As it attempts to change its image from a fat purveyor to phat icon, the world's largest youth employer is turning to these style-setters for what could be an $80 million makeover for its army of workers. The idea is to rescue its fashion-victim burger-flippers from conservative, permanent-press attire and instill pride and motivation with hipper outfits-turning employees into walking brand billboards as they circulate among their peers.
"We're looking at how do we make our uniforms more appealing, more desirable," said Bill Lamar Jr., chief marketing officer for McDonald's USA. He said the talks were "purely exploratory," although a massive and costly overhaul has been planned.
Marlena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer for McDonald's USA, is overseeing the initiative and has tapped former music executive Steve Stoute, founder-chief creative officer of Translation Consulting & Brand Imaging, New York. Mr. Stoute, whose clients include Verizon and Yahoo, is charged with connecting McDonald's with designers.
With roughly 30,000 McDonald's employees that fall within the young-adult age bracket, "It's very important to take [uniforms] from what they have to wear to what they want to wear," said Mr. Stoute. "It's a very important aspect of employee pride. McDonald's has evolved and become a lifestyle brand ... since it now is relevant to our lifestyle, let's go one step further and make its employees relevant to our lifestyle as well."
If the idea doesn't get lost in translation, McDonald's would end up rotating through a series of contemporary versions of the original Ray Kroc designs that would be changed in rotations. "You're taking the original inspiration of McDonald's and having very famous contemporary designers do a twist on it," said Mr. Stoute. The ultimate test is whether employees would wear the outfits outside of work as a fashion statement. It typically costs $4,000 to $6,000 to outfit a restaurant with uniforms. Restaurants choose from among corporate-approved styles.
Among the top designers the chain is eyeing: Mr. Simmons' Phat Farm; P. Diddy's Sean John; American Apparel; American Eagle Outfitters; Abercrombie & Fitch; Fubu; Rocawear; Tommy Hilfiger and others.
"Employees are becoming more and more important every day in delivering a brand experience," said Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor. "How people feel about a company and brand directly affects their ability to deliver on the promise. Job One is to feel good about the company and Job Two is to understand the brand idea so they can deliver the brand and live its promise."
Fashion is one of the "languages" that McDonald's is tapping into to improve its relevance with young adults. When the burger behemoth launched its "I'm lovin' it" platform nearly two years ago, fashionable crew uniforms in the Netherlands became the rage and customers begged to buy their own versions.
The chain follows other hospitality companies-especially hotels and airlines-that for years have been tapping catwalk fashion designers to improve the look and cachet of their employee apparel. Delta's Song hired Kate Spade to dress its flight crew, while W Hotels hired Kenneth Cole. Even the Italian police wear Armani.
One challenge will be in making a design that fits American youth's sensibilities toward individuality.
"This is not a country that loves uniforms," said Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who has designed uniforms for McDonald's, FedEx and JetBlue. "Everybody wants to be an individual. You go to Europe and Asia and they love their uniforms. Even the sanitation workers in Paris are so proud of their blues. That's why McDonald's is thinking this way."