Why We Want You To Wear Second Hand School Uniform

We’re passionate about our eco-uniform but our love for sustainability doesn’t end there. Something we see as being a playground game changer is a shift in attitudes towards re-loving our old uniform. Some communities are already way ahead, and we can’t think of a better success story than The Green School Shop, St Ives. Owner Susan tells us why and how she champions second hand school uniform…

Please introduce yourself and your wonderful store so that our readers get a feel for your business and philosophy.

I am Susan Jarah and I started The Green Shop alongside my tuition business in 2015. It is a happy coincidence how I started the shop. I am a trained teacher and was keen to start my own private tuition business. When I got involved in the local school’s association, it became clear during conversations about uniform, that parents were keen to donate their used uniforms and for them to be re-sold. It was just a matter of finding a convenient location and someone willing to do the washing and sorting. As well as providing a much-needed service in terms of cleaning and sorting the uniforms, boots, etc, I was delighted to be able to return profit from each item back to the relevant school. Customers really took to it and liked supporting the school and the face to face fitting of what we call ‘New to You’ uniform, and it grew. The schools began to support the shop and were appreciative that I was also fitting children with specific needs. So, when one school asked me to move into the full uniform provision it was a natural step to blend the second-hand items with new uniform. And since then, schools have started to come to me to ask me to do the same. I’ve been able to grow the business. I’ve been committed to providing practical, affordable, comfortable and fit for purpose uniform, making sure I never sell too much uniform to people, but just what they need.

What kind of changes have you seen in the perceptions of second hand school uniform since you started your business?

Perceptions have massively improved since I started. In the early days, there were only a few who took on the sustainability and affordability angle. But I have managed to normalise it and people can see it is a good thing. We have children who like second-hand and the concept of ‘New to You’ and persuade their parents. We have parents who think their children will not like it, so they buy it and take it home to wash it again in their normal wash. That way their children will never know!

How has your community – both parents and schools – reacted to your unique product range?

I have many families who return again and again for my service. Whilst the schools have been extremely supportive. I usually have a token scheme for ‘New to You’ sales, so a proportion of the money goes back to the school and I can cover costs. But during the pandemic, it hasn’t been practical to do this. Instead, I have had rails outside the shop with an honesty box. I have been able to work with a local Parent/Carer Hub, with links to the local food bank, who I am able to support with uniform items. I have become quite known in the area, and I’m also a deposit centre for Terracycle for crisp packets, therefore I get a lot of visits from the community and more widely. During lockdown, I had a buzz on the door from Aquaid Lifeline, a charity helping deprived families out in Malawi. This will be a great partnership as we will be able to donate items that we don’t sell, to this charity, avoiding landfill and providing much-needed clothing.

What are the most popular items in your pre-loved collection?

Badged sweatshirts are the most popular of our second hand school uniform, to supplement the new ones and give people spares. And little boys’ trousers and girls’ pinafores are really sought after, because they grow so quickly at that young age.

How can families think about incorporating second hand school uniform into their wardrobes this summer?

My aim is to make sure people only have to buy what they need. However, I appreciate that children do need to have spare items in case of loss or washing. This where the pre-loved uniform scheme, ‘New to You’, comes into its own, without breaking the bank.

Do you have any tips for our readers that may help them to take better care of uniform. Enabling them to pass it on or is it simply a case of buying better in the first place?

I always say that you must wash items inside out, do not use fabric conditioner, and avoid ironing. These care steps for your garments will help to make them last longer. But it is also important to buy good quality, to make sure you don’t have to replace things because they have fallen apart. That way you will find you only replace when they are too small, and you can pass them on as ‘new’ to someone else.