What does it take to design a brand new uniform for over 64,000 employees? That’s an answer that Ekrem Dimbiloglu, the Director of the New Uniform Program at Delta Air Lines can answer only too well. Over the last three years, Ekrem has overseen the biggest change to Delta’s corporate look in decades – and the final countdown is now on.
On May 29th, Delta employees will take to airport concourses and planes around the world, many of whom will be wearing the new uniform for the very first time. There won’t be any soft launch or long drawn out rollout – the look will suddenly change from today’s red and blue uniform to 2018’s ‘plum purple’ and ‘graphite grey’ overnight.
Masterminding the new look has been acclaimed fashion designer, Zac Posen. The New York-based designer has previously described the project as a monumental task but when the idea was first pitched, he recounts saying to himself: “We gotta get this!”.
Even more “terrifying” for the young designer though was Delta’s insistence that employees had to be involved at every stage of the journey. A mandate that he soon warmed to, spending hours shadowing Delta workers on the job – describing the work of flight attendants as “seriously physical work”.
Ekrem knew from the very outset that employees had to be involved. Eight work groups from the different departments which would wear the new uniform were involved in the project and 24 employees had a say in every decision – representing thousands of their colleagues.
“Employees voices have to be heard in this and they have to be heard loudly,” Dimbiloglu recalls.
“This isn’t just another piece of clothing. This is their identity… for a decade.”
Delta was confident they had found the right designer in Posen – describing him as “young but wildly successful”. During an initial meeting with the designer, bosses were overwhelmed with his knowledge of the airline and the way he spoke about his favorite planes and travel in general.
Nonetheless, employee feedback was critical in locking down a uniform that everyone would be happy to wear – over 165 changes were made during the three-year design process and more than 1,000 ‘wear testers’ were used to put the uniform through its paces.
Not that the process is over just yet. Ekrem says they’ll be keenly awaiting more feedback once the change over takes place and reassures Delta workers that they’ll make whatever changes are necessary “so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability.”
For the time being, the uniform manufacturer, Lands’ End is working day and night to make sure over 2 million individual uniform items are shipped worldwide in time for the switch. Including over 22,000 handmade gold ‘wings’ and name bars for flight attendants.
That comes after a four-month tour of Delta bases throughout the United States to make sure employees received the right size and fit of uniform. It took three semi-trucks to move the uniform supplies from city to city, with around 5,000 pieces of uniform available to try on.
But what happens if you’re on an overnight flight on the evening on May 28th? Will the flight attendants and pilots suddenly disappear to transform their image mid-flight? The answer, Ekrem says is no, telling employees:
“Rest assured if you’re on an overnight flight from Atlanta to Paris passing through time zones, you won’t need to change into the new uniform at midnight.”