Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How can supermarkets sell school uniform so cheaply?

With Supermarkets offering school shirts for less than the price of a cup of coffee, school uniform has never seemed so affordable; welcome news you might think for hard pressed parents.  But have you ever stopped to consider just how good value the uniform you can pop in your trolley with the weekly shop really is?  Exactly how can it be produced so cheaply?

The simple answer is, it can’t.  The pair of polo shirts you can pick up for less than £2 from Aldi or Lidl will have passed through hundreds of people’s hands – from the workers who weave the fabric through to those involved in the manufacturing process to national and international shipping - before arriving on the shelves.  That all costs money.  But many supermarkets use your children’s uniform as a loss leader: something they accept they’ll lose rather than make money on.  The payoff?  It gets you into their store.

In other words, it’s a marketing ploy.  Which is fine, but leads you to question just how much concern the retail giants can have for the quality of these garments.  It also raises concerns about the ‘hidden costs’ of cheap clothing, such as the conditions of poor families in developing countries.

Whilst good quality uniform might have slightly higher up-front costs, it is an investment that pays longer term dividends – both in terms of your pocket and your child’s education.

Firstly, it will last longer.  A blazer, one of the more expensive uniform items for example, will typically stay with your child for two school years; and then you’ll probably pass it on to younger siblings.  So over, time, it represents excellent value.

We also know from schools that good quality, school-specific uniform contributes to higher educational attainment, better behaviour in school and increased safety because students are identifiable.  And we certainly believe that’s an investment worth making.

So how do schools provide good value uniforms to their students? They work closely with specialist suppliers who understand the importance of school wear and what it needs to stand up to.  These suppliers have the experience and knowledge to recommend good value designs which create a sense of pride in school and community.

Most suppliers recommend a mix of school specific items (like branded blazers and sweatshirts) alongside more generic items (like trousers or polo shirts) to help keep costs down.

Importantly, they recognise that children continue to grow throughout the school year and make sure parents can buy uniform items in the sizes they need all year round, not just at ‘back to school’ time.

In a throw-away culture it is easy to be tempted by the ‘cheaper now’ option.  At that price, if it’s ruined after a few months you’ll just replace it, right?

But is that just false economy?  And with a growing trend to consider where our clothes come from, the quality of the materials they are made with and what happens to them after we discard them, perhaps it’s time to invest a little more up front to reap the longer term benefits. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016


The Schoolwear Association, whose members together help to clothe three-quarters of Britain’s children, highlights five big challenges facing schools, governors, parents and suppliers as they head into the new school year.

1.   Surge in secondary school student numbers
Government figures show the number of pupils attending England's secondary schools is to rise by 20% over the course of the next decade, with nearly 3.3 million pupils expected to be attending state-funded secondaries by 2024, compared with just over 2.7 million in 2015. According to the Department for Education, this is mainly due to the upturn in the birth rate. Schools don't always get the timing right with suppliers so with rising numbers of students needing to be kitten out, it is vital to work closely together and plan well in advance to ensure that every child benefits from the advantages of a good quality, school specific uniforms in improved learning, behaviour and safety.

2.   Pressure to reduce cost and price, compromising quality
Some stores are launching a price war in order to increase footfall by selling off-the-shelf school clothing, in turn some schools are under unreasonable pressure to reduce school uniform prices. It is a false economy to try to clothe children on the cheap. Poor quality clothes aren't durable and don’t do the job properly.

As with everything, there are genuine benefits from paying a little extra for a good value product and service. A uniform that is made well does the job better and offers real value because it lasts longer and looks the part. Going for the cheapest option may also come with a hidden price tag, at the expense of the environment or the conditions of the workers who had to produce the clothes. While proper school uniform sometimes gets singled out as expensive. The real drain on many family budgets is often the branded clothing children wear when they are not in school.

3.   Religion
In the diverse country in which we live, schools have to think carefully about how to accommodate religious beliefs. This means school uniforms must be flexible enough to be able to meet the needs of everyone without compromising the school's identity.

4.   Obesity
Unfortunately, Obesity in children is continuing to increase in the UK, impacting many school students. It is one of the reasons schoolwear suppliers have to stock a wide range of different shapes and sizes, including larger school uniforms. A commitment to a school to provide uniform in all sizes, all year round is one of the reasons that schools prefer to work with specialist suppliers.

5.   Transgender / gender diversity
Some schools are moving towards more gender neutral school uniforms, as part of a drive for the education system to be more open to children questioning their gender identity. The important thing is not whether there are well-defined male and female versions of a uniform but that the school retains a strict policy to ensure that everyone can wear the uniform in a way that contributes to the school's identity and everyone's sense of belonging to the school and its local community.

David Burgess, Chairman of the Schoolwear Association, said: “As we enter the new school year, it is an opportunity to highlight the benefits of good quality uniform. We understand that price is important but a uniform that is made well does the job better than cheap off-the-shelf clothing and offers better value because it lasts longer. We advise schools and parents to work with specialist suppliers to find the best value uniform for children, who are also in a position to cater to all of a school's uniform requirements. Making good decisions at the outset will always provide better long term value.”