Uniform - From less formal towards fast fashion?
Uniforms are becoming less formal but are they becoming too much like fast fashion?
Although some aspects of school uniform have remained formal in style, it’s certainly true that things have shifted, and that the pandemic changed school clothing in important ways. Many schools switched some years ago from a button shirt to a polo shirt; lots have jersey sweatshirts, cardigans and the school fleece is a hugely popular option. Recognising that families had a lot to juggle through the pandemic – and in important efforts to minimise virus spread by restricting changing rooms and increasing ventilation – many schools relaxed their uniform policies, allowed children to come dressed ready for gym, and encouraged warm, comfortable clothes to be worn in the classroom. All this is good news for families!
What’s more tricky is how this has seen school uniform move closer to the world of fast fashion. Supermarkets in particular have really moved into the school uniform market, and most families now buy at least one item along with their grocery shopping. Uniform manufacture is often outsourced to companies and factories with poor health-and-safety and workers’ rights records; materials are often cheap and poor quality, and more and more we are being encouraged to view school uniform as just another disposable part of the family shop. This clearly poses significant problems for the planet. And the idea that our children’s clothes might have been made by people not much older than children themselves, working in terrible conditions, makes for distressing reading.
A significant part of this shift to the informal, ‘high volume’ model for school clothing is also material make up. Even specialist school uniform outfitters rely disproportionately on polyester: if you want to follow your school’s uniform policy strictly, and buy all the badged items you need, you will likely end up with most items being made of a minimum 50% polyester. While polyester offers practical solutions (it is less prone to creasing and things like fleeces can dry very quickly), it is nevertheless a derived material from the oil and petroleum industry, and is a notable planet-damager. This is made worse by how it's advertised as washable (which is vital for children’s clothing, of course). But, unfortunately, washing polyester causes shedding of microplastics: of all fabrics, it’s polyester (and other plastic-derived fabrics) that we should be looking to wash least frequently!
All of these things are industry-generated problems; we can’t be expected to solve them within our families. But as a group, we school-uniform users are a force: we can use opportunities such as this consultation to raise questions, to ask for better, to become a market driver in better quality, planet-friendly, worker-friendly clothing for our children. Join us soon for our last post in this blog series as we look at what these industrial-scale problems mean for individual families and users, and have a look at what AXC has been doing in this sector in the last few years.