When I got first got the list of everything we needed to start school a few years ago, I suddenly felt powerless. After years of being so careful about the impact of what we buy, and of understanding the negative impact of clothing – I now “had” to buy multiple new polyester (plastic) pieces with no idea of the supply chain. I always want to honour our schools, clubs and whatever we’re a part of. But I also want to honour the people impacted throughout the supply chain, I can’t trade one for the other. So I knew I had to find a different way forward other than just buying the list!
To keep school supplies affordable, ethical and sustainable: ask questions!
I decided to ask the school a lot of questions about what was possible. Just gently, to see what was possible and what was set in stone and why. Even if nothing changes for us in an area, we might be part of things changing down the line.
For our first school child I started with digging into what was listed by the school. I called the companies they suggested/”required”. I looked at what they made clothes of and where, I asked questions, I read FAQs. It wasn’t awful, there was some idea of supply chain but I knew I wanted to be a bit more sure on sourcing and materials.
With the questions, explain why you care. See what workarounds you can find, for uniform or any area. It’s not about judging or condemning but asking questions to try and find collaborative solutions. Yes it can be uncomfortable to be the one who asks if something can be done differently, but you’re not doing it to be difficult, you’re asking to bring needed change. So ask away! e.g. I discovered we don’t need the regulation jumper, but any one in a similar colour is ok. And the logo isn’t essential on all uniform which gave me more sustainable options and less expense!
England’s uniform policy
England’s approach to school uniform has been updated in recent years to help both sustainability and cost. If your school isn’t running with this approach, have a conversation and show the statement below. If you’re not in the UK, it’s a great example of a countrywide approach to changing the standard to sustainability and affordability you can quote.
Schools should ensure that second-hand uniforms are available for parents to acquire. Information on second-hand uniforms should be clear for parents of current and prospective pupils and published on the school’s website. Schools should engage with parents and pupils when they are developing their school uniform policy. Schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum. To support families, schools will have to make sure second-hand uniforms are available, also helping work towards achieving net zero carbon emissions.www.gov.uk
First, suggestions for sustainable school uniform:
- Ask your school early about second hand sales: This is probably the best way to give uniform a longer life and spend less without using more resources! Every year people leave, and kids grow so by default there is a lot of unneeded school uniform out there – see if the school does any kind of second hand sale.
- Check local charity shops: Sometimes local charity shops will have uniform basics or even specific pieces for local schools. This will be an ongoing thing – if I see something in a larger size I’m grab it before it’s needed! It’s worth starting early, and checking regularly to see what shows up.
- Ask if there are facebook groups or online reselling options for your school. Even if there aren’t old school second hand clothing sales there may be a facebook group or another system that’s used. And also check more broadly. Facebook marketplace in your area might have school uniform or apps like Vinted or Ebay.
- See if you can start something! If your school doesn’t have anything, ask if you can start something! A google doc with available pieces and email address? A second hand sale? So much is possible! A charity fundraiser for passing on old school uniform.
The options we used for more sustainable and ethical school uniform and supplies.
Aside from second hand sales, these are the places I’ve looking for ethical (or used) uniform pieces. I found Boden helpful for house colour specific items that weren’t on uniform sites but the assortment changes so you have to check season to season.
Personally, I don’t tend to go second hand for school shoes because of the hours they’re spending in them. Second hand shoes bring some questions for foot development and for out of school where shoes are rotates and we’re barefoot inside I don’t mind. But for a single pair they’ll wear for 40+ hours a week for 38 weeks a year, I want a new and wide shoe good for movement. My personal top choice for being wide, allowing proper foot development, and
- Vivo Barefoot (worldwide) (20% off UK purchase here) (25% off US purchase here.)
- Giesswein (US/UK/Europe)
- Mini Boden
- Vinted app
- Ethical superstore (UK/ROI)
- Eco Outfitters
- Gym Plimsoles Trotters: not overall a brand I choose but they have one great plimsole option.
- Vinted app
OUTDOOR SPORT SHOES
- Used via eBay: much as I wanted a pricey eco option, this was a place I wanted my kids to fit in, and to save money. I let them each choose a £1-3 second hand lunch bag with a TV show theme.
- Eco lunch box (UK LINK)
- Eco Lunch Box (US LINK)
- Planet box – much less worth the cost to me but we do use it cos we have it! (US LINK HERE) (UK not available)
- Stasher Bag (UK LINK)
- Stasher Bag (US LINK)
- Hydroflask Water Bottle (US LINK)
SCHOOL COLOURED SWEATER + GYM SHIRT
I found some of the school coloured items hard to find done well so I searched high and low for non standard colours I needed. I found OrBasics and Mini Boden most helpful for basics in a range of colours.