To celebrate the launch of The Uniform Buyers’ Network on 6th April 2022, the PCIAW® joined Karen Sparrow, Partnerships Activation Manager at Virgin Galactic to discuss her wealth of experience in uniform procurement, making her the ideal host of this digital event for buyers across the world.
How much experience do you have in procuring professional clothing?
I joined the professional clothing industry in 1995, working for Virgin Atlantic. At this point, we sourced garments from several suppliers – Tailoring, Footwear, Accessories, Outerwear and PPE. We managed the whole process in-house and developed a new range for the millennium across 7000+ wearers in different roles. Fast forward to 2009 where I headed up the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Uniforms which was a sponsorship deal for over 80k wearers. We also sourced key items outside the sponsorship and procured items with specialist suppliers for sports officials needs. The procurement process evolved from in-house sourcing, tenders, online auctions onto fully managed services with pros and cons for each.
How did you get to be involved as the Associates of the Uniform Buyers’ Network?
I was honoured to receive Business Manager of the Year Award in 2009 at the Professional Clothing Awards, where I became acquainted with some highly skilled professionals in the industry through the different events. I really enjoy networking with peers through PCIAW®, both suppliers and buyers in the industry – we share best practice, ideas, innovations which is so beneficial to all of us from many different sectors and industries around the globe. The Uniforms Buyers Network was created to enable this benefit to a much wider audience, which I am delighted to be part of.
What do you find is the most challenging aspect of the procurement process?
There are many suppliers available to us but it’s finding the right ‘fit’. There are several factors to consider when going through the procurement process and price is always key. My challenge is ensuring that the products meet the criteria required for specification, company and legislative standards, brand values, quality, lead-times to name a few….and within budget. Best price is often a compromise and does not always mean right product.
What do you look out for most when choosing the right supplier?
The procurement process often governs the choice of supplier, selecting suppliers that meet the criteria such as Cost, Quality, Safety, Social responsibility, Financial stability, Service levels and more. In addition to this, I like to work with suppliers where we build a good rapport and work together in best interest of both parties. It is important to have the reliability when delivering a large uniform programme and a trusted supplier.
How much emphasis do you put on the design process for corporate branding?
In my role the brand design is very key to success of a garment or uniform programme. There is a huge emphasis on this development in my world. Beside the functionality, safety and durability of a garment, the wearers need to feel good in what they wear giving them confidence to perform and carry out their roles. They could be front of house delivering a great. customer experience or maybe more instrumental in the operational roles behind the scenes. The design and branding across the range should be a true reflection of the brand and its core values, through design, making the wearers feel proud to be part of the team.
What do you hope to learn from the Uniform Buyers’ Network event?
I’m looking forward to meet with everyone at the event, learning from others journeys and sharing best practice. A good opportunity to raise issues or constraints that we may experience as buyers, looking at commonality amongst us and how this issue is or could be resolved.
Don’t miss Buying Uniforms in the Age of Net Zero, the definitive networking webinar for procurers of professional clothing!