Schoolwear shops, like many retailers, have faced a tumultuous 18 months thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but what other challenges may they face in 2022? Three heavyweight schoolwear suppliers provide their thoughts.
Q. What trends do you think schoolwear retailers should be aware of for the season ahead?
Neil Ward, managing director of One+All: A key schoolwear trend likely to continue this season is that schools are encouraging students to wear their sports kit all day when they have PE lessons. This is leading to increased demand for sportswear and related clothing, such as jogpants and sweatshirts, impacting what parents are looking to buy.
The pandemic also created a new trend during the last school year in which schools had to keep windows open to allow for better air circulation. This may continue into the new season and as winter approaches, it’s likely that students will continue to layer-up and require more warm, winter uniform items.
In addition, the drive towards ensuring school uniform isn’t cost prohibitive will see an even greater focus on making second hand uniform available for all.
Kathryn Shuttleworth, managing director of David Luke: With a growing interest among consumers for understanding the origin and credentials of their products, the confidence in the sustainability and transparency of the brands going into schools, is set to increase again.
The environmental impact of clothing is becoming more and more understood by end users, and so it is critical for retailers to work with brands that can offer resources and knowledge about the supply chain.
As well as the impact of clothing during the making phase, it will become increasingly important to be able to talk about the use and end of life phases of garments. With David Luke’s Re:uniform campaign this summer, school stockists have a ready-made set of resources to share with schools and parents, that tap into the changing attitudes and behaviours of the coming generations.
Matthew Easter, CEO of Trutex: With the Uniform Bill passing into law earlier this year and the revised Department for Education guidelines on school uniform being issued shortly, retailers should be prepared to assist schools as they assess their current uniform policies and decide whether they are required to make any changes as a result of this new legislation.
It’s important to stress that the vast majority of schools approach their uniform policies very reasonably and will therefore not need to make any changes to what they do currently once they have reviewed these in respect of the new guidelines. Indeed, we expect the new guidelines to remain strongly in favour of school uniform, a sensible blend of school specific and generic items and continue to support sole supply contracts provided that an appropriate procurement process can be demonstrated by the school.
Q. Can you foresee any challenges that schoolwear retailers may face in 2022?
NW: The biggest challenge facing the schoolwear industry, as well as many industries right now, is the difficulty in transporting goods to the UK. There have been huge delays for many reasons, including country lockdowns, congestion at ports all across the world, lack of availability of empty containers and delayed ships. This has meant that the cost to ship goods has increased astronomically – it appears that demand is much higher than available supply and this will continue into 2022 and beyond.
KS: Firstly, supply and demand irregularity is set to continue. Secondly, price pressures appear to be more long-term than transitory. And finally, in England, the new legislation on school uniform will take effect shortly, and this may result in schools needing to review their current policy. The knock-on effect of these points could be a push from some parents to reduce the amount of school-branded items that schools insist on.
ME: While the worst impacts of the pandemic are hopefully behind us in the UK, the sad reality is that the same cannot be said around the world and several legacies are likely to remain in 2022 as a result of the disruption that we have all been through in the last 18 months.
We have seen massive disruption and huge cost impacts in global shipping costs during 2021 and it’s highly unlikely these will disappear and freight rates will return to previous levels in 2022. Equally, much of the developing world which is responsible for a significant proportion of global fibre, fabric and garment production is still being impacted both by the pandemic directly and also by disruption further up the supply chain, which will undoubtedly continue to be the case into next year.
Q. How will these be overcome?
NW: To overcome shipping challenges and delays, it’s vital to order early and ensure you have everything you need in plenty of time.
KS: Forward booking – as much as the issues with delivery this season have made lots of uniform providers cynical about how beneficial forward booking next season’s requirements is, it would have been a complete disaster if commitments had not been made
Price mitigation is only possible through forward booking, as prices into 2022 are difficult to predict, so the more that can be secured at autumn prices, the better.
To support school uniform retailers with schools who may have to go through a tender process when they review their current arrangements, we will be launching the David Luke Tender Academy – a series of guides, training, and relevant content that will help support the process the retailer wants to go through, or can involve a more direct collaboration with us through joint bidding.
Schools will still want to retain their brand identity and sense of belonging that brings, but will want to show they are supporting the environmental and affordability aspects of uniform, so utilising the resources we have produced as part of Re:uniform, will be a great way for schools to show they are taking positive action on these important issues.
ME: Working with manufacturers and suppliers to plan ahead as far as feasible for 2022 will undoubtedly help to make the year as smooth as possible, given the potential ongoing disruption.