How to buy and sell second-hand school uniforms

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There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to school uniforms. A quick Google search reveals that schools everywhere (or rather PTA volunteers) are overloaded with piles of second hand school uniforms they can’t get rid of. Meanwhile, parents everywhere are forking out vast sums of money buying new uniforms!

Sainsbury’s recently published a poll showing that a child will wear on average 480 items of uniform over their school career, costing parents upwards of £6,000.

As new legally binding guidance requiring schools to make uniforms affordable for all comes into force before families buy their uniform for the new school year starting in September 2022, we believe taking the kinder planet approach of reusing and recycling is the answer.

With the new guidance, schools will have to make sure second-hand uniforms are available. In the UK, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year and encouraging families to choose second-hand uniform can reduce waste and bring down emissions from manufacturing new garments, while also making it cost-effective for families.

Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi said: “School uniform provides a sense of identity and community for children and young people, and should be a real source of pride. But it must never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education. Schools should make sure their uniform policy is published on their website and is clear and easy for parents to understand.”

How to turn the tide 

We spoke to mum and PTA volunteer Lindsay Goddard of Solihull Zero Wasters to find out why schools and PTAs should sell second hand uniforms - and how to do it. Lindsay and Solihull Zero Wasters work with local schools to suggest sustainable initiatives that will help them reach their green targets. 

Lindsay said: “1.4 million wearable school uniforms are thrown away each year. But where is this magical place called ‘away’? The answer is - still on the planet, creating waste! With UK families spending £52million every year on new items, now is the time to rethink the system.”

Four things to make a uniform sale a success

Lindsay said: “The most important thing that makes a preloved sale successful is to ensure it is accessible and simple. The key to continued support is to ensure the uniform is clean and useable.”

As part of the team for a secondary school ‘preloved’ sale, we sold £1,000 of uniform last year. So, not only is this a fantastic eco-friendly initiative, but it also raises much needed funds too.”

Go digital to sell with less effort

Using online marketplaces can take a lot of the faff out of running a school uniform sale. No more having people rummage through and mess up your carefully folded garments! Simply list all the items online including all the details - size, colour, condition, quantity and price. Parents will click and buy. You can even use Classlist’s marketplace feature for this. To make your stock searchable, tag the items as ‘uniform’. To ensure the money raised goes to your PTA, ask parents to click the ‘charitable donation’ button. 

  • Top tip: There’s also a ‘lost property’ section on Classlist’s marketplace - where parents can post about items their children have lost or found!

When you have too much stock in the second hand shop

Charities won’t take branded items of uniform so it can be hard to pass on extra stock. Here are ways to get rid of surplus stock.

  • Bagging up size specific bundles of uniform is an excellent way to shift more items at once. Store bundles in labelled, clear cellophane garment bags for easy management through the year. 
  • Ask your school to distribute these sized bundles to families in need, tactfully
  • Give bundles of generic uniform to local food banks to distribute
  • Organise uniform ‘swaps’ to promote recycling. Run these on a goodwill basis. Set out the uniform in the school hall on rails and ask people to drop off their preloved uniforms as they come in. No need to manage a direct swap - after all you’re just doing people a favour and reducing waste.
  • Go to local feeder preschools and ask them to notify parents about where and when you’re selling the smaller uniforms.
  • Take surplus to the H&M clothes swap scheme - you’ll get a voucher in return for bags of clothing which you could use as a prize in a raffle. More clothes swap schemes at M&S, Oxfam and Schuh here.

Annual fancy dress requests

There are many times during the school year that children are asked to come to school in fancy dress. That could be for Halloween, World Book Day, Christmas, Easter - the list is endless but predictable. Lindsay suggests creating a yearly list of what and when it is needed, and share this with parents at the start of the year so there are no surprises. Then ask parents to drop off old costumes and props at school during a ‘costume drive’ week. The PTA sorts the stock into sizes for sale at 50p-£1 per item and sells these at a big playground sale or online.

Lindsay said: “Call on your PTAs and work together to stop mass buying of cheap clothing, delivered last minute from China, and with thousands of air miles. Imagine the revenue per year the school would get, the many grateful parents, and the amount of single use items diverted from landfill. This is changing people’s behaviours, so the more you do, the more interaction you will get. Make it fun and turn it into a challenge for the classes - perhaps get them involved in the sorting, labelling and taking money.”

Repurpose stained clothing

Sometimes items will have been too heavily used to pass on. Take a tired summer pinafore and within a few minutes at the Janome you can create scrunchies or even a no-sew cushion cover for sale at your summer fete! Those with more advanced seamstress skills can create bunting, keepsake teddies and even quilts. All lovely items to treasure long after school days are over!


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