In Search of Sustainable School Uniform

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A few weeks ago I was in the FAIR shop, Brighton, chatting to owner Siobhan about the perils of kid’s school uniforms. Manufactured in their masses and worn five days a week by children in the UK they are a significant part of the clothes economy. Parents also have little control over what they must buy as most schools have designated suppliers, and certainly regulations on colour and style. Most suppliers focus on price and practicality, resulting in cheap synthetic materials which might wash well but could be uncomfortable and unhealthy to wear, and manufactured with little ethical regard for people and planet.

Just days after this chat I heard from Ecooutfitters, the first independent school uniform brand. Ecooutfitters school uniforms are made of ethically sourced, 100% organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), ensuring that production meets rigorous environmental and social standards. Thus an Ecooutfitter uniform cares for every individual in the chain not least the children that wear them. The entrepreneurs behind the brand, Marina and Irina, are both mothers themselves and were inspired by the desire to dress their young boys in natural, healthy fibres every single day, not just at the weekends. They said ““When you consider that our children are forced to wear these harmful fabrics for some 36.5 hours a week, running around all day, getting hot, sweaty and agitated, at a vital stage of their development, we knew something had to be done and Ecooutfitters was born.”

The British Skin Foundation has reported a dramatic rise in the number of children in the UK suffering from irritable skin conditions, with at least 10% of children suspected to suffer from eczema during their childhood. Many items of children’s clothing is Teflon coated to repel stains but such chemicals can irritate delicate skin and detrimental long term effects on health aren’t really known. Whilst Marina and Irina were motivated by the desire to banish such chemicals from their children’s wardrobes, they quickly learnt about the hugely devastating effects of the non-organic cotton industry on the communities and the environment around the world.

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Production of a single cotton T-shirt requires a third of a pound of dangerously toxic pesticides, the effects of which result in 77 million cases of poisoning recorded every year, 20,000 of which result in death. These revelations put ethical production at the heart of the Ecooutfitters mission and since organic cotton doesn’t use dangerous pesticides, protecting farmers’ lives and the environment, it became an obvious choice. “Our uniforms are not only healthier, comfortable and ethical, but competitively priced, durable and practical, disproving the widely held belief that cotton uniform cannot withstand the playground test.”

For more information, to buy or to nominate your school to offer the Ecooutfitters uniform, go to www.ecooutfitters.co.uk

For more information on the concerns about chemicals found in children’s wear, take a look at Greenpeace’s Little Monster campaign

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Quality Second-hand Children’s Clothes at Matilda & George

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If there is one thing it makes perfect sense to acquire second-hand, it’s kid’s clothes. Children grow so quickly that many clothes are hardly worn before they’re not needed anymore. A lot of us will have grown up with hand-me-downs (not me so much because I was the eldest), but certainly the trafficking of children’s wear, as one academic puts it, is a common part of provisioning as a mother. When there is no one to pass things on to there are many other ways to make sure kid’s clothes are reused. Increasingly, parents are choosing to make a bit of money by selling on their good quality children’s clothes and equally, saving money by buying second-hand.

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Matilda & George in Winchester can help parents do just that. Julia, who runs the store on Stockbridge Road, can act as an agent for your nearly-new kid’s clothes and toys by selling them onto thrift savvy parents. Julia’s love of eBay and children’s clothes led to her running a weekly stall in the local church hall where she sold nearly-new children’s clothes. The weekly stall was so well received that at the beginning of this year she opened her shop, spurred on by the desire to see perfectly good clothing reused. I popped in to see what she had in store and was amazed by the choice! Matilda & George specialises in maternity and nursing wear, as well as baby and children’s clothes and accessories up to 8 years. Everything is organised according to age making it easy to find what you’re looking for. The shop was packed full of brands – Mini Boden, Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith Junior to name just some. Some items were brand new with tags, perfect for presents. They had a good selection of the ever-popular baby sleeping bags and lots of colourful coats to keep little ones warm and dry as winter creeps upon us.

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When I popped in, Julia’s friend Lisa was busy doing the new window display. Lisa is responsible for the visual merchandising in the window and I caught her finishing off her ‘Back to School’ display, complete with shiny apples and school paraphernalia. All of the clothes in store look well cared for and are just as good as things you’d find elsewhere on the high street. In fact, Matilda & George offers more to the customer than chain stores ever could. Julia meets countless parents and you just have to look at the shop’s Facebook page to see that she is very much part of the local community. Customers are encouraged to browse and rummage through the stock, whilst children can play on the toy table. Everything about the store is child-friendly.

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Matilda and George is open Tue: 14:00 – 16:00 and Wed – Sat: 10:00 – 16:00. Perhaps you have something similar in your local town? It could be well worthwhile finding out.

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