Miami International Airport buttoning up shirts deal after two-year delay
By Risa Polansky
Two years after unveiling colorful guayabera-style uniforms for airport employees, Miami International Airport is still shirtless.
To bring local flavor into the major county entry point, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and Beacon Council in fall 2007 commissioned a Romero Britto painting to hang in the airport and serve as motif for shirts for 300 public-contact staffers.
"Miami Paradise," the lively artwork by the Brazilian-born, Miami-based artist, dazzles visitors daily from its place of honor in lobby E-F.
But travelers have yet to experience the long-anticipated, $93,000 flashy fashion statement that had tongues wagging after Miami-Dade Commissioner Natacha Seijas said her maid wears better clothes.
Estimated time of arrival is late this year, said Dickie K. Davis, airport director of terminal operations and customer service.
Transforming a painting into a one-of-a-kind uniform has proven turbulent.
Technical difficulties meant terminating in March 2008 the county contract with the company initially tapped to print the shirts, Palmetto Uniforms.
"It's a difficult shirt to execute, and there were some difficulties in the execution, so it was rebid," Ms. Davis said. "The county subsequently awarded a contract to Perry Ellis. In this process there have been refinements to the design, issues of execution — this is a one-of-a-kind thing."
For a year, the Miami-based clothier has been on the job — but it's not an easy one, Ms. Davis said.
"They're made in China, they had to be printed on a fabric, and then the fabric had to be tested — there's a lot of different reasons" for delays, she said. "No one particular reason, just different changes in the technicalities of how they're made, how they're dyed, how they're printed, working with the artist to make artistic adjustments in the shirt… The time that's passed does not have anything to do with not performing. It's just enhancements and changes."
The new-and-improved Perry Ellis "Cubavera" shirts — at the same cost to the aviation department as the early version, $62 a pop — are to be ready late this year in time for two major events early next year, the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl, Ms. Davis assured.
About 300 airport employees and volunteer ambassadors are to don versions of the wearable art, with different colors delineating airport divisions.
"The great news is I should be getting soon the final sample, and the last one I looked at was almost perfect, gorgeous, really nice," Ms. Davis said.
The idea behind the showy shirts is "so that the customers can easily spot us… and that the shirt is a brand about the vitality of the city — it has life and verve," she said.
They're meant to send the message: "We're here to help, and we're happy to stand out."
To ensure travelers get the picture, the aviation department is planning automated messages for airport callers and multiple wall signs reminding visitors to look for the folks in the colorful Cubaveras.
"It's a brand… they're relaxed and professional. They say something about this destination — that Miami is a tropical, fun, lively destination," Ms. Davis said. "We say Miami begins at MIA. From the moment you step off that plane, the Miami experience begins at MIA."