The development of the new uniforms of Brussels Airlines

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The staff of Brussels Airlines has received new uniforms, marking a significant change. The bright red uniforms have been replaced by dark blue with champagne-colored details.

But how does such a transformation come about, and what is the reasoning behind it? I spoke with Esther Oostdijk, Director of Operations at corporate clothing supplier ETP. She was co-responsible for the creation of the new uniforms for Brussels Airlines.

Esther Oostdijk - new Brussels Airlines uniforms
Photo left: Esther Oostdijk | Photo right: new Brussels Airlines uniforms

How did your Dutch company get involved with Brussels Airlines?

“We have been making corporate clothing for years. We previously provided it for Martinair and have been supplying uniforms to TUI Airlines and Retail Benelux since 2013. We were already known in the aviation industry when we were invited to participate in the tender for Brussels Airlines. Besides having relevant experience, it was important that we could completely unburden them through our service at ETP. We are incredibly pleased to have won this tender!”

Brussels Airlines asked a student to design the new clothing in 2022. How is it to work with a student?

“That’s right. They organized a design competition together with the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Ultimately, Gabrielle Szwarcenberg won.

We find it very inspiring to work with students and young designers. They are very creative and often think outside the box. When you develop corporate clothing together, this synergy can be very valuable. That’s why we at ETP are happy to offer internships and graduation projects to interns and students. The collaboration with a student for Brussels Airlines was therefore not new for us.

And of course, our technical knowledge and experience are an important addition. Our common goal is to create a comfortable uniform that every Brussels Airlines employee wears with pride.”

The development of the new uniforms of Brussels Airlines
Photo: new Brussels Airlines corporate clothing
The development of the new uniforms of Brussels Airlines
Photo: new Brussels Airlines corporate clothing (women’s uniform)

How long did you work on the final design?

“Once we were selected, we worked with Szwarcenberg on the practical aspects of the design. Corporate clothing must be wearable by everyone and look good on all body types, even for those who are petite or fuller-figured. You also need to think about how easy it is to put on and take off. From this perspective, we were able to offer some advice.”

The new uniforms look completely different from the old ones. Was this a deliberate choice by Brussels Airlines?

“Yes, certainly. Brussels Airlines has adopted a new corporate identity and wanted new clothing for the staff to match. One of the key points was that the collection should convey ‘Belgitude.’ This means they wanted to reflect Belgian culture in the clothing, but in a subtle and stylish way. For example, we incorporated the Atomium, a famous monument in Brussels, into the ties, scarves, and jacket linings.”

 

What other considerations were there?

“There is more focus on diversity and comfort in the new collection. While there is a distinction between men’s and women’s models in the clothing, this is not the case with accessories. There is no specific women’s handbag, but a neutral model that anyone can choose. Women can also wear a tie if they wish. Just as with grooming rules, everyone can choose what they want to wear.

Regarding shoes, there is a wide choice. Women can choose from pumps with various heel heights, but there is also a sneaker available. Men can choose from several smart shoes or a sneaker. Brussels Airlines purchases the shoes themselves, but we manage the stock and logistics. Staff can order clothing, shoes, and accessories through the ETP webshop, making it easy for everyone.”

jacket Brussels Airlines
Photos: new corporate clothing Brussels Airlines (jacket)
The development of the new uniforms of Brussels Airlines
Photos: new Brussels Airlines corporate clothing (left steward uniform, right pilot uniform)

How long are the new uniforms expected to last?

“We developed the collection with the idea that it should last for ten years, but of course, some items need to be replaced in between. For instance, a jacket typically lasts about four years, but some pieces may need to be renewed after the second year. Clothing naturally wears out from use and washing; that’s unavoidable.

We believe it’s important for the clothing to be sustainable, not only in terms of lifespan but also in fabric choice. Therefore, we used a combination of new and recycled materials such as PET bottles. A new destination is currently being sought for the old uniforms, which will also be processed sustainably.”

 

This must have been a substantial project…

“That’s right! We worked on it for a total of one and a half years, which isn’t very long for corporate clothing, but we personally fitted all the staff. In 2023, we spent about six weeks in Brussels fitting all 3,000 employees.

We had everyone try on the new clothing, but in a different color. Brussels Airlines wanted to keep the final design a secret for as long as possible. When the new uniforms were launched in January, I was so happy to see the staff’s reactions. They can start wearing them from this month, but they were already so enthusiastic. And yes, that’s what you do it for in the end.”

*This article was written in collaboration with Emergo Textile Projects (ETP). 

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