Dickies is one of the world’s biggest names in workwear and personal protective equipment (PPE) and has built an unrivalled reputation for producing high performance clothing, footwear and practical workplace accessories. We catch up with Judy Clay, Corporate Director at Dickies, to find out what the future holds for workwear and how the company continually produces stuff that looks so damn good...
At the company’s UK headquarters in Somerset we have a manufacturing facility and a 100,000 sq ft distribution centre that handles more than 2 million units each year. Our range now consists of coveralls, work shirts, trousers, jackets, body warmers, foul weather protection, high visibility garments, practical accessories and a comprehensive range of safety footwear.
When you sit down to produce a product, how do you decide where to start?
The development of all our PPE products are directly influenced by the market and our emphasis is always on safety requirements so we constantly monitor and assess the needs of all the trade industries we supply.
And do you listen to suggestions from customers if there’s a product they’d like to see you making?
Yes, we pride ourselves in being adaptable enough to meet the demands of our loyal customers who respond to us through a constant campaign of surveys which we conduct, to bring what they say and need to the market – when they need it. When people are relying on your workwear and PPE products to stay safe it’s a big responsibility.
How do you deal with this?
We take all safety standards across our entire range extremely seriously and work closely with the authorities to ensure we are always totally compliant. We also give detailed advice on what each product is specifically designed to cope with, how it should be used and in what circumstances to give maximum performance.
What sort of testing do you carry out to check products perform as they are supposed to?
In the design and production of all our PPE and Flame Retardant ranges thorough testing is essential and new FR standards mean we are required to extend our already rigorous processes even further to prove that each product performs precisely as it is designed and manufactured to. In addition we also continually run a wide range of random tests on products including shrinkage, colour changes, seam durability, and waterproofing effectiveness. The majority of Dickies products wouldn’t look out of place being sold in many high street chains and being worn by fashion conscious 20-somethings.
How intentional is this?
We know customers appreciate established and proven designs that are as functional now as they were originally. In the UK and Europe we are increasingly following the lead taken by our colleagues in the States and incorporating more of a fashion influence on our styling whilst still retaining the workwear ethic.
Have any celebrities ever stepped out sporting the Dickies label?
Countless well-known faces have worn Dickies over the years. Back in the 50s the brand was worn by Henry Fonda in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, Frank Sinatra in ‘From Here to Eternity’, and Humphrey Bogart in ‘To Have and Have Not’. In the 60s Pat Boone was wearing Dickies slim British Tab slacks and by the 70s college students favoured our chartreuse bibs and bellbottom jeans. So what’s going to be hot this summer? For the image-conscious tradesman, our Dickies 22 workwear range is already proving hugely popular with slim fitting yarn-dyed checked shirts reminiscent of garments regularly seen on the high street. We’ve also developed these into a new farm and ranch agricultural range that draws on our Texan heritage and sits checked shirts alongside gilets and durable trousers.
How do you make clothes that are thin and comfortable for summer but also strong and tough?
This is a problem that we’ve become accustomed to, especially in our overseas markets where warm climates are the norm. Using 100% cotton makes garments naturally breathable but as you lighten the cotton yarn the fabric becomes weaker. So we had to look at alternative fabrics and now work with a yarn used in military applications that provides double the strength of a typical polycotton and combines this with a great wicking action to remove moisture.
What does the future hold for fabrics and materials?
We’re constantly looking at raw materials to ensure our garments produce the best results. We already use performance enhanced ‘wicking’ which removes moisture and keeps the wearer cool and dry. Similarly we have processes for disbursing possible harmful bacteria and use hard wearing nylon fabric, called Cordura, for garments that are likely to be subjected to high levels of abrasion. Overall our policy is to work with more ethical, environmentally-friendly materials and to further develop our focus on using fabrics based on things such as bamboo and natural fibres. We’re also looking at the possibility of using Fair Trade Cotton.
As a global business do you see big variations between countries in their approach to workwear?
We work closely with all our overseas associates and teams and find that each can learn from the other in helping to expand our respective markets. For example Germany has taken our less regimental approach to workwear styles whilst we have benefited from some of their development techniques which enhance the overall, ‘fit for purpose’ packages that we offer.
Finally, why do you think it’s important to look good at work?
Regardless of how big or small a business or organisation is, having a high standard of personal appearance amongst employees is the difference between looking professional and unprofessional. In addition it helps to maintain customer confidence and loyalty as well as creating a sense of pride and satisfaction amongst the team.