It’s getting more and more difficult for makers of workwear to differentiate themselves in an ever more crowded space. What’s more, the term ‘workwear’ no longer seems to have a clearly defined meaning. So in order to compete, some companies are going way outside the lines of American norms. Others are inventing new terms. It’s all in an attempt to make some sense of workwear as a clothing category.
Uniform rental leader Alsco says that workwear has traditionally been associated with heavy-duty and/or utilitarian clothing worn by blue-collar workers. It has also been clothing more capable of standing up to hard work in difficult conditions. In recent years though, things have changed.
Clothing manufacturers have loosened the definition of workwear to the extent that the term is now used to describe any clothing worn to work by both white- and blue-collar workers. Today’s dress slacks and sport coats are as much workwear as the uniforms worn by the mechanics at your local dealership. So in order to differentiate themselves and compete, clothing makers are having to think creatively.
Bringing Japan to the U.S.
One of the hottest trends in the San Francisco Bay Area is the Noragi, a new workwear jacket that combines the aesthetic of Japanese agricultural workwear with the modern tastes of American office workers. The jacket has been described as a stylish U.S. take on a typical workwear jacket worn by a Japanese farmer.
It clearly doesn’t look like anything an American farmer would wear. But that’s fine because it is not intended for farmers. It is intended for people who want to wear Japanese American workwear as a style statement rather than utilitarian protection.
Launching Toughwear at Tractor Supply
In some parts of rural America, clothing that would otherwise fit in the business casual category does not qualify as workwear. Rather, workwear is that clothing manual laborers wear on the farm, in the auto repair shop, and so on. Tractor Supply gets it. So much so that they have just introduced a brand-new line of workwear they call Ridgecut Toughwear.
Do you see what they did? They differentiated themselves by dispensing with the term ‘workwear’ altogether. Now they call their heavy-duty clothing ‘toughwear’ instead. That’s one way to make it clear that you won’t be wearing this clothing in the office. It is clear that toughwear is for the manual laborer.
Focusing on Women
Another way to differentiate yourself in the crowded workwear space is to focus exclusively on women. There are at least two companies doing just that. Dovetail Workwear specializes in providing workwear to female ag workers while Rosies Workwear has a broader appeal to hard-working women in a variety of sectors.
The goal of both companies is to take some of the focus on workwear that has concentrated mainly on men and shift it to women. These companies recognize that more and more women are taking manual labor jobs that require tough, protective clothing.
So what does all this tell us? That modern workwear is not so easily defined. What Alsco may consider workwear for its uniform rental customers is drastically different from the types of clothing Madison Avenue designers call workwear. What we have is a mishmash of clothing styles and no rules to clearly define them anymore. That is unfortunate because workwear used to be something that was very distinct and recognizable. Now it can be anything anyone wants it to be. If you make or sell workwear, you now have to find a better way to distinguish yourself from the competition.