COVID born healthy habits drive workwear

by | Mar 17, 2022


Respiratory products have remained a popular and crucial part of everyday life for Australians despite the Omicron wave beginning to lose momentum and mask-wearing mandates easing across most states. 

Current growth within the respiratory space is expected to continue as both businesses and end-users increase their understanding of the importance of wearing correctly fitted respiratory products to protect their health while at work. 

Growing awareness of respiratory diseases such as silicosis and taking preventative action has also extended to a growing awareness of having the right skin coverage while working outside, with trades seeking sun-protection products now more than ever, Total Tools Executive General Manager – Merchandise, Nicole Bemelmans said recently.

“Safety hats with full brims, sunscreen along with long pants and shirts are currently well sought after amongst trades. In saying this good growth has continued in all PPE categories including hand, ear, eye, head and face protection due to a growing awareness of risks to health and personal protection within the workplace. Total Tools has also gained growth within the T-shirt and hydration space alongside excellent growth in flasks or water carrying containers – which is an associated category to this space,” Ms Bemelmans said.

There is no doubt that essential items such as hand sanitizers and face masks saw unprecedented sales throughout the pandemic. Ms Bemelmans believes while these products have now permeated all sectors of the retail market, “Total Tools has seen normalisation for demand for these items for now”.

“Other products that sold particularly well during the pandemic included fire safety products, with sales stemming from customers wanting to protect themselves properly since the bushfires, as well as hand protection, particularly within the disposable glove space,” she said.

The workwear space is also growing well with sales currently driven by younger, fashion-conscious tradies who migrate to new styles and colours within both the workwear and footwear space as they as soon as they become available.

“There really is such a great range of workwear styles and brands in-store at the moment that not only look and feel great but are designed to suit any budget. Workwear is much more than simply ‘hi vis’. Today’s tradies are highly driven by functionality, comfort and style which all remain the key factors in the decision-making process,” she said.

“More and more tradies are looking for fashionable workwear that can crossover into their after-work personal lives. This segment is quite diverse now as there is more of an extensive offering available that suits both the budget conscious and aspirational user.”

“There are also many new entrants into the workwear space currently and we have seen examples of clothing brands crossing over from sectors such as surf-wear into workwear. This has led to fragmentation and the need to offer more brands to satisfy the increasingly discerning customer,” Ms Bemelmans said.

Workwear and PPE segments that are expected to perform particularly well over the next 12 months include ear, eye, hand, and face protection as trades continue to take more responsibility in protecting themselves from long-term injuries and skin cancer while working on-site.

“Total Tools also expects to see good growth within the footwear sector as innovative new styles and colours drive this sector throughout 2022,” she said.

While Total Tools continues to support both imported and locally made brands, the group does remain passionate about flying the flag for Australian manufacturing, Ms Bemelmans said.

“Of course, Total Tools would only support products that are compliant to the relevant AS/NZS standards which provide a safe minimal requirement for each product. We also make sure our customers are aware that global supply chain issues will continue to affect lead times and stock availability across all sectors. We are aware there are on-going delays in new product development as suppliers focus on maintaining supply and keeping up with the increased demand,” she said.

When it comes to educating customers on the benefits of using certain products or brands, Total Tools believes in using rich online content along with product choice guides to ensure the customer is fully informed on the workwear and PPE they purchase in-store.

“Stand out product packaging also creates an effective display of the product while also communicating the features, benefits, as well as who would choose this product and why,” she said.

As consumers become more educated on properly protecting themselves within the workplace and seek functional, comfortable and stylish products to wear at work, Ms Bemelmans suggests retailers utilise inspiring lifestyle advertising from safety and workwear brands, in traditional and online and social media channels that target specific user and demographic groups.

“This marketing will continually entice end-users within this space and should also be backed up with a rich omnichannel retail experience, along with in-store product displays and packaging that reinforce the benefits of the product. Increasing awareness in overall safety on the jobsite is paramount throughout 2022,” she said.

Safety sales spikes here to stay

Maddison Safety & Industrial Supplies has set up its showroom to look more like a surf shop than a safety shop.

PPE sales, particularly within the respiratory product space, are not expected to slow just yet due to the hygiene and sanitizing habits that have become embedded into Australian’s home, work and school life over the last two years.

Maddison Safety & Industrial Supplies Managing Director, Tim Maddison agrees that healthy sales within the PPE sector will continue for some time and businesses that were traditionally not in the position to buy PPE prior to the pandemic are expected to purchase products on an on-going basis, particularly within the ‘health and hygiene’ space.

“We have found that our customers continue to purchase respiratory products because they want to keep themselves and their customers safe as they conduct business and go about their daily lives in a COVID normal world. Consumers have also continued to buy products within the ‘health and hygiene’ space, including sanitizing wipes so they can wipe down everything from shared workspaces to trolleys,” he said.

“I can already see within my own business that a lot of our staff have developed some really good habits that are here to stay, including cleaning their computers or using hand sanitizer before they enter the office.”

“Hygenic routines have become a way of life for consumers because these habits not only stop the spread of COVID, but also stop the spread of tummy-bugs and the flu, things that can quickly attack workplaces, and cause staffing issues while also costing money. Even though COVID restrictions are easing substantially in some states when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing, I think things like sanitizing on entry and wiping workstations are now a part of our working life and will remain in company’s budgets indefinitely,” Mr Maddison said.

One segment that continues to grow particularly well currently is the footwear space, which Mr Maddison says can be categorised as both PPE or Workwear.

“We are selling loads of boots because the building, mining and construction industries remain so buoyant. I think globally the way out of this pandemic is for governments to continually fund infrastructure jobs. There is a lot of activity within this space currently, particularly when it comes to big civil works jobs,” he said.

“We were also lucky enough to source high-quality rapid tests prior to the supply chain crisis which led to high growth within this area. This, along with our disposable product range has continued to sell well which includes disposable gloves, aprons, antibacterial wipes – these all sit within the ‘health and hygiene’ space.”

“The ‘health and hygiene’ space has certainly ramped up over the last two years off the back of general public sales and we expect these sales to continue for some time,” Mr Maddison said.

Category drivers within the respiratory space particularly have not only come from the implementation of mandatory mask-wearing in certain states but also an increase in exposure standards particularly in mining and construction sites where workers are encouraged to wear safety masks now more than ever before, according to Mr Maddison.

“Whether that is someone who is now wearing a dust mask that has never had to in the past, or a powered air unit, behind all of this are also fit testing standards that are now part of the standard role – so every person who wears a respiratory product by law should now be fit tested into that mask. There is a lot of drive within the respiratory space no doubt,” Mr Maddison said.

When looking at the workwear space, Mr Maddison agrees that tradies want to look as if they are dressed to go to the pub or the beach when they also dress for the worksite and that the workwear space has gone full-circle.

“Years ago, you could wear your board shorts to work. Then we went through the stage where everything was flouro and now it is starting to spin back around where there are still utilising the flouro colors, but there is some really nice, modern workwear out there these days,” he said.

“It is such a huge growth area for us because we have been lucky enough to attract a lot of the trades within our area. We have set our showroom up to look more like a surf shop than a safety shop because tradies take so much pride in their appearance now. There are some really nice brands out there including the Syzmik Streetworx range and also surf brands like Volcom and LIIVE now have workwear ranges. LIIVE is known for its sunglasses, but recently introduced a safety eyewear range which is proving extremely popular in the trade market. I think a lot of those surf brands are looking at what the typical tradie wears day in and day out and are trying to capitalise on this.”

“There is also a boot company called Bison that just launched a streetwear range of safety boots that are really trendy as well. I think while it is great to introduce on-trend brands to this space, it is also crucial to build a healthy online presence which is something we have invested into over the last 18 months,” Mr Maddison said.

Once the team at Maddison Safety & Industrial Supplies settled into the pandemic, they realised they would no longer spend as much time onsite with its customers or be as active out on the road.

“Throughout the lockdowns we made sure we were more active online and we have spent a bit of time building our websites because there is no doubt that the online space is becoming bigger as more consumers utilize this space now more than ever,” he said.

While the online space has grown exceptionally well, much of the store’s sales also come from building a good reputation through word of mouth.

“We have a lot of tradies come in and order their uniforms and we will make sure they look really smart. They then go to the job site and other trades will see them and ask where they got their gear from. The next thing you know we have new customers coming in the door – so this works well for us too. Last winter demand on hoodies skyrocketed in the trade space. Tradies love their hoodies and we sourced a really nice range which sold well,” Mr Maddison said.

Touching on the issue of suppliers flooding the same workwear and PPE spaces, Mr Maddison said while Maddison Safety is only a small to medium-sized enterprise, it does try to mix up as much product as possible with the bigger suppliers.

“It actually disappoints us when we see safety specs in Officeworks or down at the corner store because you know they are not selling the products with the same expert technical information that we can offer. Our sales team have years and years of experience and there is a lot of smaller, standard things that you need to know when you are selling products, which is why we focus on remaining very knowledgeable when selling our safety products.”

“When putting together proposals, we always outline the experience our team has in the safety industry. Maddison Safety has been around for over thirty years now so we are pretty confident in our ability to support the right product,” Mr Maddison said.

While Mr Maddison believes there does seem to be several new players coming into the space, he said many of them are in and around the urbanwear and standard workwear space, and there also seems to be a steep increase in suppliers offering disposable products.

“When it comes to PPE, we tend to stick to the traditional suppliers that have got the credibility behind them as market leaders such as 3M and Paramount Safety,” he said.

After launching his very own Envirus PPE masks last year, Mr Maddison said he has since begun to sell many new products, particularly within the ‘health and hygiene’ space. 

“It is all going really well and I think things like masks will continue to be a part of our daily lives for quite some time as Australians choose to protect themselves and those around them, regardless of what restrictions may be,” he said.

Emerald Industrial Supplies takes on new workwear business

Emerald Industrial Supplies owner, Brendan Buckton, recently took on a new venture within the PPE and workwear space when he purchased a new safety supply company in the Queensland town of Emerald.

Mr Buckton initially bought the business to increase the sales per gender throughout both businesses and has now integrated the industrial supply arm of the business with the new PPE and workwear venture.

“The majority of customers within our industrial store are male, so by purchasing the workwear business we have increased our female customer base substantially. A lot of the administration people manage the workwear orders for businesses and these administration people are most likely to be female,” he said.

“We have a fair range of businesses utilizing the workwear space, including mining, contractors and farmers as well. The one trend we are seeing within workwear is there are a lot of workwear companies that are supporting men’s and women’s health organisations. This also extends out to the Aboriginal community, where Aboriginal artwork is being designed on workwear to support their culture.”

“This workwear creates interest and discussions around the cause it is supporting. While you will not see the big companies who are buying thousands of shirts supporting these locally made products because they are too expensive, a lot of the small mum and dad businesses are definitely jumping on board,” Mr Buckton said.

In the PPE space, Mr Buckton agrees there is currently quite a push for respiratory products, with companies focusing much more on preventing respiratory diseases at work.

“The correct implementation and fitting of respiratory products was a focus implemented by auditors and inspectors randomly checking contractors on worksites. But since COVID hit, these inspections have stopped and although workers are still trying to do the right thing, the rules are not being enforced quite like they used to.”

“In saying this the mining industry is being pro-active with PPE fit tests, but your PPE is the last line of defence so a lot of contractors are focusing on removing dust before implementing the PPE by using vacuum type systems that remove the dust before it becomes an issue. Masks then become the last line of defence,” he said.

Australian company Maxcool Workwear produce workwear featuring original artwork by Indigenous Australians. Image source:

Bunnings reports steady PPE sales 

Disposable masks, respirators and hand-sanitizers remain popular following initial demand from the pandemic according to Bunnings Ladders, Site Safety and PPE Buyer, Ross Gehrig who says product sales are expected to remain steady now restrictions have eased.

“Respiratory products are considered to be essential items for everyday life which is why we are expecting to see strong momentum across the PPE category this year, and also throughout our workwear offering which is continuing to grow,” Mr Gehrig said.

In the workwear space, Bunnings has reported impressive growth within its workwear and boot ranges, particularly amongst key brands such as DeWalt and Hard Yakka.

“From our entry-level range Craftright, right through to brand names such as Hard Yakka – Bunnings offers a great selection of boots and workwear starting from DIY through to trade quality, ranging in price from $35 to $200.”

Bunnings continues to offer a variety of workwear brands that provide the customer with options at an affordable price point, allowing them to find the product that best suits their needs – both from a function and style point of view. 

“We expect the demand for functional but fashionable workwear to continue, which is why we are always looking to add new and ‘on-trend’ styles to our offering,” he said.

In-store, Bunnings recently implemented a new range of gloves which Mr Gehrig expects to be extremely popular this year.

“The styles offer both cut protection and back of hand protection and are also made from a water-resistant quality leather,” he said.

When it comes to educating the consumer on the type of PPE and workwear product they may need for a specific job, Mr Gehrig said the Bunnings’ team has a great opportunity to assist customers throughout the process so they can make informed purchasing decisions. 

“This might include providing information on our website so customers can research products before they head in-store, to providing training to our team members so they can offer help in store, as well as having clear and concise packaging that outlines how and what to use a product for. This helps customers select the product that is best suited to their needs,” Mr Gehrig said.

When discussing current drivers within the market, while Mr Gehrig agrees product quality, innovation, value for money and product usability all play major roles in driving purchases within the workwear and PPE category, ultimately the unique need of each customer is what will determine the demand and success of a product. 

“Factors such as whether the customer is completing a DIY project or is a trade professional, if they plan to wear the PPE for an extended amount of time or as a one-off, all play a role in determining which product is best for them. However, ensuring that all of our products are of high quality and fit for purpose is how we remain competitive across the category,” he said.