At a quick glance, yacht crew look as sharp as ever, decked out impeccably in classic skorts, shorts, and shirts in unoffending shades of navy, gray, and beige. Beyond the well-tailored façade, there have been some big advancements in the world of uniforms.
Fabrics of the Future
“Nothing really changes in uniform design,” says Owen Rutter of VMG Clothing in Auckland and Palma de Mallorca. “Uniforms for superyachts are generally pretty traditional in terms of what they are and the handful of colors that you can work with. The biggest change you can make is in the fit and the fabrication, and that’s something that we’ve really taken to another level with [our] new range… We’ve introduced quite a bit of stretch into a number of our garments so the comfort factor has been improved hugely.”
They’re not the only ones. Crew uniform companies across the globe are unveiling pieces made with fabric that’s lighter, stretchier, and more quick drying and comfortable than ever.
“In the fabric world, things move really quickly,” says Montana Pritchard of Zeidel & Co. in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. “It’s driven by companies like Patagonia and Arc’teryx that are putting a tremendous amount of money into developing fabrics, and the rest of the fabric world benefits from that.” Zeidel has a soon-to-be-available hybrid deck short, the Murphy, in its men’s SEE Apparel line made of stretch Taslan, a high-tech woven polyester fabric that’s durable and very quick drying. “It’s going to feel featherweight,” Pritchard says.
Inspired by the material for its popular board shorts, Smallwood’s Yachtwear in Fort Lauderdale, Antibes, and Barcelona has unveiled a new daytime collection called the Pacific, featuring light, stretchy, water-repelling, quick-dry performance fabric. “We’re even doing a dress in it,” says Helen Smallwood. “It fits most bodies, it’s super comfy, it feels almost like nothing.”
Kingston White of Liquid Yacht Wear in Fort Lauderdale and Antibes says the Liquid Gold line with its high-tech, high-performance fabric in updated styles has been a big success. “It’s got the SPF functionality, it’s got breathability, it’s got wicking capabilities, it’s quick dry, and it’s got the mechanical stretch; the fabric itself feels amazing. The skorts (for example) are made to hold up the entire working day, whether that’s 10 hours, or more realistically 20-plus hours, and still look great.”
Durability is an important consideration with what crew put the clothing through in a typical day, day after day, charter after charter. “It’s not just how it looks when someone puts it on for the first time,” Rutter of VMG points out, “it’s when it goes through the superyacht commercial washing machines and how much ironing it needs, how much care it needs afterwards. We’ve really taken a lot of care to make sure that the people who are responsible for the clothing on the boat get great feedback from the people that are wearing it.”
With supply chain issues coming to the forefront this year, Saltee Rags — a Fort Lauderdale company run by former yacht chef David Marchand and former stew Lena Rossello — has begun manufacturing their own polos, SPF shirts, rain jackets, and a few additional items so their supply is steady and they’re not subject to discontinued styles or colors. “All these new products are being designed by yacht crew for maximum quality, comfort, and safety,” Marchand says. “We have found new materials that will protect the crew from harmful UV. All our new apparel will reflect that and offer SPF-rated protection for crew.”
Presentation is also key, notes Prudence Ellis-Bundren of Anchors & Dove in Sydney. “You’ve got to make sure, say with the men’s Walkshort that we sell, that the fabric is comfortable, it’s four-way stretch, and if it gets wet it dries quickly and it dries quickly across the entire short. We’ve found the perfect fabric for that.” The former chief stewardess knows what works and what doesn’t after a decade in the industry. Living ashore nowadays, she personally tests her designs, putting the clothes through their paces as she chases after her children. Along with unveiling two new skorts this year, she reports that all polo shirts are now bamboo fabric. “They’re getting rave reviews in terms of the color fasting, and they’re super duper soft. A lot of crew are commenting that they don’t even feel like they’re wearing a shirt,” she says.
It’s Easy to be Green
In addition to the comfort and breathability that bamboo brings, it’s also a superbly sustainable material. Fast growing, naturally pest-resistant, and requiring minimal water, it’s an environmental win all around.
“We are in a moment where the green approach is fundamental,” says Annalisa Mutti of Floating Life in Varese, Italy, which has introduced fabrics to its regular collection that have Oeko-Tex certification for being ecologically safe.
The trailblazer in this movement when it comes to yacht crew uniforms is Ethical Yacht Wear in Fort Lauderdale. Started by a stewardess two years ago, the company supplies clothing that has the least environmental impact possible, choosing, for instance, organic cotton so there’s no chemical runoff into the sea from pesticides or fertilizers, or performance fabric made from 95 percent recycled material. The latter makes up its new collection of Eco Hybrid skorts and shorts.
“We don’t just take care of the planet, we take care of the people,” says founder Lauren Wardley. Every item is certified Fair Trade, meaning all workers from manufacturing through to distribution are paid honest wages and work in safe, clean conditions.
This is the approach Liquid Yacht Wear has taken as well. In addition to producing its own brand, it works with vendors that are committed to safe labor conditions and giving back more to the environment than they take away. This past November, it launched a recycling program for old uniforms at its Fort Lauderdale location. Crew can bring in discarded uniforms from any supplier. Anything with a yacht’s name or logo on it is sent to a shredder to be made into new product at Liquid Yacht Wear’s expense, and clothing without a yacht name is given to charity.
Crew & Tailor in London also encourages crew to return old uniforms to them for recycling. In addition, they’ve launched a Crews for Oceans line that will be trickled into its product list. “We’re phasing in planet-friendly fabrics to our clothing line, including fabrics that biodegrade in landfill and fabrics made from 100 percent recycled materials,” says founder Sienna Roebuck.
When Events Clothing was acquired by VMG Clothing in late 2019, the company became part of a larger organization that produces a lot of clothing for the New Zealand market and, as such, has close connections to and even ownership of factories overseas. This gives the uniform company a lot of control over the manufacturing process. “We’ve gone through and looked at all those different fabrications and said how can we make what we’ve got at the moment better? And how can we do it in a more sustainable way?” says Rutter.
For example, “Repreve is one of the brands that’s being used,” he continues. “It is a name for polyesters that come from recycled plastic bottles. We’ve got their fabrication in a number of our performance garments, in the shorts and the pants and in one of our polos, and at the other end of the scale we’ve got organic cottons that we’re using in our polo shirts and our T-shirts.”
“Since our first day of inception, Saltee Rags has had a strict environmental policy — we are the only yacht supplier that offers 100 percent green screen printing where nothing touches the earth,” Marchand says. “We have been researching earth-friendly materials that look great and have minimal impact on the earth.” The company offers eco apparel made of 100 percent recycled post-consumer products, and its line of triblended shirts has a social and eco conscience, adhering to environmental policies and labor laws that elevate communities worldwide.
In Zeidel’s proprietary SEE Apparel line, all bottoms are made from fabric that ranges from 50 to 75 percent polyester chips recycled from PET bottles. “Our three-year goal is to be utilizing 100 percent recycled material across our uniform line,” says Pritchard. Moreover, the fabric’s manufacturer uses only rainwater collected onsite, since water is one of the biggest wastes in the process.
“One of things that a lot of crew are looking at is socially responsible items,” Pritchard says. “One of the big brands that we’re selling is tasc, made from sustainable bamboo; the AS Colour T-shirts are a premium shirt and they are organic cotton; the Allmade T-shirt is 50 percent recycled plastic bottles (Repreve), 25 percent organic cotton, and 25 percent Tencel, a type of super sustainable wood like bamboo. We’re seeing people care about that quite a bit now, and they’re willing to pay more for premium brands.”
One of a Kind
Some crew are prepared to pay even more to be unique. Big boats mean big budgets and limitless options for dressing the crew in something that will turn heads when they pull into port.
“From 2019, we noted a big increase in bespoke items’ requests,” says Mutti of Floating Life. So much so that the Italian company separated its offerings into two lines: The Collection for its regular pieces that are always available, and the bespoke Collection Privè, which shows the customization possible with its in-house stylist. “We start from the client’s idea of what he would like to have on board, and after that we speak with our stylist, and she proposes a few sketches, a few designs from which the client will choose. And from there, we start selecting the perfect fabric and measuring all the crew.”
Roebuck of Crew & Tailor agrees this is a growing trend. “I think there has been a general feeling of caution due to the pandemic, but with the current rate of new builds there will be an increase in ‘expressions of luxury,’ including bespoke uniform,” she predicts. “Our bespoke service is a great chance for yachts, especially new builds, to develop uniform in line with the yacht’s aesthetics. There is no limit with custom-designed textiles, prints, cuts, and accessories.”
This feature originally ran in the April 2022 issue of Dockwalk.