How high tech are your uniforms?

According to Apparel Magazine’s recent post, today’s uniforms are no longer plain-Jane polyester workwear. To better serve the needs of a diverse workforce — from public safety officers to health care workers, hospitality and culinary employees, military personnel, corporate executives and industrial laborers — uniforms now use technology to combine fit, functionality and fashion.

Uniform manufacturers have seen increased demand for innovative fabrics for safety apparel driven, in part, by an updated standard issued by the National Fire Protection Association, known as NFPA-70E, as well as a new high-visibility workwear regulation issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). The NFPA-70E standard requires FR garment protection for those who work on or near electrical systems, and the FHA regulation requires all workers within road-work zones to wear ANSI-rated, high-visibility apparel while on the job.

“These changes have led to a noticeable demand for protective ‘continuous wear’ uniforms. They are comfortable, like everyday work wear, but are manufactured using advanced fabrics and technologies that protect workers from electrical arc flash burns or make them more visible on the roadways,” explains Adam Soreff, marketing director at UniFirst, a manufacturer and supplier of industrial work uniforms, corporate casual attire and specialty/protective clothing.

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers that produce high-visibility gear is the fact that 100-percent polyester is still the only fabric to meet high-visibility standards. “Imagine a road crew that has to wear a 100-percent polyester shirt or layered pieces in the summer,” says Rives of VF Imagewear, which has also experienced increased demand for high-visibility innovation. “We put UV protection, moisture-wicking and breathability into the fabric, but it’s still poly, it’s still hot. So we continue to develop new comfort features and innovations that have the needs of the job in mind.”

The secret to creating these high-performance fabrications is in the production and textile engineering processes, says Weiner of Barco Uniforms. “Our technologies come from the yarn filaments that we chose; the way we process those filaments before we knit or weave the fabrics; the formula of how we dye the product and choose our dyeing equipment; and the different softener treatments that we use,” Weiner explains.

The challenge, of course, is getting the costs of these innovations to a point that is not prohibitive — especially in today’s economy. Because of budget constraints, organizations are not refreshing their uniform programs as often, so there is even greater emphasis on a garment’s worth.

“These performance fabrics give manufacturers a value to bring to the table, a reason for organizations to make a uniform expenditure,” explains NAUMD’s Lerman. Because the advanced comfort and fit these products provide can help improve employee performance, companies gain from their investment. “It is easier for an organization today to carve out the funds for new uniforms if the garments will yield higher productivity from workers,” Lerman says.