Thursday 28 July 2016

Who Really Pays For Cheap School Uniforms?

The school holidays have started, which means that, to the despair of kids everywhere, the shops are full of Back To School specials. That's the last thing they want to be reminded of during the long weeks of summer, surely.

A price war has kicked off around the most important item of any new school year: the uniform. Most supermarkets are offering full uniforms at prices that are not just knock-down, but fall-off-a-cliff. As The Guardian reports, if you shop at the right store, you can kit out your little darling for as little as £3.69.

Now, we've been down this road before. Long-time readers will remember the furore over the 99p dress, for example. Price wars are all about publicity (that Guardian article helpfully give a full lists of what shops are offering which bargains) and they're part of the dark art of getting customers in the door so they can spend more. Cheap school uniforms are a loss leader, timed to hit the shelves at the perfect point where worried parents are looking at the expense that comes with new gear for the new year. Anything that helps cut the price at the checkout is welcome.

The ethical cost is a different matter, of course. Encouragingly, consumers are becoming more savvy about how their cheap clothing items are sourced. There's an opportunity here. School uniforms can become a great educational tool. A gentle way of getting kids thinking about the thorny subject of global supply and demand, and how the people who make their clothes need to be paid and treated fairly.

Schools can help in more practical ways as well, by pointing out the places where parents can buy ethically sourced uniforms. They may be a little bit more expensive, but they're also more likely to last until your kids actively grow out of them. Second-hand and exchange schemes are also a great way of keeping uniforms in circulation and out of landfill.

I'm not saying that the cheap school uniform is a bad idea, of course. Morrison's offering has a 200 day guarantee on it, for example, which is hardly the action of a shop that doesn't have confidence in the quality of its wares. But, as ever, it's important to realise that cheap clothing has hidden costs. It's always worth asking how the supermarkets can afford to sell a full uniform for significantly less than a fiver, and who may be suffering to make British parents' lives that little bit cheaper this summer.

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