Nigel Plenderleith of Blue Max Banner discusses how academies have influenced the schoolwear market and the brand’s new Aspire collection

From left: The Aspire range offers a premium, tailored look, BMB has a bespoke schoolwear service, tartan is increasingly being requested by primary schools and academies

Blue Max Banner (BMB) has been offering casual schoolwear since 1988, and formal schoolwear since 2006 when the company bought Stag Knitwear of Nottingham. This was followed by the acquisition of Banner and Beau Brummel schoolwear brands in 2010, which established the brand as a leading schoolwear supplier.

BMB has continually developed its schoolwear range to reflect the current market trends, the biggest of which in recent years has been the creation of academies and free schools. Academies were first introduced in 2000 by Labour, but it was the introduction of free schools in 2010 by the coalition government that really had an impact on the market: more than 400 free schools have been set up in the past five years.

BMB’s chief executive, Nigel Plenderleith, explains that these new schools have had a positive influence on schoolwear: “More secondary schools are enforcing stricter uniform policies. The conversion of many secondary schools to academies has generated demand for more business-like or tailored suiting options. New academy schools are creating their own individual identities and we have seen an increase in demand for logo badges and bespoke options.” Nigel reports a significant growth in traditional school uniforms such as boys’ and girls’ blazers, trousers and skirts.

The Aspire suiting collection was launched this year in response to this demand for more business-like options and Nigel adds that the customer reaction has been extremely positive, especially with regard to the jacquard linings that give the collection its premium, tailored look. “The collection provides a completely co-ordinated suiting option and can be teamed with straight or pleated skirts and on-trend slim-fit trousers,” explains Nigel. “It provides a perfect suiting solution for secondary and 6th form pupils and is washable at 40°C.”

Another change has been the increase in the number of schools involving pupils in the design of the school uniform, resulting in the trend for more innovative types of blazers using braid and cord as a decoration, and a move from traditional crest-style badges to more modern, customised logo design. “We have also seen the introduction of more stylish, up-to-date, fitted options in a contemporary, slim-fitting cut and improved fabrics,” Nigel comments.

BMB also expanded its Tartan collection for 2016. “A number of academy and primary schools liked tartan as an alternative to a more conservative grey trouser or skirt, but up until recently tartan was not stock supported and only offered as a made-to-order,” says Nigel. “As a made-to-order tartan was too expensive and because the demand was strong, we decided to stock support tartans, making it a more affordable alternative option. We extended the range and sizes to cater for all needs and have had an overwhelmingly positive response to it. Customers love the quality of the fabric and also the fact that all the colours co-ordinate with our blazer and knitwear options.”

BMB also offers a bespoke service, Nigel advises: “You can select any garment type and colour from stock or from a huge choice of fabrics and in any special size and personalise it to meet your requirements (trim options, cording, braiding and other embellishments). In addition we provide a free CAD service to help the customer decide which designs meet their particular needs.”

Primary schools tend to opt for sweatshirts, cardigans, jumpers and polos thanks to the ease with which young children can put them on as well as the fact that they are comfortable, easy-to-wash and good value, explains Nigel. At secondary schools the most popular garments are blazers, slim-fit trousers, skirts, shirts and blouses. “Both students and schools accept that school uniform gives a sense of identity and belonging,” he says. “In the case of our slim-fit trouser which we introduced in 2015, the contemporary, more fashionable design was acceptable to both the pupils and the school.”

Nigel advises garment decorators looking to market the BMB schoolwear ranges to ensure they fully understand the requirements of both the school and the parents; establish and build close relationships with the key decision markers; have a good website that is easy to navigate; have the necessary tools to present to the school in a professional manner, including a quality range of finished samples; know what the target price points are; and offer schools and parents a best-in-class quality service.

As to the future, BMB is investing in product development and improving styling, sizing and fit, as well as intensifying its efforts in marketing and branding. The company will also be introducing a one-stop shop for schoolwear and sportswear – watch this space.