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.