what a waste! the second hand school uniform no-brainer

what a waste! the second hand school uniform no-brainer

Tracey Banks

Children grow quickly and families get through clothes fast. With stubborn stains and growth spurts, turnover of uniform can be very high. In fact, 1.4 million wearable school uniforms are thrown away each year in UK. With UK families spending around £52 million each year on new items – there’s money and clothing to be saved!

A study by mynametags.com found that more than one in 10 UK parents throw their children’s uniforms away once they have outgrown them, even if they are still in a wearable condition. Almost 50% of parents said they would prefer to throw the garment away than attempt to fix it and over 50% of families admit to owning clothing that they have never worn.

the brand new hangup

81% always buy their children’s school uniforms new - 31% suggesting it is easier, 19% want their kids to have the latest things, 41% don’t like the thought of their children wearing previously owned clothes.

With figures from WRAP suggest that extending the lifespan of clothes by just three months could result in a 5-10 percent reduction in carbon, water, and waste footprints – repairing items of uniform where possible or giving outgrown uniform a new lease of life would have a big impact on the environment, and parents’ pockets.

make second hand, first choice

Apparently, whilst we're fine to donate their old clothes to charity shops we're less likely to purchase second-hand clothing

Let’s take the stigma out of second-hand uniform. We all know that that the clothes children wear have no impact on their ability to ‘fit in’ or to be successful in life.

rescuing 1.4 million wearable school uniforms

step 1: don't get rid of it unless you really can't use it

  • Look at altering it – can you let the hem down or let the waistband out? (If you need some help, try our this care and repair section for basic sewing techniques.)
  • Pass it on to a sibling or friend, or do a swap.
  • Ask the school for advice – they may be happy for these items to be donated to charity. If not, encourage them to set up a collection point and let them know they can contact their uniform supplier or LEA for advice.
  • Sell it online, at a local car boot sale or through a cash for clothes scheme. 
  • Donate it at a clothing bank, doorstep collection or charity shop.
  • Is it repairable? Visit Love Your Clothes for lots of handy ‘how to’ videos and learn a new skill!
  • If it isn’t repairable, recycle it! All items of clothing can be recycled and made into new items, such as padding for chairs and car seats, cleaning cloths and industrial blankets.
  • Don’t put it in the bin! Even old school clothes that can no longer be worn can be recycled. Check this recycling locator for where to recycle clothes near you.

step 2: find new unworn, barely worn and used good condition uniform

  • Ask friends or family
  • Check for school or local authority uniform schemes
    • Ask if the school offers a take-back scheme. These schemes are very popular and enable parents to purchase pre-worn blazers or sweatshirts at reduced prices.
  • Find a school uniform exchange
    • Based on the tradition of hand-me-down clothes and the more recent fashion for clothes swaps, clothes exchange schemes are happening around the UK, often started by parents themselves. 
    • Start one yourself!
  • Charity shops
    • Oxfam, Scope & others often sell brand new ‘end of range’ uniform at reduced price
  • Local social media sites
    • Facebook (e.g. Hitchin Reuse Project)
  • Online reuse sellers
  • Old School Uniform is the UK’s one-stop site offering parents the unique opportunity to give away or sell your second hand school uniforms. Founded by concerned parents, Old School Uniform enables parents to easily search for specific school clothing items by school name at highly reduced prices or even for free.
  • Ebay 

step 3: can't find second-hand, need to buy new

cheap or convenience isn’t always cheerful.

Kids’ clothes can get a lot of battering, so look for clothes that will last.  But beware: Easy-care. Stain-resistant. Weatherproof. Crease-resistant. Teflon-coated. Non-iron. These labels all indicate fabric coatings using Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs), Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) or formaldehyde which could be contributing to a growing toxic legacy of pollution in our environment, not to mention in our bodies – and may not even deliver on all their promised benefits.

recycled plastic fabric has its downsides.

Also beware Recycled Polyester: also known as recycled polyethylene terephthalate or rPET for short, has a smaller carbon footprint than its virgin counterpart. Reclaiming plastic waste also keeps it from becoming rubbish - or fodder for marine animals such as turtles and whales in our oceans. Whilst rPET is better for the planet than virgin Polyester, rPET still generates microfibres. Also, rPET manufactured this way cannot be mechanically recycled a second time, let alone multiple times, without a steep decline in the quality of the fibres, which get progressively shorter and weaker. The advice: avoid microfibre pollution and use recycled polyester for products that don’t need to be washed, such as bags or shoes.

organic is healthiest option.

Given kids wear their school uniforms for at least 35 hours a week, it is the most worn items of clothing in their wardrobe. Uniforms made from pure organic cotton, which is not treated with any nasties such as chlorine bleach, Teflon, formaldehyde, and do not contain any toxic dyes, are less likely to trigger allergies, keeping kids cool and healthy while they learn.

Check out Ecooutfitters.co.uk for a good range of basics for primary school kids, and CountySchoolWear.co.uk for a range of items for older children.

With even organic cotton being eco-intensive (in terms of water use), there are no easy solutions. That’s why the best option is to enhance the longevity of use by passing clothing on and buying second-hand where you can.




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