In many ways, the textile rental sector can be seen as an indicator for the wider UK economy. Reports suggest that tourism, hotel occupancy and restaurant bookings have all increased in the past year, in turn bringing higher volumes for textile rental businesses.

Several UK-based laundry operators certainly see the potential for growth and are investing to increase their market share. For example, Clean Linen Services plans a linen laundry in Slough, Berkshire, optimally positioned to service Heathrow and the growing London linen market, as well as acquiring Paragon Laundry, one of the UK’s largest providers of linen and workwear rental. In addition, Johnson Service Group hopes to increase its clout in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector, where it currently holds an 18% share of a £555m industry, according to group chief executive Chris Sander. Its textile hire business has continued to perform ahead of expectations and the company is particularly strong on workwear hire, renting garments such as overalls and chefs whites.

The hospitality industry is now the UK’s fourth biggest industry in employment terms with over 40,000 businesses operating in the sector.

But June’s Brexit result has sent shockwaves across the hospitality industry. Operators attending the BHA’s hospitality and tourism summit the week after the Brexit result were urged to embrace change and see the potential positives.

Several companies involved in the workwear sector, particularly the hospitality and restaurant sectors, maintain that it is far too soon to assess what effect the result of June’s EU referendum will have.

Meanwhile operating costs continue to rise, particularly energy costs, while labour rates have risen with the introduction of the Living Wage.

Perhaps the immediate fear is that the sector will face a deepening skills shortage if EU workers are sent home. Nick Varney, chairman of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) warned there should not be a restriction on the flow of foreign labour when skills in Britain are in short supply.

It is a point highlighted by Rick Shonfeld, director, Tibard/Oliver Harvey. Tibard is a family-run, international supplier of workwear uniforms, based in Manchester. Up to the end of June, Shonfeld says that the UK market had been very buoyant with some excellent organic growth, particularly among the company’s larger chain customers, as well as individual brands.

“It remains to be seen what effect the result of the EU referendum will have,” he says. “We have already seen a dip in the share price of a number of our larger customers but whether this just a knee jerk reaction or the sign of a more lasting shockwave only time will tell. However, we do know that a lot of our customers, especially those in the mid-market range, employ staff from within the EU and so this may lead to staffing issues for them going forward.”

The company continues to expand both its Oliver Harvey and Tibard brands. Looking at the hospitality and food service uniform sector, Shonfeld says there is a fairly constant requirement from existing customers in the hospitality sector looking to update their current uniforms and requiring a new identity, often including uniforms and workwear.

“Every garment that we provide, either bespoke or off the shelf, is put forward because it is of high quality, and this includes the structure of the fabric and its colour fastness. There is absolutely no point in providing a product that will either fall apart or suffer from deteriorating print after a couple of washes.”

The company has done a lot of own label manufacturing for customers who distribute their own branded chefswear and this has tended to be at the budget end of the market. “We will shortly be launching our own range of budget line chefswear under the Tibard brand,” he says. “We are also launching a line of chefswear that will be aimed at the laundry industry in terms of price point. On the flipside, we have just completed a large tender for a company that wants top specification, high end, bespoke products where budget is not as constrained as it would be for an operator with only a couple of sites.”

In addition, the Oliver Harvey brand is about to launch a range of mix and match aprons. “They are designed to be commercially laundrable but come with detachable neck and waist straps. There are three base colours for the apron and eight different colourways for the straps, so a restaurant could have, for example, a navy base and a pink neck strap.

“The good thing about this is that the operator can create a quirky look – a lot more restaurants want something that is a bit off the wall, rather than everyone wearing the same thing, says Shonfeld. “Walk into most restaurants these days and you will find that the staff are a lot more casually attired and this product is ideal for that.”

At Denny’s Brands, a leading UK hospitality uniform specialist, managing director Nick Jubert says there is a positive upturn in demand.

“The hospitality sector is booming with new outlets from luxury hotels to coffee shops opening every day, and we’re certainly seeing healthy demand for uniforms,” he says, adding that the company’s new department store on Berners Street in London’s West End has been busy since opening in April this year.

“At the same time, however, staff uniforms are becoming more optional than they were a decade ago, so at Dennys Brands we’ve adapted what we offer hospitality operators, to make sure our styles are in step with customer demand.”

Current thinking on workwear in the workplace is shifting from the purely functional towards the aesthetic as clients recognise increasingly the relationship between appealing clothing and a collective sense of wellbeing and pride amongst a workforce. There is a greater willingness to provide employees with more choice in their work clothing – both in a design and practicality sense.

Denny’s has incorporated a number of recent fashion trends, such as slim and skinny fit clothing and more ‘urban feel’ garments, says Jubert. “Ultimately, what our customers need is good quality, long-lasting uniforms designed for the hospitality industry,  so we don’t want to be so on-trend that everything looks dated within a season.

Other trends include greater use of colour, particularly the neutral greys, sages and peats, which match the Farrow & Ball shades of so many hotel and restaurant interiors. Dennys now has 40 colours in its apron range, and more than 50 for shirts. In fabric trends, canvas and denim are becoming more popular for waiting staff and Dennys offer a number of apron styles in both fabrics.

“We know that having uniforms that are easy to care for and still look good after many wears and washes is one of the most important criteria for hospitality operators. Hotels and restaurants are challenging environments: long shifts, hot kitchens and inevitably some food or drink spillage mean that uniforms have to be washed frequently

“Our laundry-specific clothing will withstand repeated washing in an industrial laundry up to 65C. We recommend that for disinfection this section of the cycle lasts at least 10 minutes.”

At the same time, there is more low temperature washing, in commercial laundries as well as at home. “We’ve spent some time refining the fabrics we use for our chefs whites to make sure they wash properly at lower temperatures and come up stain-free and bright, wash after wash.”

The need for more competitive pricing led Dennys to introduce new low cost selections last year.

“Our low-cost range, offering the quality of our usual manufacture, at a keener price, has been endorsed by many of our customers,” says Jubert. “We have now expanded our Le Chef Range to include low-cost ‘essential’ garments, with the launch of a black or white jacket and black trouser in super lightweight, crease-resistant 160gsm polycotton.”

A couple of recent developments demonstrate Dennys’ commitment to providing customers with uniforms that are good quality, attractive, comfortable and hardwearing. Earlier this year, the company introduced a new Beauty and Hospitality tunic range. This range is long lasting, made from cotton-feel polyester, is crease resistant, easy care and features a soil-release finish to help with cleaning. It comes in three styles for male and female in a wide colour range.

Another recent introduction is Dennys’ first real slim fit chefs’ trouser, within its Le Chef Prep range. The company says it provides a good balance between a fashionable style and comfort, with hidden features such as comfort waistband and dropped crotch with a coolmax gusset. It allows staff to wear a trendy trouser, but still feel comfortable through a long shift in a hot kitchen.

David Brunt, group purchasing operations manager at AB Hotels, is one of Dennys Brands’ most loyal customers, having first bought chefs whites from the company’s Dean Street store more than 40 years ago, at the start of his career in hotel management.

Today, Brunt is responsible for purchasing chefswear across AB Hotels’ three sites: Sopwell House Hotel in St Albans, Crowne Plaza Five Lakes Resort in Colchester and The Arch London at Marble Arch.

With over 40 chefs and other kitchen team members to kit out, Brunt looks for a uniform supplier who can provide good quality, durable and comfortable garments, good pricing and prompt delivery.

“For me, it’s important to work with suppliers that understand the pressures involved in running a busy hotel kitchen,” says Brunt. “Our back of house teams need professional uniforms that are comfortable to wear through long shifts and keep their shape and appearance through many wears and washes.

“Uniforms need to stay looking good: we like our team members to take pride in their appearance as we find that translates into higher motivation and a better experience for our guests.

“Dennys Brands consistently provide garments that meet all our requirements. Their customer service is excellent and they’re responsive to our needs when we need items on a shorter turnaround than usual. We’ll be staying with Dennys for our chefs whites for the foreseeable future.”