Action: Join or start a school uniform exchange

Organised reselling and reuse of school uniforms is a great carbon and money saver

If you have children at school you will know how expensive it is to equip and clothe them, and that school uniform is a major part of that. There is also that classic problem with children – they keep growing! This means that uniforms are often too small before they are worn out, potentially leading to waste as well as more expense.

One solution is a school uniform exchange.

These are local initiatives to allow parents to buy (or even receive for free), sell, donate or swap articles of school uniform clothing. Some are informal groups based around chat at the school gates, others are more structured and organised. Here’s a good example based in Leeds in the UK for you to take a look at –

Why use an exchange?

  • Thousands of tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year. School uniforms are contributing to this problem
  • Thousands of tonnes of CO2 could be saved if every new school starter reused just one or two items of school clothing
  • Collectively, we could save millions of tonnes of water used to make clothing
  • School uniforms are often mass produced in exploitative environments
  • The average pupil costs hundreds of pounds to clothe each year

There’s lots of great quality second hand school uniform out there and school uniform is unaffordable for some families.  Sharing means we can reduce our environmental impact, save money and help others.

The experience of those starting exchanges such as the one in Leeds is that there is “a MOUNTAIN of good quality school uniform in wardrobes, cupboards and drawers … … and families are only too happy to be able to pass it on.

Incidentally, we know too that charity shops are often inundated with school uniform donations, but they can find it hard to sell unless they have a large selection of clothing in all sizes.


For those that cannot afford the right uniform, this can also hold children back. School uniform creates a sense of shared identity and stimulates community and learning. This doesn’t work if a child’s shoes are too small or they don’t have a winter coat or a bag for their books!

It is true that some supermarket chains offer cheap uniforms as a ‘loss leader’ to get families into their shops. However, the cheap price is a false economy as quality suffers, and the carbon impact is huge – especially as one of the main materials used is polyester, a synthetic fabric made using crude oil.

The school uniform exchange can address all of these problems, all it takes is a bit of initiative, ownership, and cooperation between parents.

What to do

Firstly, if you have or need school uniform, talk to the school to find out what facilities already exist!

Explore local social media, often there are groups set up to do this sort of thing.

If nothing is in place, talk to a few other parents about the problem (or rather – the solution!) and see if you can stimulate enough interest to get a small group together to start something up.

If there is a facility in place, get involved in helping to run it.

If there isn’t, talk to the people at Leeds or in other established groups, about how they started and what you need. They have also published a great guide which you can download free of charge from

Maybe you could talk to your local newspaper reporter and persuade him or her to write a story about setting something up, or a local charity shop about how they might help with initial stock or work with you in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Take action

This type of initiative can make a massive difference, even across a single school there can be hundreds of pupils and families that can benefit, plus it can even become an educational environmental project.

Talk to others to see if you can make it happen!

Thank you.

Oh … and please sign up for out fortnightly bulletin, Take Action, using the simple form below … thank you.

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