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The fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon emissions and has a poor reputation for ethical trading and sustainability. A survey by Barnardo’s in 2015 showed that the average ‘fast fashion’ garment is worn just seven times.

The 2019 parliamentary report on the fashion industry highlighted widespread abuses of both environmental and workers’ protection, not just in distant countries but in sweatshops in Leicester and across the UK. Manufacturing close to home is no guarantee of workers’ welfare and making the odd item from Chinese-sourced ‘recycled polyester’ does little to reduce the overall environmental impact of production.

Schoolblazer believes that school uniform is inherently greener: our average garment is worn over 400 times, with a clear ‘circular economy’ in secondhand. Our overriding principle is durability = sustainability. We cannot shop our way to a greener planet; consuming anything has costs and the less ‘wear’ an item offers, the more it needs to be replaced.

Our average garment is worn over 400 times, with a clear ‘circular economy’ in secondhand

We have set ourselves a series of challenging environmental targets:

1. Carbon neutrality

Schoolblazer is now a zero-carbon company. We’ve analysed our operational carbon footprint in detail and reduced our emissions where we can. Where we’ve been unable to eliminate our energy use, we have offset the carbon created through our partnership with carbon footprint.

2. Clean wastewater

We have put measures in place to ensure that all of our suppliers and mills have wastewater treatment plants that meet the highest environmental standards.

3. Removing single-use plastics

We have an ambitious plan to ‘ship naked’, which we’ll be trialling over summer 2020. However, the overwhelming majority protect our garments as they pass through our supply chain from manufacturer to our customers, so we need to ensure less than 2% of our garments are damaged in transit to avoid neutralising the benefits gained from going plastic-free. If these tests are successful, our plan is to roll-out our ‘ship naked’ system to many more garments in 2021.

4. Recycled polyester

Where possible, we are working to replace the polyester fibre in our garments with recycled polyester, with a plan for 25% of our polyester to be from recycled sources by 2022.

5. Responsible cotton

Cotton tends to be grown in areas of the world with water shortages and poor labour standards. We are a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which promotes sustainable cotton growth, teaching farmers how to manage their land and water use sustainably. We have a drive to use BCI cotton in our garments where we can, with a target of 50% BCI cotton by the end of 2022.


Human rights for all workers

Schoolblazer also has a serious commitment to ethical trading. We believe that free and fair trade is an important way to spread wealth around the world and know that the global textile trade is a major engine to lift people out of poverty. As responsible global citizens, we also know that poor working practices are no respecters of borders or laws, as recent scandals involving slave conditions in some of Leicester’s textile factories show. The solution is to adopt consistent standards across our supply base and ensure that these are adhered to.

We are foundation members of The Ethical Trading Initiative, an organisation of retailers, NGOs and unions dedicated to driving the highest ethical standards, with a focus on the following:

Freely chosen employment

Freedom of association

Safe and hygienic workplaces

No child labour

Living wages

No excessive working hours

No discrimination

Regular employment

No harsh or inhumane treatment


For more information on each of these, visit www.schoolblazer.info/wecare

For more information on our partnership with the ETI, visit www.ethicaltrade.org/blog/new-member-focus-schoolblazer

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There’s an interesting contradiction inherent in the ethics and environment debates currently taking place.

On the one hand, retailers need to reduce single-use plastics, their carbon footprint and their reliance on non-sustainable materials. On the other, they are under increasing pressure from all sides to reduce their prices to meet the demand for quality garments at bargain-basement prices. Back-to-school has become a flashpoint, with parents opting for basic uniform sets from popular retailers that sell for as little as £3.75.

Great price. But at what cost?

Whereas with, for example, single-use plastics, we are more active consumers, choosing to use a ‘bag for life’ or refusing a bag altogether at checkout, when it comes to ethics, we are prepared to ‘buy’ what manufacturers are telling us about their ethical trade practices, just as long as we don’t have to give up getting what we want. We are unprepared to face the inconvenience of the so-called truths that we are not being told. We want to purchase something that gives us change from a tenner while leaving our consciences intact.

Here are just a few hard facts

Ethical trade abuses continue unchecked in developing countries, with little regulation or accountability

Bangladeshi workers are making uniforms for UK budget retailers that sell for less than the cost of the uniforms they have to buy for their own children. And they can’t afford to buy them.

If you think sourcing your garments in the UK/EU is a safe bet, think again

In Bulgaria, some textile workers do 24-hour shifts for less than €100 per month. The UK has been under the spotlight with the exposing of ‘dark factories’ in Leicester, where the average worker wage is £4.25 per hour.

High fashion doesn’t escape either

A high-profile Made in Italy label has been found to pay sweatshop wages of about 90p per hour.

This has to stop

As the leading uniform supplier to UK independent schools, Schoolblazer is determined to lead by example. To this end, it is the only specialist schoolwear retailer in the UK which is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative – an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that are promoting respect for workers’ rights around the globe. This includes freely chosen employment and union membership; safe, hygienic working conditions; no child labour; a living wage; reasonable working hours; regular employment; and freedom from discrimination and maltreatment.

While the environment is front and centre in the news and in our hearts and minds (as it should be), it’s critical that we look at the other side of the equation – the one that offers a fuller picture, yet which is being neglected, and to the detriment of both.

“We think it’s vital that we know about where our clothing is sourced, who is making it, and the conditions in which they are working,” says Schoolblazer co-founder, Tim James.

“Our mission is to create uniforms that are made to last, using designs that are classic to avoid the built-in obsolescence adopted by many fashion labels and lines, where styles are changed regularly and discarded easily.

“While taking care of our environment is critical, unless and until people are supported and remunerated well – until they thrive instead of simply eking out an existence – then they suffer, and the environment suffers along with them. Understanding this symbiotic relationship between the two is what is going to effect positive change for both.”


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Hardly a day goes by without a new aspect of the transgender debate. The recent GSA conference in Manchester received plenty of press coverage in this area, and a number of schools have created working groups to look in detail at this issue.

As the leading supplier of uniforms to independent schools in the UK, Schoolblazer recognise that uniform is at the heart of this debate. We have been working closely with a number of schools and organisations in the field and have learned a lot over the last few years. Our role is to find a pragmatic solution to the philosophy that the school wishes to adopt and to find a way to make that work within the practical constraints of production. 

What we’ve learnt

Whilst the headlines in the media are largely around ‘transitioning’ this is a tiny percentage of cases. The overwhelming urge in schools is to be ‘less gendered’ rather than to support ‘transitioners’. This is a very important distinction for a garment manufacturer. A girl transitioning to a boy may simply want to be given the option to purchase and wear a boy’s uniform, including boy’s trousers. The numbers also mean that we can manufacture a special one-off set of garments in these circumstances. However, in a less gendered environment many girls may wish to wear trousers which still fit them as girls, but are less gender polarising than skirts.

So what have we done?

 - Prefer not to say 

Our website initially asks parents to input the gender of their child. We use this to direct parents to the correct page and also as part of our sizing algorithms to recommend the correct-sized garments, both now and in the future. For a number of our schools we have added a ‘prefer not to say’ gender. When this is ticked pupils are presented with a broader selection of garments which allows them to create a neutral gender.

 - Pins and ties

Norwich School in Norfolk have gone one stage further and abolished girls’ and boys’ uniforms, replacing the titles with pins and ties. Pupils registering on our site as girls are presented with the ‘pin’ uniform, whilst boys are initially presented with ‘ties’. However, all communication stresses that either may be selected, but must be worn in its entirety. 

 - Girls versions of the boy’s uniform

We are seeing more schools asking for girls trousers and have worked closely to develop a style that is flattering. A number of schools this summer are seeking to develop a girl’s version of the boys’ uniform, with a jacket and trouser option that matches the boys but which is fitted to girls. There is naturally a significant on-cost to this as we proliferate items and stock, however, if handled with care it can be achieved.

The overriding lesson is that the policy must be set by the school who need clarity and understanding of their direction of travel. As the uniform supplier we do not seek to set this agenda. However, our role is to then ensure that this policy goal can be transferred into a practical and affordable solution, which does not confuse the majority but enhances the choice options for whom this is a concern.

With our integrated supply chain, where we are managing all aspects of production, from fabric sourcing through garment design to manufacture, we believe Schoolblazer are uniquely placed to support schools through this issue. We’d be happy to discuss our solutions and ideas in more detail. 

 

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The fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon emissions and has a poor reputation for ethical trading and sustainability. A survey by Barnardo’s in 2015 showed that the average ‘fast fashion’ garment is worn just seven times.

The 2019 parliamentary report on the fashion industry highlighted widespread abuses of both environmental and workers’ protection, not just in distant countries but in sweatshops in Leicester and across the UK. Manufacturing close to home is no guarantee of workers’ welfare and making the odd item from Chinese-sourced ‘recycled polyester’ does little to reduce the overall environmental impact of production.

Schoolblazer believes that school uniform is inherently greener: our average garment is worn over 400 times, with a clear ‘circular economy’ in secondhand. Our overriding principle is durability = sustainability. We cannot shop our way to a greener planet; consuming anything has costs and the less ‘wear’ an item offers, the more it needs to be replaced.

Our average garment is worn over 400 times, with a clear ‘circular economy’ in secondhand

We have set ourselves a series of challenging environmental targets:

1. Carbon neutrality

Schoolblazer is now a zero-carbon company. We’ve analysed our operational carbon footprint in detail and reduced our emissions where we can. Where we’ve been unable to eliminate our energy use, we have offset the carbon created through our partnership with carbon footprint.

2. Clean wastewater

We have put measures in place to ensure that all of our suppliers and mills have wastewater treatment plants that meet the highest environmental standards.

3. Removing single-use plastics

We have an ambitious plan to ‘ship naked’, which we’ll be trialling over summer 2020. However, the overwhelming majority protect our garments as they pass through our supply chain from manufacturer to our customers, so we need to ensure less than 2% of our garments are damaged in transit to avoid neutralising the benefits gained from going plastic-free. If these tests are successful, our plan is to roll-out our ‘ship naked’ system to many more garments in 2021.

4. Recycled polyester

Where possible, we are working to replace the polyester fibre in our garments with recycled polyester, with a plan for 25% of our polyester to be from recycled sources by 2022.

5. Responsible cotton

Cotton tends to be grown in areas of the world with water shortages and poor labour standards. We are a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which promotes sustainable cotton growth, teaching farmers how to manage their land and water use sustainably. We have a drive to use BCI cotton in our garments where we can, with a target of 50% BCI cotton by the end of 2022.


Human rights for all workers

Schoolblazer also has a serious commitment to ethical trading. We believe that free and fair trade is an important way to spread wealth around the world and know that the global textile trade is a major engine to lift people out of poverty. As responsible global citizens, we also know that poor working practices are no respecters of borders or laws, as recent scandals involving slave conditions in some of Leicester’s textile factories show. The solution is to adopt consistent standards across our supply base and ensure that these are adhered to.

We are foundation members of The Ethical Trading Initiative, an organisation of retailers, NGOs and unions dedicated to driving the highest ethical standards, with a focus on the following:

Freely chosen employment

Freedom of association

Safe and hygienic workplaces

No child labour

Living wages

No excessive working hours

No discrimination

Regular employment

No harsh or inhumane treatment


For more information on each of these, visit www.schoolblazer.info/wecare

For more information on our partnership with the ETI, visit www.ethicaltrade.org/blog/new-member-focus-schoolblazer

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Schoolblazer is the UK’s leading school uniform supplier best known for its dedicated commitment to delivering exceptional garments and first-class service. We have built relationships with textile innovators around the world, bringing new ideas and styles to over 170 schools in the last 10 years. From country tweed to city pinstripes, we use our expertise to ensure that changing uniform supplier is managed smoothly and effectively.

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School uniform for all, thanks to Schoolblazer

The suppliers explain how, in a ‘less gendered’ age, school uniforms can adapt to provide a choice for everybody

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Rising to the environmental challenge with sustainable schoolwear

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The contradiction in the school uniform debate

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School uniform for all, thanks to Schoolblazer

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