The back to school period is always a hectic time for schoolwear retailers and suppliers in getting nearly 10 million children back into classrooms in the correct attire. Like many sectors, this year has brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty. Here, Matthew Easter, co-chair of the Schoolwear Association, explains how the sector has responded to the challenges brought by COVID-19 and delivered another successful back to school period.
Like many others in the retail sector, the schoolwear industry has faced huge obstacles over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty over school closures and reopening, as well as concerns about social distancing and safety measures, led to a challenging summer for manufacturers and retailers preparing for back to school.
The schoolwear industry quickly recognised that it would be challenging to serve the normal volume of customers while implementing social distancing, given the highly seasonal selling period running up to the start of the new school year in September.
In spite of the uncertainty, particularly at the start of lockdown with store shutters down and factories and warehouses empty, the industry worked hard to prepare and manufacture the garments required to get children back to school in their new uniforms.
The industry’s manufacturing expertise was also put to great use at the height of the pandemic, with textiles factories quickly pivoting to manufacture PPE items such as masks and mattress covers, as well as NHS uniforms. Just Schoolwear, Perry Uniform and Rowlinsons were just some of the Schoolwear Association members which played a vital role in the response to COVID-19.
Members of the Schoolwear Association were also quick to implement a range of measures designed to keep customers and staff safe in store. Once retail stores were allowed to reopen in June, we have been communicating regularly with both schools and parents to encourage early purchasing this year, to try to spread demand over a longer period running up to back to school. To help with this process, members also introduced in-store appointment systems, increased online services, extended exchange policies to allow parents to purchase earlier with confidence, and longer store opening hours.
We know that the industry breathes a sigh of relief once children are back in school looking smart in their uniforms and reflecting on this summer’s challenges should bring a huge sense of satisfaction.
The preparation for back to school is always a key time for the industry. With additional challenges, including the introduction of social distancing and face coverings for customers in stores, the sector’s efforts should be applauded. We’re grateful to have such a hard-working, adaptable network of schoolwear retailers and suppliers within the association.
While the challenges of this summer have almost been overcome, the industry still faces substantial obstacles and we will have to be as united as ever if we are to survive and thrive. As we told Printwear & Promotion back in August, legislative changes brought in by the Education (Cost of School Uniforms) Bill still pose a threat to the industry and, as an Association, we need further support to sustain our campaigning on this issue.
Like many families, friends and workplaces across the country, the pandemic has united communities and it is vital that we continue to work together to continue to get the nation’s young people back into classrooms in smart, sustainable and high-quality uniforms year after year.