded sensors, for tracking and monitoring purposes. These technological advancements enhance security, streamline operations, and improve overall efficiency.
5. Gender Neutral Designs
A growing recognition of gender diversity and inclusivity in uniform fashion. Many organizations have moved away from strictly gendered uniform options and have adopted gender-neutral designs.
6. Influence of Streetwear
Bold colours, graphic elements, and relaxed silhouettes are examples of how uniforms have become more visually engaging, reflecting a contemporary aesthetic that resonates with younger audiences.
"It's worth noting that the extent of these changes may vary across industries and organizations, as uniform requirements differ depending on the nature of the work and the company's culture...."
Whether it be retail, hospitality, airline industry, healthcare, athletics, corporate wear, workwear or safety wear, the overall trend has been towards more comfortable,
customizable, sustainable, and fashion-forward uniform designs.
Modern uniforms are becoming an expression of the type of individuals that an organization desires to attract to their brand, rather than a tool of homogenization and conformity.
This is evident in the consideration of comfort, performance, individual style expression, and designs inspired by streetwear and gender neutrality. With respect to fabrics that are currently being employed in uniform manufacturing, innovations in technology and demand for superior performance have driven change in several categories. In addition to comfort and aesthetic, manufacturers now consider added-value fabric features such as:
7. Strength and durability
8. Waterproofing and/or water repellency
9. Moisture management
10. Regulated thermal insulation properties
11. Abrasion resistance
12. Antimicrobial properties
13. Enhanced colour fastness
14. UV protection from the sun
15. Skin hydration
16. Insect repellency
Innovations in manufacturing technology introduced new fabric features that prolong the life of the garment, protect the wearer from environmental dangers, and help to regulate body temp for improved physical and mental performance.
Embroidery has been a reliable method of apparel decoration for a long time. While advancement in technology has made it easier and less expensive, new methods have been developed to meet the creative needs of designers seeking to better replicate digital graphics in full photo colour, with options to add texture and depth to logo presentation, and reach new locations. Advancements in apparel decoration is one of the most exciting changes in today's marketplace, opening up possibilities only limited by imagination.
17. Digital (Apparel) Printing Technology
Digital printing technology has been one of the most significant advancements in uniform decoration. This method allows high quality images to be printed directly onto fabrics, which provides more vibrant and detailed images than traditional screen printing
18. Heat Transfer Decoration
Advances in Heat Transfer logos and designs provided uniform decoration that is performed quickly and easily, with little waste or pollution. This process is also cost-effective and ideal for small production runs.
19. Laser Etching Decoration
Laser Etching creates a precise look. It involves using a laser to burn the design onto the fabric, permanent and untarnishable.
20. Decoration with Labels and Patches
Labels and Patches, woven or sublimated are best recognized as a decoration staple for security and first responders. They are custom made for each division which allows individuals to identify position/rank within an organization. They are also popular as a vintage decoration option, and can be sold separately as a collectible or keepsake.
Apparel providers like Trimark Sportswear, Alphabroder, Attraction Inc. and Canada Sportswear offer in-house decoration and access to designers with background knowledge in techniques, technologies and positioning to help brand managers develop retail-inspired fashions and best-fit solutions.
21. Using Reflective Materials
Reflective taping and logos have become part and parcel of high visibility uniforms, and are also finding a fit as an attention-grabbing decoration option. Brand elements can be incorporated into safety apparel designs.
22. Using Textured, Specialty Decoration
Specialty Inks such as discharge (where the dye from the shirt is removed), puff, glitter, glow in the dark and metallic inks are newer options in screen printing offering brands greater opportunity to showcase features and benefits of their products or services in custom apparel designs.
23. Multi-media, Applique Creations
Applique involves stitching smaller pieces of fabric or onto a larger piece to create designs or patterns, and mix different decoration methods on the same garment. This multimedia technique is delivering 3-dimensional results with interesting textures and aesthetics.
24. Digital Custom, Dye-sublimation
Dye-sublimation printing is a top option for custom apparel desired to best-replicate on-screen digital graphic designs. In the decoration process, dye is heated until it turns into a gas, at which point it diffuses onto the garments and solidifies for a permanent fade-resistant finish. This allows for various types of printing to be applied on custom made uniforms, including design technique likes gradients and fades, photos of people and/or product, and personalizations.
25. Direct-to-Garment Printing
DTG or Direct-to-Garment printing is not an economical process, but due to its minimal set up costs it is often more economical than screen printing when many colours are involved, particularly if the quantity is small. DTG printing provides opportunity to create on-demand apparel, with personalizations and full-colour prints.
On the topic of popular styles, the reality is that branded apparel options have exploded to keep pace with the unique functional and aesthtetic demands of different organizations.
Here are some general comments on the growing number of style options...
26. The Athleisure Trend
Combining athletic and leisure wear has heavily influenced uniform fashion. Organizations are opting for sporty and comfortable uniform styles, incorporating elements like performance fabrics, stretch pants and sneakers to create a relaxed atmosphere.
27. Minimalist and Clean Designs
Minimalism is a popular choice for uniform fashion, working with clean lines, simple silhouettes and neutral color palettes. This combination delivers a sophisticated, timeless and professional appeal of cohesive polish across an organization.
28. Retro and Nostalgic Vibes
Incorporating vintage-inspired elements into uniforms involves using colours and patterns associated with a particular time period or pop culture icon, to create a styled aesthetic that invokes recall of that era resulting in emotional response.
29. Customization and Mix-Match
Offering customization options and mix-and-match pieces has become increasingly popular with uniform programs. This allows team members to personalize their branded ensemble within guidelines, and still present a consistent organizational appearance. Diverse uniform offers might include diverse colour options from the brand pallette, style accessories such as headwear, or layering pieces, and style options to accomodate preferences such as short or long sleeves, pullover or zip-up top, fitted or loose/casual cut. The ability to mix and match garments adds a sense of control and individuality, while maintaining a unified brand image.
To help brand managers with coordinating uniform colours that compliment in a mix-and-match program, Canada Sportswear developed a Shop By Colour guide book, available on their website, to illustrate style and colour pallette examples. Click the image above to open the Shop By Colour uniform apparel selection guide book.
30. What makes a GREAT uniform?
A great uniform today is one that a team member wears becaue they want to, not because they have to. Many of today's uniform programs offer choice to an individual, and prioritize both style and functionality to ensure that wearers can move freely and comfortably throughout their workday. Safety is top of mind, to make sure that team members are visible and protected in their work environment. Brand elements are more commonly incorporated into retail-inspired decorative designs to meet desired fashion aesthetics. When team members are happy to wear the uniform then they are proud brand ambassadors, and that's great for recruitment and retention. mem
as featured in the June 2023 edition of marketingedge magazine