Images talks to the chair of the Schoolwear Association, David Burgess, about trends, government guidelines and how to stand up to the power of the supermarkets

David Burgess, chair of the Schoolwear Association

What are the key trends in schoolwear at the moment?
The momentum in schoolwear is towards smarter, traditional uniform – colours and overall garment style rarely change significantly in response to fashion. We have seen some evidence of trousers becoming more slim-fit, which boys currently prefer to wear. Over time because uniform has to stand up to the rigours of schoolday life, many schools have taken advice from our members and adopted more durable and easy care fabrics.

The government has recently announced that the DfE Uniform Guidelines are to become statutory. When do you expect this to happen?
The current guidelines are voluntary so schools can adopt or ignore them as they wish. Now that they are to become statutory, schools will be obliged to follow the rules. We don’t see this being implemented in time for this summer’s back-to-school season but we expect it will be in place next year.

How will this affect garment decorators?
If they are supplying schools directly, they may have to tender to keep the business and will probably be unlikely to get all of a school’s business because of the requirement for competitive tendering. If they are supplying other providers, there is likely to be some change in which suppliers provide uniforms to which schools and how much of each school’s business those providers win or retain. There are likely to be winners and losers, as with any competition. (For more information on the current guidelines, go to www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-uniform)

What other schoolwear issues would you like to see tackled by government?
We have campaigned vigorously for VAT to be removed from school uniform, and we have also petitioned to have a voucher scheme introduced similar to the existing childcare and bike-to-work schemes.

What advice do you have for garment decorators who are competing against supermarkets when supplying schoolwear?
The supermarkets cannot provide the expertise or personal service that specialist suppliers give to schools. They stock cheap goods in regular sizes at back-to-school time, but specialist suppliers offer a complete range of garment sizes all year round. That is a huge benefit for a school that wants to see its students in a good quality uniform that matches everyone else’s and lasts.

Brighton College in Sussex recently announced it was moving to a skirt uniform and a trouser uniform rather than splitting it into boy and girl uniforms. If more schools adopt this, what impact do you think it will have on the wider schoolwear market?
If students of different genders are going to wear garments intended for the other then the need to stock a wide range of different shapes and sizes is even more important. The important thing is that the school has retained a strict policy and is still committed to traditional uniform.

How do you see the schoolwear industry developing over the next five years?
Uniforms are becoming ever smarter as schools seek the benefits of better behaviour, improved learning and greater safety that only a good quality, school specific uniform confers. Because these garments are made to last, they often work out as better value. There is pressure from government and lobbyists to make uniform cheaper but that shouldn’t be at the expense of quality. There are better ways to make uniform affordable to everyone of every shape and size all year round.

What’s the best piece advice you can give to Images readers to help them sell more schoolwear?
Join the Schoolwear Association. We have a selection of fact sheets to help suppliers develop and manage successful relationships with schools and navigate the education system.

www.schoolwearassociation.co.uk