5 things to look out for when choosing school uniforms this “Back to School” season

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I would like to introduce and welcome you to my guest blogger today  from  EcoOutfitters who make ethical school uniforms for our little ones. All their garments are made from soft, 100% pure organic cotton and they are  certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).

Over to you Irina;

As the school holidays rapidly coming to the end, it is time to start getting everything ready for the next academic year. One of the first things that comes to mind is school uniform. The days when it was given that school clothes were made from wool or linen are long gone, with supermarkets now offering a cheap alternative, schoolwear made from either a poly cotton mix or plain polyester.

When you consider that children have to spend at least 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, wearing their uniforms, running around, getting hot and sweaty, at the vital stage of their development, you begin to realise that this is probably one of the most important items in their wardrobe, and should be taken seriously.

If you want your child to stay cool, healthy, and comfortable while they learn, here are the 5 things to avoid when choosing their school uniform this back to school season.

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Polyester – traps the heat, doesn’t allow the skin to breath

Most school clothes are made from either a poly cotton mix or plain polyester. Polyester (PET) is a plastic – it’s a compound in a group of petroleum-derived substances called ‘polymers’, which come from crude oil – and is made up of an assortment of ingredients, including both gasoline and polyethylene. These sorts of materials aren’t sweat absorbent, they don’t allow the skin to breathe properly, trapping heat which can trigger rashes and cause or aggravate skin conditions such as eczema.

Not less of a concern is the environmental impact of these synthetic fibres. According to a number of environmental groups, chiefly Greenpeace, textile manufacturing generates up to 20% of industrial wastewater in China, and there is a growing pressure on the clothing makers to rid their supply chains of toxic chemicals, such as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) used in textile processing. PFCs are linked to environmental toxicity and human health problems.

A recent research published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology indicates that synthetic fabrics contribute a great deal to contamination of our oceans. In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of materials used in clothing. The study suggests that a large proportion of microplastic fibers found in the marine environment was derived from sewage as a consequence of washing of clothes, and raises a concern that as the human population grows and people use more synthetic textiles, contamination of habitats and animals by microplastic is likely to increase.

Stain resistant/wrinkle resistant coatings – these can get absorbed into the child’s bloodstream via the skin

Many of the Teflon-like stain-resistant and wrinkle free coatings on school clothes have been classified as probable cancer-causative agents by the EPA, so it doesn’t sound like an ideal thing for school uniforms.

A study in 1977 by chemists Arlene Blum and Bruce Ames at the University of California, Berkeley, took morning urine samples from ten children who wore polyester pyjamas treated with a fire retardant coating the night before, and the substance was found to be present in the urine of all ten children after being absorbed from the pyjamas via the skin. The more these sorts of clothes are worn and washed, the higher the chance of chemicals migrating from the fabric and becoming particles that can be inhaled by children or absorbed into the bloodstream via contact with the child’s skin.

Non-organic cotton – uses more pesticides than any other single major crop

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While the perception of cotton is as a soft, pure, and natural fabric, that’s only true of 100% organic cotton. The reality is that non-organic cotton is widely considered to be the world’s most environmentally unfriendly crop. It is a huge water waster, with 20,000 litres needed to produce one kilogram of conventional cotton, and uses more pesticides and fertiliser than any other area of agricultural production These chemicals alter the river’s nutrient system and ecosystem, and lead to the pollution of rivers, lakes, wetlands and the air. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, seven out of the 15 most carcinogenic chemicals known to man are used to produce cotton, which is obviously terrible news not only for fish, bird, animal and insect life, but also for field and factory workers.

Non-organic colour dyes – they may aggravate eczema and other skin conditions to flair up

The dye on a finished garment, by it’s nature, is chemically stable – that’s what makes a dye color fast. However, research had emerged that examined the short and long term effects of potential skin absorption of dye and finishing chemicals through clothing. The CNN report October 2007, revealed that new testing procedures (chemical burden testing) showed that young babies and children actually do have increased levels of chemicals in their bloodstream and skin. Because clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the skin, especially when one’s body is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration. We also know that some individuals have what is known as chemical sensitivity, including when exposed to garments of many types.

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Ultra low price – someone, somewhere may not be treated fairly

A report by ActionAid heavily criticised some of the supermarket and high street chains for the hidden cost that their cheap schoolwear is having on the lives of women workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, saying that in order to sell uniforms at such low prices, supermarkets were putting pressure on their suppliers to cut costs and turn orders around quickly, which contributed to low wages and poor conditions for the workers.

“All day I sit and make school uniforms for foreign children. It makes me feel so sad that I can’t afford to send my own children to school, because I want a better life for them than the one I have” – Sirin Ankar, a 24-year-old garment worker and young mother, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Although this report was published in 2007, seemingly little has changed for the garment industry workers in third world countries since then, as Bangladesh’s recent tragedies of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in 2012 (117 dead and over 200 injured), and the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 (1,129 dead and over 2,500 injured) have shown. The fallout is that it’s now more commonplace for clothes brands to keep their production ties a very closely guarded secret.

So, what’s the solution?

Look out for clothes made from organic cotton, preferably certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or other credible certifying body. Although they might be more expensive than the supermarket variety, that would guarantee that these garments are toxin and pesticide-free, and made in socially responsible factories; meaning working conditions are safe and hygienic and employees are paid a ‘living wage’ not the ‘minimum wage’. In addition, organic cotton garments are much more durable than the non-organic alternative, because the fibres haven’t been weakened by chemicals, and, therefore, offer great value as they last longer.

Thank you Irina this has given us all alot to think about when we are buying our children’s school uniform. You can visit EcoOutFitters shop here.

What do you look for when buying your children their school uniform? 

Do you already shop for environmentally and health friendly school uniform? If you do where do you shop? 

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