by Adria Mirabelli
At the beginning of the year, British Airways unveiled a new employee uniform, with a collection theme titled “A British Original”.
With the previous designer being Julien MacDonald, this new shift was the first in two decades. Led by British-Ghanaian designer, Ozwald Boateng OBE, his experience includes previously working on Savile Row as a master tailor. Additionally, the designer’s eponymous brand produces both ready-to-wear and made-to-order collections which are available on his website and within his flagship store in London.
As airline uniforms hold an interesting place within popular culture and are often sources of inspiration in ready-to-wear fashion collections, the decision to redesign one for a global brand is a culturally significant one. More importantly, the real-life impact that these uniform designs will have on a quantifiable number of people, (according to a press release by British Airways, over thirty-thousand), calls upon good design with necessity. It was important for British Airways to have a uniform that represents and respects the diversity of the people within its organization.
Boateng’s approach was to reconsider the functionality of the uniforms through a human-centred design. In order to learn what their unique needs were, Boateng met with British Airways employees over a period of four years, beginning in 2018. The designer spoke with more than 1,500 employees and gained insight from on-the-job trials. Material tests were also conducted to ensure that they could endure extreme cold, were both waterproof and had durability.
Believing that Britain has evolved culturally to have more diversity and texture, Boateneg, therefore, acknowledges British Airways employees deserve a uniform that aligns with that growth.
We see the physical manifestation of texture expressed with the collection’s use of jacquard fabrics, with over 90% of them made from recycled polyester. Accessories such as scarves, ties and belts are seen embossed with an “airwave pattern” or decorated with the British Airways “speedmarque” logo. The classic uniform colours of dark blue, rich red and crisp white remain.
This collection was fully tailored to the needs of employees in each specific role while adding more inclusive uniform options. This included a three-piece suit for men, a tailored jumpsuit for women, as well as a tunic and hijab option available for all employees.
The collection will begin to be worn as early as Spring 2023. During that time, employees can also return their old uniform for it to either be recycled, donated, or kept at the British Airways Museum.
Boateng’s work honours the needs of the British Airways staff while subtly elevating the aesthetics of the iconic airline. As uniforms are not often regarded highly for their comfort and functionality, this collection revolutionizes the concept of the uniform as something that is in service of the people who are wearing it, rather than solely the opposite. The more expansive options within the uniform collection speak positively to a movement of inclusivity within the fashion industry.
Regarding the collection, Boateng stated, “Designing this uniform was a vast and painstaking undertaking and it went far beyond clothes. It was about creating an energetic shift internally. One of my main objectives was to create something that spoke to, and for, the airline’s colleagues. Something that inspired and empowered them, encouraged them to conduct their roles with pride and most importantly to ensure that they felt seen and heard. Although the airline has a strong heritage, it was imperative to support in creating a fresh narrative of change and transcendence, while remaining timeliness.”
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