As Hong Kong welcomed one of its warmest Septembers in decades, Hactl Equipment Operator, Long, was one of the first to try out the company’s new, extra-breathable uniform. As a Hactl Equipment Operator, Long works outdoors, driving tractors between the cargo terminal and the ramp. The uniform’s breathability is therefore of great importance to him. "Both the polo shirt and trousers are very comfortable,” confides Long. “I can work in the rain, and they dry very quickly without any smell. The old uniforms became sticky when very wet, and were difficult to dry." Hactl and subsidiary Hong Kong Air Cargo Industry Services Limited (Hacis) will introduce the new uniform for various frontline staff in the first quarter of 2023. Its colour scheme is mainly blue and green, echoing the Hactl brand’s primary colours. And the minimalist design imparts a sense of vibrancy to the new uniform, in the view of colleagues who (like Long) were early to try it out. "The new uniform is stylish and aesthetically pleasing,” adds Hacis Cargo Handler Xiaolian. “Some of our customers even say it makes me look younger!" she confesses with a grin. As a hiking enthusiast, Xiaolian sees a similarity between the new uniform and the fast-drying sportswear now widely available. As a result, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable wearing it at work all day.
Achieving uniformity, meeting the practical needs of various staff and their departments, and also preserving the company’s brand, have been the key objectives of the project since its inception in late 2021. The resulting design of the uniforms is accordingly unified, practical and recognisable.
Lo Sing-chin (Sing), the fashion designer who has been leading the whole project, recalls his first step — joining Hactl’s Joint Consultative Committee meeting, and listening to the staff’s feedback on the uniform’s initial design.
“Around twenty members attended. Everyone was eager to speak and share their opinion. The atmosphere was amazing.” The meeting left a strong impression on Sing: “The design of a uniform usually falls under the direct control of a single department. For instance, the marketing department will come up with ideas based on the brand’s existing image, but will rarely seek opinions from frontline colleagues.”
With over 15 years’ in-depth experience in fashion design, Sing has created uniforms for clients as diverse as local museums and international chain stores. Hactl’s people-oriented philosophy resonated well with the principles which Sing upholds. After listening to the opinions of staff, Sing collaborated with the Hactl team to envision a thoughtful design that spoke both to workers' needs and their comfort.
At Hactl’s Engineering and Facilities Services department, the Engineering team undertakes daily maintenance of the extensive cargo handling system to ensure its reliable operation 24/7/365. On top of that, the team is responsible for inspecting and maintaining a wide variety of other mechanical and electrical equipment throughout the terminal. The safety and flexibility of the uniforms are therefore of the utmost importance.
Taking this into consideration, the new uniforms employ antistatic fabrics. Both the front and the back also feature reflective tapes certified to EU standards, to increase visibility in dim light and so enhance worker safety.
In addition to using a thinner fabric under armpits, four ventilation holes have been added to boost the breathability and comfort of the uniform.
Meanwhile, Flight Handling Coordinators from Hactl’s Operations department are responsible for managing documents from airlines and cargo agents. Their new smart white shirts, combined with dark blue suits, add an air of professionalism to their attire, designed to leave a favourable impression on the clients with whom they interact.
Hactl’s supervisors, on the other hand, handle documents at the office but also supervise the cargo handling process in the terminal and on the ramp. “We carry documents, pocket flashlights, and mobile phones with us to the ramp for loading and unloading inspections,” says the Operations Supervisor, Kit. “The old uniforms didn’t have enough pockets, so we often had to put items in our belt bags or trouser pockets. They would slip out whenever we bent down.”
To rectify this, each shirt has a big slant pocket to accommodate folded A4-sized documents, while trousers now include a double-layered pocket to hold personal belongings. On the left side, there is also an invisible zipper pocket to store things securely even when squatting down.
As a vocal champion of sustainability, Hactl made sure to incorporate both its staff’s needs and environmentally-friendly principles into its new uniform.
This emphasis on sustainability also resonated with Sing’s philosophy. Since becoming a designer, he has witnessed how the fashion industry has polluted the planet and created an enormous amount of waste. "With fast fashion, you have new designs every week, which leads to over-consumption and textile waste. The industry is now beginning to reflect on its design and manufacturing practices, and is looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact," says Sing.
In recent years, the fashion industry has started to adopt eco-friendly fabrics, such as those produced from recycled plastic waste. In its new uniform design, Hactl tried to incorporate such textiles — but finding an environmentally-friendly, robust yet comfortable material proved no easy matter.
“Eco-friendly fabrics made from recycled plastics are mostly uncomfortable on the skin," Sing comments. After considerable efforts, the team eventually found an ideal eco-friendly fabric manufactured by a Japanese factory. This material is made from discarded plastic bottles that are crushed, and woven into thread, before finally combining with a small proportion of rayon to create an ultra-soft and elastic textile.
Sing used this distinctive fabric to create the new trousers for Hactl and Hacis’ frontline staff and supervisors, and the uniforms for the Engineering team. "It’s amazing how comfortable these eco-friendly fabrics are, despite being made from recycled plastic bottles,” continues Long, the Hactl Equipment Operator. Sing also put a lot of thought into the trouser design for the frontline staff and the Engineering team. He added elastic around the back of the waist band, and darts around the knees, to improve stretch. Meanwhile, the side pockets were cut at a slant to prevent objects falling out when sitting or squatting down.
The frontline staff’s polo shirt fabric was also sourced from Japan; this is a man-made fibre with a unique weave that wicks moisture away from the body better than normal fabrics, while still retaining body heat.
The prototypes were made in Hong Kong, and distributed to staff for trial evaluation. They tried out the new uniforms in the real work environment, and provided valuable feedback before the design was finalised for full-scale production. “I was particularly impressed by the company’s approach and how much they valued our opinions during this trial,” says Hactl Operations Supervisor, Kit. He says the experience bolstered his sense of belonging, and also enabled him to learn more about environmentally-friendly materials.
"The old uniform was a jumpsuit and was unpleasantly stiff at times,” says Raymond, an Engineer Trainee from Hactl's Engineering and Facilities Services department. “In contrast, the new uniform’s two-piece design is much more convenient to wear, and more comfortable." Featuring the blue colour used in Hactl’s logo, “Our colleagues all look great and smart in the new uniform,” Raymond continues. “Together, we look like a vibrant and energetic team!"
Designing a new uniform was an immense challenge: it required a perfect balance between image, comfort, practicality and sustainability. “Hactl's willingness to meet all the different demands and tackle such an enormous challenge enabled us to create a highly desirable uniform that the staff enjoy wearing every day,” concludes Sing.