Style And Sincerity: Uniforms In Irish Hospitality
Uniform making is a low-key, often overlooked component of Irish tourism’s success. What are the most gifted companies holding the threads together? Hospitality Ireland reports.
Though the rising tide of Irish tourism is lifting many boats, one which may not come straight to mind is that of apparel manufacture and sales. The hospitality industry requires uniforms of, quite literally, all different shapes and sizes: everything from an Aer Lingus pilot’s cufflinks, to blazers worn by the bar staff in our leading hotels, to outfits worn by tour guides at the Jameson Distillery, and all have to be sourced and produced.
Image and first impressions, as the cliché goes, count for everything. Whether one is enjoying a cocktail in the Shelbourne’s Horseshoe Bar or lunch in Chapter One, the aesthetics of one’s environment can make or break the experience.
It is a great testament to the genuine quality of a number of Irish apparel firms that they can survive and, indeed, in some cases grow through a recession in the modern world when one considers the increasingly global and import/export-driven nature of the business in question. One must consider also the detrimental effect low-cost labour across the world can have on our indigenous uniform-making.
The dynamic between clothes-makers and those working in the hotel industry, public transport, restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions of all kinds, is a totally symbiotic one: the vast array of businesses which together make up the hospitality industry as a whole benefit from the provision of outfits of genuine quality.
"Tailored Image has a reputation for the making of innovative uniforms for a very impressive set of leading organisations across a wide range of industry sectors: its clientele include the Guinness Storehouse, Crowne Plaza, Titanic Belfast, Bus Éireann, the Merchant Hotel, Jury’s Inn and Irish Rail."
Image is everything
The reason for this is that their success is dependent, to a very significant degree, on the sheen of their personnel’s presentation. Tourists and natives alike will return to establishments when the image, among other essential factors, is executed correctly. As a result of people’s loyalty, businesses can continue to purchase top-quality clothes from Irish tailors and uniform- makers. The cycle, economy permitting, is a very good one. Loyalty is a key element here, and that often half of our top tailors’ clientele are returning-customers is demonstrative of this.
Hospitality Ireland spoke to the impressive, inventive and robust Tyrone- based firm Tailored Image, one of the few companies of its kind to grow steadily through the nation’s tempestuous and terrifying recession, in order to investigate these ideas
Tailored Image has a reputation for the making of innovative uniforms for a very impressive set of leading organisations across a wide range of industry sectors: its clientele include the Guinness Storehouse, Crowne Plaza, Titanic Belfast, Bus Éireann, the Merchant Hotel, Jury’s Inn, Irish Rail, and, most recently, Ashford Castle. Considering this somewhat breathtaking assembly, Bernard Birt said on behalf of the firm, “We treat all our clients absolutely equally, irrespective of the size of the project. Different customers may want different service offers: sometimes customers will wish for a fully managed service offer, for which we actually visit them and measure their staff, while others may want a stock-supported service.”
How does such a company survive such a vicious downturn when so many of its counterparts drowned? “We are an innovative, design-led company,” says Birt. “We are one of the few companies that still has a manufacturing component to it – manufacturing largely left these islands years ago.
“Furthermore, if we’re working on a specific project, we can do the designing and development in-house; we can, at this point, turn around a customer’s briefing very, very quickly, and to a superb standard.”
He added, “For artistic purposes, we have two full-time designers who go to Paris twice a year.”
Hospitality is one of Tailored Image’s seminal sectors, and it supplies national, international and boutique customers within it; its dynamism is such that its services extend to kitchens, to bars, to front-of-house staff, to hotels with rankings of two to five stars.
Uniforms are sourced from a variety of locations (including its own manufacturing facilities), and those of its stock-supporting partners.
Reputation for excellence
The most recent addition to its list of clients is the five-star Ashford Castle. The property is rated as one of the leading hotels in Europe, and with a reputation for excellence, it is famous for the céad míle fáilte given by its staff, as well as the splendour and elegance of its interior and grounds. To be asked to design the uniforms for such a hotel (which is now run by the Red Carnation Group), is indubitably a fabulous honour.
But what are the company’s main challenges? “We’re blessed in that even during the recession we’ve been able to grow year-on-year, every year; and we’re not just tied to the hospitality sector – we’re also doing public and private sectors as well.” Birt is modest about the achievements of Tailored Image: he says the durability of the business owes to “a really good portfolio of loyal clients.”
Following this thread, we spoke to Margaret Brosnan of Corporate Dressing Uniforms – another apparel firm that plays an understated yet pivotal role in making those working in Ireland’s hospitality industry look simultaneously professional and debonair.
Corporate Dressing Uniforms is among the most prominent uniform-makers in the south and south-west of Ireland; a firm that continued to flourish during the downturn while many of its competitors went under.
To what do they attribute their ongoing prosperity? “We believe in repeat-business, and giving our customers reason to be loyal to us,” says Brosnan, the manager of the firm. “About 50 to 60 per cent of our clientele represent repeat-business.”
Corporate Dressing Uniforms has only three staff, and yet its impact on the economy of hospitality in the west of Ireland is truly remarkable, particularly when one takes into account the massive UK apparel market with which it is competing.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: as well as serving a pivotal function for the hoteliers of the West, the firm provides clothes for bodies as diverse as the civil service, credit unions, blood banks, and even a bank in Gibraltar.
Brosnan believes that even in a world of global economy and internet purchasing, traditional values are, if the pun may be excused, what underpin success in uniform- making. She says “We want to know our customers – to know them, see them in the flesh, and build a relationship with them. We use the internet of course, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, particularly when we want to advise our clients on matters of style and comfort.” And the quality shines through. Regardless of a company’s size, there is no substitute for savoir-faire, integrity, and quality customer relations: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.