How can giving up ownership of school uniforms be more sustainable?

Why give up ownership of school uniforms? The idea of getting parents to purchase their children’s school uniform items has been an unquestioned practice in the UK for centuries. As the environmental issues of fast fashion and the unsustainability of the textiles and clothing industry become more apparent, the systems that we have become accustomed are questioned. The school uniform industry is not excused from this concern, it can be argued that it is one of the most consistent contributors to textile waste (Averre, 2021). It has been estimated that 1.4 million wearable school uniforms are thrown away each year (Banks, 2020). That means that for every 7 school children in the UK, one school children school uniform is going to waste every year. However, are parents truly to blame for this waste just because they own school uniforms? This can be determined by looking into the factors that go into throwing away these uniforms.

What are the factors?

Although many factors contribute to this number, the significant factors are as follows:

–      It is more convenient to buy a new school uniform than a second hand one.

–      There is no regular accountability of the condition of school uniforms.

–      Buying second-hand uniforms for children are not socially accepted yet.

How did we get there?

Between sieving through second-hand uniforms, hoping the right size will be there and finding one in an acceptable condition, it is no surprise that parents are sold on the idea of just buying a new uniform instead. 81% of parents always buy their children’s school uniforms new – 31% suggesting it is easier (Banks, 2020). The lack of a convenient way to acquire a second-hand uniform drives demand for school uniforms to an unsustainable level. If more second-hand items were bought instead, it would slow down the journey it takes for a uniform to be thrown out and lower the number of new uniforms that need to be made. It is estimated on average that a uniform last 10 months before it is outgrown (Banks, 2020). Surely, it is not a parent’s fault that there are easier ways to buy a new uniform than purchasing a second hand one?

The lack of regular monitoring of school uniforms means that it is hard to communicate the condition of school uniforms to schools, uniform providers, and donation services. This information is invaluable because it can signal schools, uniform providers, and manufacturers to address the waste. Figures from WRAP suggest that extending the lifespan of clothes by just three months could result in a 5-10 per cent reduction in carbon, water, and waste footprints (Hirschlag, 2019: Banks, 2020). By monitoring the condition of school uniforms, providers can find solutions to ensure that the lifecycle of school uniforms are fully utilised. Alternatively, they can endorse processes that could help parents make school uniforms last longer. Ultimately, there are little parents can do about this and there is no channel for this data to be analysed by the institutions that can do something about it.

For many parents, it is felt that the idea of buying a second-hand uniform for their child can broadcast the wrong message. It is natural for a parent to want the best for their children but, the negative connotations with the term ‘Second-Hand’ doesn’t instil confidence in parents. Of the 81%, 41% dislike the thought of their children wearing previously owned clothes (Banks, 2020). Until second-hand school uniforms become more appealing to parents in the UK, the number of new school uniforms demanded will increase consistently and inevitably lead to further waste. Although some could argue that this is just people being picky, it is understandable that parents want to make that £337 spent on a uniform per year per child worth it (BBC, 2021).

What’s the problem?

With ownership over school uniforms comes the responsibility to address the problems with making and discarding them. UK Parents are in a position where there are few viable solutions to help them abide by this commitment and lack enough power to influence how things are done. Ultimately, it is the bin or donation and the school or government that they must voice their objection to. The issue with these options is that donated uniforms will eventually be discarded and reforms demand large numbers to be addressed. Repurposing school uniform is difficult as only pupils from a specific school have use for it. They will likely be incinerated or sent to a landfill eventually and if not recycled appropriately. Evidently, this problem is far too cumbersome for parents to fix themselves, no matter how much more environmentally conscious of the actions they become.

How is giving up ownership to providers better?

By giving providers ownership over the uniform, there could be a better opportunity for other influential stakeholders to address this problem. Under the appropriate circumstances, parents could willingly provide the necessary information that could reduce this waste. This industry would benefit from insights into how well uniforms are maintained and inspire greater involvement from providers and schools who have the power to make a difference. Transferring ownership of school uniform items to providers would inspire stakeholders to work towards solutions. It may even incentivise the largest players in the industry to work together to take significant steps towards a viable solution that reduces waste i.e. building a recycling facility.

There would be more investments in looking for sustainable ways to provide school uniforms, efforts that would be harder for individual parents to achieve. Manufacturers and uniform providers can Investment in improving areas such as; product identification, quality control, item repairs, customer communication systems and fabric recycling technologies. Technologies like these are already in practice and could be fully adopted at a larger scale with enough investment (Linnenkoper, 2019). By renouncing the ownership of school uniforms, parents will be contributing to a future in which clothing is discarded responsibly and liberate industry players to steps towards a better society.

Why does this all matter?

To sum up, ownership of school uniforms would be better placed in the hands of providers to the extent that there would be significantly less waste. The areas in which parents struggle to make the leap towards a truly sustainable industry are limited due to a lack of ownership. It is important to note that parents have been proactive in their attempts to be environmentally sustainable but require better solutions from others in the industry to make any more impact. If a transfer of ownership were to take place, it would rely on the decision made by every parent within a school. Parents must decide whether their uniform provider (including supermarkets) puts across a convincing argument to release them from their burden of ownership. If providers cannot put forth a convincing enough argument, changes in this industry will be delayed for years to come.


Averre, D. (2021). Chile’s fast-fashion waste mountain. [Online] Mail Online. Available at: [Accessed 18 November 2021].

Banks, T. (2020). what a waste! the second hand school uniform no-brainer | unpckd. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 18 November 2021]., (2021). School uniforms: New guidance tells schools to keep costs low – CBBC Newsround. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2021].

Hirschlag, A. (2019). Can Secondhand Shopping Dent Fast Fashion’s Environmental Damage?. [Online] Scientific American. Available at: [Accessed 18 November 2021].

Linenkoper, K. (2019). Textile recycling pioneers weave their magic • Recycling International. [Online] Recycling International. Available at: [Accessed 18 November 2021].

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