Tracy Reese will skip having a fashion show next month in New York, but she has been focused on another runway — designing uniforms for some of United airlines.
For the past five years, 70,000 staffers have been wearing uniforms (from Cintas) which have had the occasional updates. Reese, along with Brooks Brothers and Carhartt, is using her expertise to get the United team suited up in new looks. Pilots, male flight attendants and customer service reps will wear Brooks Brothers uniforms. Reese has designed uniforms for female flight attendants and customer service reps that will be manufactured by the American sportswear maker and retail chain. Carhartt will be dressing ramp service, technical operations and catering operations employees.
Still in the wear-testing stage, the final uniforms are expected to be rolled out some time in 2020.
The three U.S.-based companies are the latest brands to link up for airline uniforms. British Airways recruited Ozwald Boateng, Delta lined up Zac Posen and Turkish Airlines tapped Ettore Bilotta for their respective uniforms last year.
In a phone interview Thursday, Reese explained that United executives, “said the reason that they came to me really was because their population is very diverse and the women really felt like they were wearing uniforms that were tailored for men. They didn’t feel feminine. The uniforms lacked color and there was no pattern. They said, ‘We really thought of you because you design for women, you love color and that’s exactly what we need.”
Before designing anything, Reese took a seven-day, seven-city, cross-country tour to touch down in all the United hubs as well as Hawaii and London. “We spent hours at each hub talking to employees. They had let them know we would be there. There were huge cardboard cut-outs from my runway shows and things from Brooks Brothers. I talked to thousands of people, which was necessary to understand what the job entails and what that means for the clothing.” Reese said.
The designer said that she had access to “those secret underground passageways in the airport that other people don’t get to go to. It’s like a windowless cavern where a whole other world is operating and every airport has them apparently. We were like, ‘Are we going to see any daylight today?’” adding that she spotted a few employees-only stores. Unlimited United flights were not part of Reese’s contract, but everywhere they wish her to go, she flies “in a lovely class of service.” Additional transportation was not part of the deal. “I wish,” she said.
Changing her entire business model to become sustainable, Reese will skip next month’s New York Fashion Week. “It’s nice to take a pause, refocus and prepare for the future. The runway takes so much time away from everything,” Reese said. “It ruins your Christmas, New Year’s, Martin Luther King Jr. Day holidays — all of that. You’re pushing your factories and your team like crazy. You’re Grinch-y at Christmas. You’re focused on this 12-minute show. It’s great, magical and all of that but it’s also good to step away from that.”
Designers should consider only doing runway shows when they have the fire for it, as opposed to feeling like they have to do a show, Reese said. “There are a lot of things that need to be addressed. Why are we shipping 12 months a year?”