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Fashion Firms Emphasize Employee Health, Fitness

Fashion is all about image, but the demands of the industry don’t always support a healthy lifestyle.

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Fashion is all about image, but the demands of the industry don’t always support a healthy lifestyle.

Late hours, international travel and meals eaten on the run have a way of wreaking havoc on the body’s systems.

“This is one of the nicest-looking and least-fit industries,” said Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness on West 14th Street in New York, who has several designers on his client list. “The fashion industry needs to be convinced [about exercise]. They can get away without it until something happens and the stress level changes.”

Gary was a “suit” in his former life as an employee of Pfizer, where he would often see the chief executive officer and chief financial officer working out in the company gym with trainers. “They got it,” he said. “I don’t know why the fashion industry doesn’t get it.”

 

While industry executives won’t admit it, looks play a part when hiring employees to represent a brand. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has been sued in federal court for its policy of hiring classic “all-American” looking men and women. The retailer paid $50 million to settle a 2004 case.

 

“Any company that’s customer-facing or wants a healthier staff wants them to look good,” said Alastair Greer, founder of Local Sqr, a corporate wellness consultancy that was hired by Saks Fifth Avenue to create a healthy lifestyle/nutrition program for employees of its Fifth Avenue flagship. “Research shows that employers who implement corporate wellness programs consistently see a positive return on investment. More companies are taking it seriously now. We’re in a health crisis. Companies take the brunt of the financial burden. They cover it when their employees are sick. Trends show that corporate wellness is growing at 9 percent or 10 percent a year. Saks really jumped in with both feet.”

Built around LocalSqr’s Go Local program that supports local farmers and producers, Saks employees were taught how to amp up their health through good nutrition. LocalSqr for eight weeks prepared healthier meal options daily at the company cafeteria, such as peppers stuffed with couscous and butternut squash soup with chile and quinoa, and provided recipes and cooking tips. Workers were also taught how to shop at farmers’ markets. “That develops skills they can carry over to supermarkets, for example, selecting the best produce and buying seasonal fruits and vegetables,” said Greer. Saks was so pleased with the pilot, it asked Greer to take Go Local national in July and August to 115 locations and more than 11,000 employees, including corporate offices and other nonretail locations.

The cost of LocalSqr depends on the type of program and number of employees in the company, according to Greer. The costs diminish as the number of participants grows. For a standard eight-week corporate wellness program, Greer estimated the cost at 50 cents per employee per month for a company with more than 10,000 workers. “This is more than a wellness initiative, it’s a social initiative,” Greer said. “We’re not a diet. We don’t count calories or micromanage nutrition. It’s getting back to eating healthy, clean, fresh food. We need nutrition, we don’t need to be cutting calories when we’re malnourished as a country. This is a surefire way to feeling healthy and losing weight.”

In addition to shedding unwanted pounds, teaching employees how to live more balanced lives can potentially lower health care costs, reduce absenteeism and increase engagement so that workers are more alert and productive.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business School study, medical costs fell by approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, and costs associated with absenteeism fell by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.

Dodgeville, Wis.-based Lands’ End takes health seriously with a registered dietician on staff for nutrition consultations and regular screenings for skin and prostate cancers, among other things. Its Comer Center offers swimming, basketball, racquetball, karate and cycling in a state-of-the-art facility. Employees meet at Comer’s classrooms for activities such as a guitar club, ballroom dancing and scrapbooking. The center, which can be used by employees, retirees and their families, also has youth programs. Lands’ End said the center has furthered preventative health initiatives, boosted employee morale and productivity, and helped stabilize employees’ health care costs.

“Life in fashion is very fast. The trick is to make right decisions with the food and leave the bad social habits behind,” said Omar Hassam, a hypnotist/yoga instructor whose client base includes fashion executives and models. “It’s an opportunity to program physiology and mind for more personal power,” Hassam said of hypno yoga. “I’m working with some luxury goods companies, helping stores with team building and programming the sales teams for more ability and agility. If you’re having issues selling, maybe it has to do with [how you feel about] your appearance or self worth. If you remove the limiting emotions, people feel confident and relaxed.”

Urban Outfitters Inc.’s home office in the Navy Yard outside Philadelphia looks more like a college campus than a corporate headquarters. It welcomes dogs, which are viewed as stress-busters, as long as they’re accompanied by their owners. Throughout the day, canines romp together in the dog park, with workers joining in to throw the occasional frisbee.

Urban funds a range of programs from a farmer’s market to visits from an acupuncturist. An on-site fitness center sports Pilates equipment, a private yoga studio and two personal trainers on staff. Use of the gym is free for employees; trainers and classes cost $10. “The programs are based on the interests and needs of our 1,800 employees,” said Lauren Addis, operations manager of the Navy Yard. “Because we’re a fashion company, creativity drives our lifestyle and our growth. We have young employees. They’re active and work really hard. This is a great way to help them achieve balance in their lives.”

Target Corp.’s eateries at its Minneapolis head office participate in a farm-to-fork program that sources produce and meat locally from farms and artisans with sustainable practices. Meals are pesticide-, hormone- and antibiotic-free and often served within 48 hours of harvest. “The healthy choice is the default choice in our cafés,” said Cara McNulty, head of Target prevention and wellness. “The fact that these foods are also sustainable and delicious just makes it that much better.”

Rebecca Minkoff began working out with Body Space Fitness owner Gary when she was trying to shed the last 10 stubborn pounds of post-pregnancy weight. “I thought that dieting would get me the body I wanted,” the designer said. “I started working with Kelvin two days a week and thought this would be a nice thing to do for my staff. The industry is stressful. There’s a lot of sitting. I’m happier and have a better day when I work out.”

“A lot of the things I was doing when I was in the corporate world were jacking me up,” Gary said. “I know what people need.”

“Are you sitting behind a desk or walking around a lot?” Gary asked a small group of women gathered at Minkoff’s showroom for a workout session. He handed each one a resistance band and put them through a series of rotations. Gary said he develops a special workout for Minkoff’s staff each week and follows up with an e-mail and link illustrating the routine so staffers can do it at home. “There’s a need to look and feel good in an industry that values appearance,” he said.

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