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.” 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


It may be difficult to get your child into a top state school but affording the school uniform isn’t, reveals a new survey by the Schoolwear Association, whose members together help to clothe three-quarters of Britain’s children.

All of the top 20 state schools in England insist on a uniform, and the majority also stipulate a blazer and tie.

The study carried out by the Schoolwear Association reveals the average cost of a complete outfit in these schools is less than £107 - just 54p a day per school year, and even better value when you consider that items such as blazers and ties will last for more than one school year.

David Burgess, Chairman of the Schoolwear Association, said: “We see more and more schools and academies upgrading to smarter and better quality uniform, and we want everyone to see it as a worthwhile investment in our children’s futures. This new research shows that good school uniform is great value, especially when compared to the cost of the branded clothes many children wear out of school. Most parents and teachers agree that good quality, school-specific uniform contributes to improved learning, better behaviour and increased child safety. We know the cost can be significant for hard-pressed families so as an industry, we’re working with schools and spearheading initiatives such as school uniform vouchers to help. We believe every child is worth it.”

Researchers looked at England’s top 20 state schools ranked by 2015 GCSE results, and added up the cost of compulsory, school specific daywear outfit items – which may include a blazer, jumper, cardigan, trousers, skirt, kilt, shirt, tie, socks or tights but not sportswear. Additional, non-school specific items may be required to complete outfits. 

Prices in the top 20 state schools range from £29 at Newport Girls High School, which only stipulates a school specific shirt and jumper or cardigan, to £188 at St Michael School, which stipulates a school specific blazer, shirt, skirt/kilt and a jumper or cardigan.

The Schoolwear Association points to previous research by Oxford Brooks University that showed a children’s designer sweatshirt costs more than £46, which is more than the cost of an entire primary school outfit.

Mr Burgess added: “Responsible specialist schoolwear suppliers provide quality products at competitive prices with a mix of school specific uniform items and generic garments to create a smart look at an acceptable price. They work closely with schools, and we have recently produced a guide to school uniform for head teachers and governors to help them to get best value from uniform, including how to carry out competitive tenders with suppliers.”

Thursday, 4 August 2016


We're frequently amazed by the generosity of our members. Often, this takes the form of support for schools to help disadvantaged families afford top quality school uniform for their children. On other occasions, we've donated surplus stock to children in some of the world's poorest countries. Many members make donations to charities and support them with fundraising events. Here's just one example.

Six employees at Schoolwear Association member Stevensons are taking part in The London Triathlon to raise money for Brainwave.

The team, which includes Joint Managing Director John Stevenson, is hoping to raise £3,600 for the charity which helps children with disabilities to achieve greater independence. The children they work with have a range of conditions including autism, brain injuries, such as cerebral palsy, and genetic conditions such as Down’s Syndrome.

The Olympic distance triathlon comprises a 1500m swim, a 40km cycle ride and a 10km run.

Gavin Cocksedge, Business Development Manager at Stevensons and Schoolwear Association Member, comments: “Brainwave is such an important charity to more than 600 children and their families.  We hope that our fundraising efforts will help Brainwave continue to provide amazing care for children with disabilities and raise the profile of such a worthwhile charity. I wish all of ‘Team Stevensons’ well during what promises to be a tough Triathlon.”

To donate, please click here: or you can donate via text, using code STVN65 + the amount you want to donate (e.g. £10) to 70070.

Stevensons is one of the largest independent school uniform and schoolwear providers in the UK, serving over 350 schools nationwide.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Be brave and positive. That was the message of our Chair David Burgess to executive members meeting in Manchester.

"It's a scarier world post Brexit but we all have to be brave and remain positive," he said. "We have a new Prime Minister, of course, and a new Education Secretary, Justine Greening, who has sensibly said that she is going to look at the strategies her department currently has in place before she changes anything."

He said: "Whenever there is a big change, there are lots of opportunities, and that is what we have to look at. There are downsides, such as the exchange rate that will mean prices rise but as the Governor of the Bank of England has said, there is not enough information about what will happen post Brexit to make a sensible decision about the future. There are a lot of possibilities. As an industry, we have to make sure we do a great job this year, to make sure we deliver in retail and manufacture and all areas. There are all the signs that it will be a good back to school period this year, and we have to make sure we deliver quality and value to parents. We know from a Department for Education survey that eight out of ten parents are satisfied with the arrangements for uniform at their children’s schools, and we must all work to ensure that continues."

Our public affairs lead, Matthew Easter, said Brexit was likely to delay the implementation of a Treasury bill that would see the government guidelines for schools on specifying uniform become law. In discussions with the Department for Education before the referendum, he learned that they were awaiting a Parliamentary slot to begin the process that would be the Autumn at the earliest before that happened.

"Post Brexit, the chances of getting a slot are diminished because of additional legislation that will now be necessary," he forecast. The fact that the uniform legislation was part of a bigger Treasury package of measures covering insurance, banking and mobile phone charges meant it would be subject to lobbying from a large number of affected industries which would likely further delay the process.

Another complication was that the legislation could be affected by EU law which might no longer be applicable after Britain formally leaves.

Executive member Donald Moore forecasts that price rises as a result of the falling value of the pound would not be passed on wholly by suppliers to retailers, and that retailers would not pass on all of their increased costs to customers, shielding consumers from the full effect. That is what happened after the 2008 crash, he said, leading to lean times for the industry. "You won't see a 20 per cent price rise in store just because the pound is 20 per cent weaker against the dollar," he added.

Meanwhile, we are planning talks with associations representing head teachers and governors to put the case for good quality, good value, school-specific uniform and its benefits in improved learning, better behaviour and child safety.