Gary Spracklen, headteacher at The Prince of Wales School in Dorchester, has worked with The Embroidery Barn to offer pupils an eco-friendly school uniform

The Prince of Wales School in Dorchester has long been an eco-school. Headteacher Gary Spracklen says that it’s held Green Flag status – an award given for excellence in environmental action and learning – for eight years. “The school was actually built on Duchy of Cornwall land, which belongs to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales,” explains Gary. “Prince Charles himself has always been keen to promote eco-issues and, as a school, that has always been a key part of our curriculum.”

In the last 18 months, the school has implemented some successful new initiatives, such as creating a hub for recycling that can now take in items from the community, including bottle tops, baby food pouches and pens. “The children have been completely leading this,” says Gary. “We’re working with the children and one of the things that came up was uniform. They wanted to see if they could have a uniform that was more environmentally friendly and, thankfully, we’re not the only ones thinking about this at the moment.” Rosie Lees, the new owner of the school’s regular uniform provider, The Embroidery Barn, shares Gary’s enthusiasm for a more eco-friendly approach.

The Prince of Wales School pupils wearing their eco-uniform, which is supplied by The Embroidery Barn

“She’d already put it out there that she was seeking to be a more sustainable business,” says Gary. “To start with, she mentioned that she was going to do all our packaging in paper rather than plastic.” Rosie, who took over The Embroidery Barn in November 2018, initially started experimenting with brands that used recycled cotton. Then she discovered David Luke’s Eco-Uniform range, which is manufactured using post-consumer waste plastic bottles. “The David Luke Eco-Uniform is so much nicer,” says Rosie. “It’s better quality, softer and thicker. It has a quality feel.”

A thumbs up from the kids

Earlier this year, Rosie visited the school to tell the children about the new eco-uniform, which launched just after Easter. “The kids were so onboard,” she says. The range includes polo shirts, jumpers and cardigans, all of which are embroidered at The Embroidery Barn. Rosie says that 25% of her new orders are for the eco-uniform and she expects demand to grow in the coming weeks when children see their friends wearing it and parents start talking about it. If it proves popular, she hopes to expand the range to include skirts and trousers.

“It’s not compulsory to wear the eco-uniform because it’s currently £2 more expensive than the standard option,” says Gary. “Although we’ve found that people are happy to pay the premium because they know that they’re contributing to a more positive impact on the environment. There’s the hope that, long-term, the costs will align. We’re expecting a good number of parents will try it and I’m sure it will become our main option moving forward.”

The Prince of Wales School takes children up to the age of nine, and Gary believes that school uniform is important. “It gives the children an identity,” he explains. “Our polo shirts are embroidered because we feel it gives a better quality finish and it lasts longer.” This is particularly important given that parents like to recycle school uniforms where possible. “Kids grow so fast,” says Gary. “We have a big cupboard full of pre-owned uniforms and parents can pay a pound to take something. We’ve always been quite eco in that sense, and it means that children get the most wear out of every item.”

Gary’s now hopeful that other schools will consider moving to an eco-uniform. He says: “Give schools that choice and give parents that choice. Make the first step and try just one product. When you get it out there and test the market you’ll be surprised by the number of people that want that option.”