How do I design and order uniforms for my band?
Hello fellow musicians, directors and friends of music.
I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the uniform process and how to make the purchase easy and far less stressful. Whether you are buying new marching band attire, formal wear or other apparel for your performing groups, the entire process can be difficult and exasperating unless you know how to avoid doing all the work yourself.
Your first consideration should be the service level of the manufacturer you choose. You do need someone to be responsible for the outcome of the delivered order. By that I mean a live representative who is willing to come to your school for fittings and to take responsibility off your shoulders for the outcome of that delivered product, plus attend any administrative or parent meetings that might require advice or counsel on the project. Maybe you only need this representative to meet with you and your staff members. At least you get a live, face to face conversation whenever you need one.
You can get started by gathering ideas from vendor catalogs. If you go online and google “band uniforms” or “marching band uniforms” you will find a listing of companies that provide those products and more. Maybe you have director friends who can share their experiences with you. Word of mouth and references from satisfied customers has always been a good lead in to finding the right company fit for your program and your staff. Quality standards vary considerably in this industry so you will need to ask a lot of questions about warranties, longevity, washability, dry cleaning, storage, and all of the things that will ultimately matter a great deal to you. Don’t allow the process to be totally ruled by design alone. There are consequences to having a great visual appearance but poor quality that you will have to live with or worse yet, your administration will have to deal with. This purchase can be a reflection of YOU and the decisions and choices you make. Test it out thoroughly and get a lot of information on the front end. If you make a good purchasing decision, you will add value to your position as director, and enhance your leadership role.
Most companies today have both computerized renderings that can easily be adapted or altered for quick review of your intended uniform design. The services of a specialized custom designer are also available upon request. You may then choose from hand drawn renderings for a more personal artistic touch if desired. These persons are most often integral members of the marching arts community and are very active with marching band and drum corps circuits as well as adjudication for major events and festivals. They can lend a new twist or totally new flare to the design elements of your new uniform.
By all means set a schedule for the entire project. Let your administrators know what to expect in terms of delivery once the final design is chosen. If the process will be a formal bid proposal, you need to inform the district of the time table required to receive delivery before your first intended use date.
The projected delivery situation has changed significantly in recent years. Business is very strong for the uniform industry and the wait times are increasing as the demand for new product has grown. Schools need to plan on at least 4-6 months or more for delivery AFTER the final decision is made and the purchase is complete. Your local uniform representative can give you all the details regarding the time frame necessary to complete the art rendering, deliver a pilot sample uniform and develop the bid specifications etc. Now days many districts are utilizing purchasing co-operatives through which they are able to make purchases from a qualified list of vendors without formal bidding. This can be a time saver for those who are involved with co-op buying organizations. Ask your principal or superintendent about your options.
Insist on getting any requested art renderings as well as a finished sample uniform utilizing all of the colors and construction standards you have chosen at NO COST to your band or administrative unit. This is a necessary step in the process. You deserve to see exactly what you are buying and give you and your staff an opportunity to look at the uniform inside and outside by using one of your students as a model. You might find this to be a great way to get your parent support group or business and administrative staff to engage in the process and support your new purchase. Remember that you should not have to pay for these upfront services or make any written commitments while you are exploring your options with uniform companies. Their job is to assist you and serve your needs in hopes of earning your business and friendship in the process. Most districts do not allow faculty members to sign letters of commitment or documents that might bind the district to any purchasing agreement. Check with your local school unit before you engage in the uniform selection process.
Here’s a quick reference about timing. If you are hoping to have new uniforms for the opening of the next school year, you should start the design work in the fall of the previous year. Even with your busy schedule during the fall marching season, you need to have things moving forward before the first of the new year. That way you can be ready to purchase well before the spring months when ordering is always the highest and deliveries are often already past the opening days of the coming marching season. Be smart and be one of those people who makes everything happen in the time frame you had hoped for all along. You’ll be glad you did and your parents, staff and students will all thank you for it when they return for the late summer band camp and everything is in place.
I will add one thought to that however. The BEST time to purchase band uniforms, formal wear or any ensemble apparel is when your funding is available! If the money is offered and is available you should start the process no matter what time of the year you get the green light.
I hope these comments are helpful to you if music apparel in on your radar. Our job is to educate, serve, and deliver the best quality products that your students deserve. Whether you are a new music educator or a veteran, you don’t go through the uniform process that often. Do it right and expect your company of choice to do the heavy lifting. You have field shows to plan, scores to study and plenty of other responsibilities!
Steven G. Trull
DeMoulin Bros.& Co
National Band Association