If Looks Could Thrill
There was a time when wearing a spa uniform meant either dressing in all black, home-grown clothing, or a white lab coat. As the spa industry has matured, however, so has the need to present a staff that looks professional. Fortunately, we have many more options now when it comes to outfitting our staff for success. Nothing supports the aura of professionalism like a staff in uniform. When a client enters your spa for the first time and encounters staff members dressed in clean, crisp uniformity, it puts the client at ease, allowing him or her to quickly ascertain who works there and who doesn't, and lets the client know, in a subtle way, that details are important to you. These are great benefits for the client, but there are also unexpected bonuses for the spa. Staff members often say that donning a uniform makes them feel more prepared. "I wear two different hats—one as a manager and one as an esthetician," says Dana Tarasevicius, manager and esthetician at Drew Patrick Spa (Bay Shore, NY). "On treatment days, I put on my uniform, and I am confident I look neat, clean, and professional. I find the days I dress in a business casual style as a front desk manager to be more of a challenge. I need to look professional and stylish on those days too, but I have to do it with my own wardrobe. The uniform I wear as an esthetician makes it easy for clients to know I am available to assist them."
The Asian-inspired uniforms of Mandarin Oriental spas reinforce the brand's exotic Far Eastern appeal.
At PCH Resorts, an Alabama-based owner of five Marriott hotels and spas, corporate spa director Susie Marquez wanted the spa uniforms to build a consistent image. "Image has a lot to do with behavior," she says. "If you know you are wearing something that fits well and makes you look nice, your posture and demeanor change, and you'll be confident. On the flip side, when you're wearing something that is stained, too tight, or even has a hole in it, the opposite happens."
The uniforms at The Oriental Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok feature sleeve and button embellishments, which help make therapists' appearance distinctive.
Narrowing the Choices
Now that multiple companies are designing and manufacturing spa uniforms, there are more choices. The number of options available allows you to select a look that may be clean and contemporary, Asian, clinical, or more relaxed. The colors and style of the clothing should complement your spa decor and branding in a way that allows staff in uniform to blend in rather than stand out. Lawrence Grum, managing director of Yeah Baby, a uniform designer and manufacturer, offers clients a four-step process for identifying the right choice:
1. Style: Does the uniform choice extend the unique components of my brand while flattering all body types?
2. Comfort: Will this uniform enable a wide range of motion for therapists?
3. Durability: Are the uniforms rugged enough to withstand repetitive movement, laundering, and exposure to facial creams and massage oils?
4. Budget: Do the elements of the uniform create a garment that will deliver value?
Noel Asmar, founder and CEO of Spa Uniforms, says the most important factor in a uniform is quality. "Put your uniform candidates through a real-life test," she says. "Perform a trial run—get oils and other products on it and wash it. Be sure colors don't fade and the fabrics don't pill. Pay a few dollars more to have a quality uniform; purchasing a poor quality uniform will, on average, cost you double, as you will have to replace the uniform far more often."
Clare Cook, co-founder of Tao Freedom of the Body, says to remember that not everyone has the same size and shape. "You need to find something that flatters everyone, so they are more comfortable and happier at work," she says. "Also, we're all looking for more for our money. A quality material means comfort, long-lasting wear, and consistent shape and color—ideally with less washing needed. This is far more sustainable in the long run." Asmar adds, "Fabric is the single most important detail to consider when selecting a uniform, as these garments will be washed several times per week, perhaps in an industrial washer. In order for your uniform program to be cost effective, you must ensure that the fabric is top quality."
Taking Differences Into Account
Front desk and support staff also need attire that is comfortable and professional. Some spas provide a single style and/or color of uniform, while others may dress different departments in different designs or colors. Some spas supply just a top or tunic for everyone, and employees wear their own pants or skirts, in a defined color. It is also common for massage therapists and some estheticians who are outfitted in tunic-style tops to greet and escort the client to a treatment in the tunic but to remove it during service, while wearing a top that is easy to work in. "All of our staff members wear the same black tunic top with a T-shirt underneath and elastic-waist pant," says Marquez. "After the client has been escorted to the treatment room, our massage therapists remove the tunic and wear a T-shirt while performing the massage."
The short-sleeved uniforms worn at Larimar Spa at the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa are ideal for working in the island heat.
Creating a Uniform Budget
There are no hard and fast guidelines on budgeting for uniforms, but most spa directors report that they allot $100 to $125 per uniform. Full-time staff members are generally issued two to three uniforms, while part-timers may get one or two. More are made available at-cost to staff who need them. Typically, staff members are responsible for laundering their own uniforms, and the uniform should be expected to last, for a full-time employee, anywhere from one to three years. Most uniform providers will embroider your company logo, which can add to the appearance and professionalism of your staff, into the uniform for an additional fee. The last piece of the uniform should be a mandatory name tag. It's not part of the fabric uniform, but it is equally important.
Keeping Up With the Trends
Nowadays, uniform selection is becoming more diverse. Asmar says the current trend in uniforms is color. "Spa employers are getting more comfortable straying from the typical white uniform," she says. At Tao, Cook has found that more modern, sleek styles are popular. "Layering is great, because pieces can be changed around for different looks, giving employees some flexibility in their daily appearance," she says. Grum says he is also seeing a trend toward simple elegance. "The emphasis is less on fashion and more on function and comfort," he says. "We're losing unneeded embellishments, which drive up cost and drive down durability. Plus, we're seeing medical spa owners who want staff members to look more relaxed and less clinical."
All manufacturers reported an increase in the demand for custom work, such as a signature color or addition of vents and darts, shortened or lengthened sleeves, or different closures or lengths. There has been some interest in eco-friendly fabrics, although, so far, there have been durability challenges. At this point, most manufacturers recommended approaching sustainability from another direction, that of investing in durable uniforms that last longer and are easier to care for.
Building Your Brand
Both spa and corporate owners are realizing that spas create an intimate experience for guests who spend a lot of one-on-one time with staff members. "Uniforms have become a real signature piece for a spa property," says Asmar. "Owners and spa directors are selecting styles and colors that complement their corporate branding as one of the most powerful ways to communicate their brand values. A uniform that says, 'I am professional, clean, qualified, and here to take care of you.'"
"Having your staff members in the right uniform also enhances their performance; it puts them in a position to perform at their best," says Grum. And, says Cook, "The clothing you're providing for your staff and service providers has to be more than just a uniform—it should be something your staff enjoys wearing. Everyone is happier when they are comfortable and feel good; they will give off a better energy, and therefore provide a better-quality of service." —Lisa M. Starr
Lisa M. Starr has more than 28 years of experience in the beauty industry. She is currently the senior east coast business consultant to new and existing spas and salons for Wynne Business, a leading spa consulting company. Her expertise includes business operations and finances, marketing and advertising, inventory management, human resource development, sales, and public relations. Email her at email@example.com.
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