Alaska Airlines introduces a new uniform designed to top safety standards

Alaska Airlines is rolling out its new Luly Yang custom-designed uniform collection certified to STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, the highest industry standard for safety, making Alaska and Horizon Air the first U.S. airlines to achieve this certification.

“This is a major milestone that was years in the making. Before the designs, before the first stitch, before the first button sewn, we took steps to ensure that employee uniforms were safe and of the best quality,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of marketing and guest experience. “It was important to take our time and to collaborate with our union partners to create a uniform that was safe, stylish, high quality and functional for all aspects of our business.”

STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® ensures that garments meet or exceed global safety standards with regards to harmful substances. The finished garment and each of its components are certified, down to the material, thread and dyes.

Since the collection first debuted in 2018, the design has been refined and adjusted with input from more than 175 employees who put the uniform through the paces with on-the-job wear tests. The new uniforms are being rolled out to employees through early 2020, with Horizon Air and Alaska Lounge concierges already donning the new uniforms.

Alaska started the process almost four years ago by surveying thousands of uniformed employees and followed up with focus groups and work-site visits to understand the features different workgroups wanted to see in their new uniforms. Overwhelmingly, the top requests from employees were more pockets and designs that look great on all body shapes and sizes, and were suited for a wide range of climates.

Additionally, more than 1,200 safety tests were conducted on the uniforms for over 165 unique color combinations. In total, Alaska’s custom uniforms incorporate more than 100,000 zippers, 1 million buttons, 500,000 yards of fabric and use well over 30 million yards of thread.

Using this employee research, Yang spent two years designing and creating a signature silhouette for the Alaska collection. Her focus on fit and function enabled additional touches including water-resistant materials, active wear fabrics, longer shirt tails that don’t untuck from skirts and trousers, and flexible textiles that move with the body.

“The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification is a first for our uniforms,” Jeff Peterson, Alaska Airlines Master Executive Council president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “The association is very pleased that our partnership with management has resulted in a high standard of safety that will help flight attendants feel confident in wearing their uniform.”

In order to achieve this standard, Alaska worked in partnership with Unisync Group Limited of Toronto, one of the largest uniform suppliers in North America. Together, Alaska, Yang and Unisync produced custom fabrics, buttons and signature accessories for the new program, ensuring the garments provide optimal on-the-job performance and earned the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification.

“Alaska Airlines created a strong partnership with us from the beginning – that’s the biggest reason for their success in earning the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® label,” said Ben Mead, OEKO-TEX® representative. “Achieving certification is incredibly challenging, and their commitment to leading with safety has been unwavering.”

STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® was developed in 1992 by an international consortium of textile research and testing institutes. OEKO-TEX® now includes 18 institutes in Europe and Japan with offices in more than 60 countries. STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® testing is known for ensuring that textiles are tested for potentially harmful substances and allergens. This standard is used by many retailers including Pottery Barn, Calvin Klein, Target, Macy’s and children’s-wear company Hanna Andersson.

From the Alaska Airlines blog:

Photos by Ingrid Barrentine

A day in the life of an airline uniform is hard. They brush through bustling airport crowds. They stretch to close overhead bins. They stand up to scorching heat and arctic cold as baggage is loaded, bolts are turned and fuel is measured.

And then they’re washed, dried, and expected to do it again. And again. And again.

So, when we set out to update our uniforms in partnership with Seattle designer Luly Yang in 2016, it wasn’t just a matter of picking a handful of colors and materials.

It was the start of a four-year journey in creating the perfect balance of quality, and form and function to achieve a U.S. airline industry first: a custom-designed uniform collection certified to STANDARD 100 certification by OEKO-TEX®, the highest industry standard for safety.

To meet the rigorous standard, more than 1,200 safety tests on fabrics, zippers, buttons, thread, linings and more were conducted.

Step 1: Asking the right questions

How do you get to the bottom of what more than 20,000 employees need from their uniforms? Well, you ask them. Over the past two years, we conducted surveys, focus groups and work-site visits to get the feedback they needed.

The answers? More pockets to accommodate all the odds and ends that come with keeping an airline in motion. Designs that look great on people of all shapes and sizes. And materials with the perfect amount of elasticity and breathability to keep a crew feeling comfortable and looking polished from the time they take off from Honolulu and land in Anchorage.

Step 2: Creating the look

With the research finished, it was Luly Yang’s time to shine. The designer got to work creating a signature silhouette for the Alaska collection, reviewing designs with employees, gathering feedback and making refinements to meet the needs of Alaska’s pilots, flight attendants, maintenance & engineering teams and more.

“This was the ultimate puzzle for a designer,” Yang said, in an interview with CNBC. “In this case it was more than 20,000 clients, employees with hundreds of body shapes, 13 work groups and sometimes 45 sizes per garment. It was complicated, which is why I loved it.”

The collection, featuring more than 90 garments and accessories, debuted at an employee fashion show in January 2018, hosted in the airline’s Sea-Tac hangar.

But the work was far from finished.

Step 3: From runway to jetway

They looked good, they felt good, but the only way to know if the new uniforms were up to the job was to see how they held up to the pressure of packing, unpacking, bending, lifting, scuffs, spills and spin cycles.

Alaska selected 175 employees to participate in 60 day “wear tests” of the new uniform and report back on performance. Following the first wear test, refinements were made and then a second, abbreviated wear test took place to validate the improvements and quality standards.

Step 5: Ready for lift off

After four years of research, design, feedback and testing, Alaska’s new uniforms launched, making Alaska and Horizon Air the first U.S. airlines to earn the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex rating for its custom garments.

As the new uniforms continue their rollout in early 2020, with Horizon Air and Alaska Lounge concierges already donning the new look, they have also stood up to scrutiny from one of the toughest panels on the planet: anonymous social media users.

Horizon Air flight attendant Parisjat Banomyong posted a video of her before/after uniform transformation on TikTok, earning more than 140,000 likes.

“My daughter and I just did it for fun and then it blew up,” said Banomyong. “I heard so much ‘you look amazing’ and ‘I can’t wait to see these uniforms on my flight.’ It was really fun to see the reaction.”