Advances in schoolwear and sports clothing are gathering pace all the time. For example, emerging technologies such as breathable fabrics are revolutionizing the on-field experience for young sportsmen and women: meanwhile, schools are increasingly aware that uniform, both on and off the sports field, forms a huge part of the visual message they present to the world.
So, what do staff, parents and pupils look for in their uniform and sportswear? Carmella Hunt is Head of Marketing and Communications at Dubai English Speaking School and College (DESSC). “Generally, everyone wants a uniform that is smart and comfortable. Students, especially the older ones, want to look fashionable and, on the whole, suppliers make sure that they remain on trend. Parents, on the other hand, want clothing that looks smart and is practical, offering both durability and value for money.”
Last year, a change of supplier gave Carmella and her colleagues at DESSC the opportunity to rethink the school uniform. “We decided to maintain the colours and general style – thus retaining brand recognition – while making improvements to the quality,” she explains. “Having tested fabrics in our climate, [school uniform suppliers] Trutex offered DESSC a polyester/cotton blend that would maintain colour, provide a better fit and crease less – a win-win solution.”
DESSC now sources all of its uniform and sportswear from Trutex. “Through their AKOA brand, Trutex can provide sports kit and swimwear, as well as sourcing footwear and accessories such as hats and bags,” Carmella explains. “Dealing with just one supplier provides assured quality, manageable lead times and economies of scale.”
New look, new tech
Trutex has developed a range of clever product enhancements that further improve the durability and function of many of its products. These ‘Stay Smart’ features include extra reinforced seams on shirts and blouses, permanent creases in trousers and a new ‘Smart Pocket’ allowing pupils to keep their money, phone or keys safe. “Practicality and durability will always be key requirements for good school uniform,” explains Trish Lawlor, Trutex’s Sales and Business Development manager for the United Arab Emirates.
Trish also believes that the branding potential of school uniform is being harnessed as never before. “Branding for schools is ever more important, and we see this coming through in the coordinated uniform looks that schools are selecting. Uniform is worn not only in school, but by pupils commuting to and from their school day and also recreationally, so the importance of a smart and recognisable look goes much further than the school gates. Our innovations include a contrast-collar blazer, which subtly gives a uniform a design edge and unique look whilst maintaining the traditional framework.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s in the sportswear sector that technology is making the biggest impression. “Technical school sportswear has developed over the last few years to become much more about performance clothing,” Trish explains. “Our exclusive moisture-management fabric, Endura-Dri, helps pupils to stay dry while practising sport: the technology powers perspiration away from the skin through the fabric.”
Look smart, think smart, act smart
At Yorkshire’s Giggleswick School, uniform is a key part of the school’s ethos. “There’s a picture of James Bond in one of our boys’ boarding houses, with the caption ‘Look smart, think smart, act smart’ – a light-hearted description of our uniform ethos,” explains Headmaster Mark Turnbull. “Our red-and-black striped uniform is deliberately bold. Pupils should be proud to represent the school and to be a ‘Giggleswick Learner’: curious, skilled, aware, passionate, creative, pro-active, resilient and assured.
“Branding, of course, has always been important – but, at a challenging time for independent schools, it is more crucial than ever that when one of our pupils wins BBC Young Composer of the Year, or another wins a place representing her county in athletics, it is clear that they are Giggleswick pupils. Every opportunity and achievement demonstrates the benefits an education at Giggleswick can bring.”
Leading UK uniform and sportswear providers Schoolblazer are working with several new partner schools this year – including Glasgow’s St Aloysius’ College, who is looking to modernise its sportswear and to provide a cohesive look across the school. Elsewhere, Burgess Hill School for Girls has recently undergone a re-branding exercise, which saw Schoolblazer working closely with both the school and its design agency Kilvington to redesign uniform and sportswear.
“Schools want their uniform and sportswear to reflect the school brand and ethos and to look smart – but, most of all, they want parents and pupils to be happy with the clothing,” explains Clare Burrows, Key Account Manager at Schoolblazer. “Parents want great quality products, great service and good value for money. Pupils want uniform and sportswear that they can wear with pride to represent their school.”
Branding beyond the badge
“We are seeing a rapid move away from the traditional embroidered blazer to more subtle methods of branding, through a consistent pantone used across the uniform and ‘branding beyond the badge’,” Clare continues. “A number of schools have adopted suits, using a bespoke fabric, while bespoke plaids for skirts or blouses are now almost universal.
“Traditionally, the main focus of school identity has been on signage and the prospectus. However, there is a growing recognition that a school’s branding needs to work across all media. The single most visible of these is the uniform, and particularly the sportswear, that pupils are seen wearing in schools, at away fixtures and on tour.”
Clare’s advice to schools is to select a supplier with the flexibility to project the school’s identity in fabric and colours. “Schoolblazer will colour-match fabrics to the exact pantone required across both uniform and our Squadkit sportswear range, allowing total consistency across the school.”
Schoolblazer was the first company to introduce machine-washable wool-mix tailoring into the schoolwear market: its most recent innovation, Performance Cotton, wraps cotton braid around a central strand of polyester to give a shirt and blouse fabric with the comfort and softness of cotton, while retaining the durability and non-crease properties of a traditional 70:30 poly-cotton fabric. Its Squadkit sportswear, meanwhile, uses fabrics sourced from Taiwan’s leading fabric mills, alongside the latest breathable and wicking products.
And what developments in sportswear technology might we see over the next few years? Academics at the University of Salford are helping develop state-of-the-art ‘smart clothing’ enabling athletes to monitor their performance without the need for bulky gadgets.
Researchers from the university’s Sports Science department have been awarded a £165,000 Knowledge Transfer Partnership grant (KTP) from Innovate UK to work with Manchester-based company Smartlife, which specialises in smart garment technology – clothing that can measure signals such as heart rate, movement and muscle activity.
The company has created textile sensors and electronics which can be integrated into sports clothing. These discreet and comfortable sensors continuously record data which can be transmitted in real time to a Bluetooth-receiving device such as a smartphone, providing feedback on an athlete’s performance.
Researchers Dr Steve Preece and Dr Steve Atkins will now develop the technology further by working to understand how to combine heart rate and acceleration data to build up an accurate picture of how an athlete’s body is using energy. Eventually, the research can be used to improve the accuracy of the data, telling users how much energy they are burning in a training session or throughout the course of a day.
The team will also carry out research to develop the capability of measuring electromyography (EMG) signals, which are produced when muscles contract. Measuring EMG signals, especially during walking, running and cycling, can help an athlete or trainer understand muscle coordination and evaluate movement performance. The researchers say that, as well as providing a benefit to elite athletes, the new technology will help people of all abilities to lead healthier lifestyles, by providing them with more information about how to optimise their training regime.
Clare Simpson, spokeswoman for Smartlife, said: “The skills and knowledge transferred into the company as a result of the KTP will significantly expand the capabilities of Smartlife’s technology, helping us to achieve our vision to be the global market leader in body-worn sensor technology across all relevant markets.”