Designer Noel Asmar on the importance of good uniform design & the need for more sustainability in the spa industry

Noel Asmar

Noel Asmar is the CEO and founder of Noel Asmar Group Inc., the lifestyle brand behind Noel Asmar Uniforms, Pedicure Bowls and Asmar Equestrian.

The Canadian designer is renowned for reinventing the spa uniform nearly 20 years ago and setting the standard for next generation uniform concepts in the spa and hotel industries. The company’s history goes back to 2002, when Ms. Asmar created the first designer spa uniform. The goal was to create an alternative to the “utilitarian and unflattering” uniforms to which the industry had grown accustomed, and to elevate the look and feel for a growing industry. Companies readily embraced Asmar’s design concepts, and a brand was born.

Ms. Asmar has sat on the ISPA Board of Directors and is the recent recipient of the ISPA Innovation of the Year Award for her sustainable uniforms made from recycled plastic. She has also been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 20 Female Entrepreneurs. More recently, Noel Asmar Group launched Hospitality Lifecycle, an initiative to provide hotels and spas access to practical, cost-effective solutions to safely and securely dispose of used textiles.

Spa Executive spoke with Noel Asmar about the importance of good uniform design, the Hospitality Lifecycle Initiative, and the need for more sustainability in the industry.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path and how you came to be where you are today?

With a love for animals and an equally strong passion for other cultures, languages and cuisine, I chose hotel management school over being a Veterinarian. I worked overseas in hotel management and then as Business Development Director for a marketing firm, where I spent time in Asia. There I was lured into the fabric markets to discover that I really enjoyed the process of fabric sourcing, sketching, and creating designs. I used my evenings and off time to design pieces for friends and family and created a small collection that would lay the foundation for my first start-up.

While on a trip home to Vancouver to visit my mom (a nurse) and sister (an aesthetician), I realized their uniform options were boxy and unflattering, and that this applied to spa uniforms in general. I started sourcing fabrics and made my first proto-type – the Zen Tunic. I bought my first URL and built the first Spa Uniform Ecommerce site, shipping anywhere in the world, in Dec 2002. Fast forward 17 years, we specialize in Spa & Hospitality, and rebranded to Noel Asmar Uniforms to expand our offerings into other areas within spas and hotels. Our first big hotel opening was City Center Las Vegas – Aria & Vdara.

Why is uniform design important? Why did you feel the need to change the aesthetic?

The uniform is the single most personal way to touch an employee – literally. Uniforms are important for team moral and for the customer experience. Being properly dressed empowers the team to perform at their best, and to feel like part of a team. The impact is significant: really good when the uniform selection is a success, and really bad when it is not. Uniforms also say a lot about a business and brand. Sloppy, ill-fitting uniforms are taken very seriously by organizations such as Forbes Rating and a property can lose their 5 star rating if the uniforms are poorly executed.

I felt I had an opportunity to make a difference and when the first design started to ship out, we could barely keep up with production. I knew was solving a problem.

Why is sustainability important? Do we do enough in the spa and wellness industry to support sustainability?

Sustainability can take on many meanings. At Noel Asmar Group, we are the opposite of fast fashion. Our garments last minimum 3-5 years and this in itself is a very sustainable approach to apparel. We stock most of our uniforms – so that properties can purchase on a need be basis for infills, rather than over ordering, and we cross utilize fabrics across collections to minimize textile waste. In 2018 we launched our first sustainable uniform collections and have committed to sourcing sustainable yarns.

We don’t do enough, but there are groups such as Green Spa Network that are creating awareness and providing helpful tips for the industry to take action.

Please tell us about the Hospitality Lifecycle Initiative

Noel Asmar Group recognizes our responsibility to find sustainable and creative ways to manage our own textile waste, like damaged apparel and fabric bolt ends. This lead me to start asking questions of the rest of the industry: what are hotels and spas doing with their uniforms, robes, towels, blankets etc. once they are no longer fit for use? It became clear that this is an issue nobody is talking about and that companies don’t have established policies for end-of-life textiles. The industry needs practical recycling solutions for textile waste.

We have partnered with Debrand, which provides B2B solutions for end of life product management to create Hospitality Lifecycle in the USA and Canada. Their eagerness to collaborate with an “out-of-the-box” mindset made them a fitting partner.

Noel Asmar and Garrett Mersberger
Noel Asmar and Garrett Mersberger

You recently won an ISPA Innovate Award. What does that mean to you?

Our team was very proud and honored to receive the award at a time when we are making the shift to be more sustainable and try to help others to do so. The award felt like an affirmation that we are taking the right path and it’s fueled our team and our company culture to do better.

Does it take a special skillset to be a successful female entrepreneur? If so, what are the special skills?

It’s an honor to be mom to three beautiful children, a wife and CEO, but it comes with incredible pressure and responsibility that can at times be overwhelming. Every decision I make is measured against a set of  values, and I took an unconventional approach to building  the businesses to ensure I could be the mom and CEO I want to be.

Women need to believe in themselves. Speak up and tell people what you dream to accomplish, set goals and make them known. Know what you know and hire for the skillsets you’re lacking. Delegate and elevate your team.

Personally, I believe that, as a woman, you need to have grit, know your purpose and build your community. No matter where your career takes you, stay close to your gut-instinct, check in with yourself, and don’t get caught up in the game.  It’s healthy to re-assess and stop doing what doesn’t make you happy – that’s success, not failure.

What is the hardest part of what you do?

As an entrepreneur, the hardest part is not knowing what I don’t know! Hiring roles outside of my own expertise is always challenging. I would say the hardest part of my role is putting the right people in the right seat

Can you talk about any trends in spa and wellness that you’re excited about?

As a functional designer I’m excited that technology is leading innovation in fabrics and production. We have started making uniforms from recycled water bottles that are crushed and turned into yarns, and our next uniform project is to further develop our fitness collection to outfit fitness professionals. We will also continue to learn and advise our clients on sustainable uniform sourcing. We have become very passionate about this.

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