Back to School – Ethical Shopping

You can do your best to be an ethical shopper all year round and then it comes to the the Back to School shopping and then it is easy for it to all go out the window.

Back to school shopping can be full of cheap clothing, made from non-natural fabrics coated in chemicals to make them stain resiant and easy to iron. Every year there seems to be a competition between brands to see how cheap you can buy it.

Our can children spend at least 35 hours a week or 190 days a year in their school uniform. Thats more than when they are at home, so I think it more than resaonable to spend a little more on school uniform, especially if it means that it is made in an ethical factory with workers rights, with sustainable fabric and without a chemical coating.

Repair & Reuse

We want to bring our children up to be ethical consumers, and lead by example. Only then will the next generation grow up to consume less and reuse more.

For the start of a new term, question whether you can reuse the school items you already have? Does it need replacing if it still fits or can be used again?

Our children seem to expect a new lunchbox, stationery and school bag at the start of term, but is that really necessary? If you invested well originally, then hopefully the items you bought previously will do another year.

Teach children to respect their belongings and name everything.

Think outside the box.

  • Can old trouser with holes in the knees be hemmed into shorts?
  • Can old faded sport tracksuits be dyed and refreshed to its original colour?
  • If possible buy kilts for girls, they grow with them and last longer.
  • Can school shoes be re-soled or re-heeled.
  • Can old school shirts and socks be bleached white again with laundry bleach
  • Get together will local parents and have a uniform swop for the uniform that is too small.
  • If you school does not have a secondhand uniform shop, talk to them and the PTA about setting one up.
  • Look on Ebay and local charity shops.
  • I Personally love the mantra “Buy once Buy well”. Buy better quality that lasts longer ( with no added chemicals to make it last longer, i.e Teflon & stain resistant coating.) and then they can be used as hand me downs to siblings, cousins etc.
  • For new items, Don’t save all the uniform shopping till August, split it up over the year and it is not such a financial hit all at once and you may also get a bargain as it is out of season.

School Clothes

Considering our children spend more days at school than at home it is really hard to find ethical school uniform. The one company that came up time and time again was EcoOutfitters* who do a full range of school uniform from underwear to PE kits. Made from GOTS  Certified  Organic Cotton.

Available on Ethical Superstore & Natural Collection

H&M* – As part of the H&M conscious range, which aims to be more sustainable by using organic cotton, Tencel, Lyocell & recycled materials to make clothes, you can get a few items such as jogging bottoms, polo tops and vests.

Handly H&M also do a recycling scheme where they guarantee all donated clothes are either reused or recycled and none go to landfill. All you have to do is hand in a bag of clothes to be recycled and you get a £5 voucher to  use in store.

Interestingly no company was deemed to be a best buy by The Ethical Consumer Magazine ( I presume EcoOutfitters is too small of a brand to be judged?) and the brands to avoid were noted to be Tesco F&F and Asda George due to workers rights with use of toxics.

wills vegan shoes


To buy ethical shoes, it means no leather. To find childrens vegan school shoes is incredibly difficult. So sometimes you may have to compromise for the next best thing.

I found Wills Vegan Store London – who do a small range of certified Vegan shoes for children, some are made with eco friendly vegan leather made with plants or made with eco friendly Ecolabel certified vegan leathers.  The rubber used for the soles is recycled and the company is plastic free and carbon neutral.

Prices start at £36 on Wills Vegan Store*

Alternatively I found Vivobarefoot which sells childrens school shoes. Vivobarefoot is based around the concept of your shoes allowing your feet to behave like you are barefooted. They are thin, wide and flexible as well as being really robust . In their blog section they explain the science behind this concept, where children are shown to have better motor skill and concentration the more time they spend barefooted.

Vivobarefoot are an Ethical Consumer Recommended Buy if you are going to buy leather. Vivobarefoot school shoes are made from Wild Hide Leather (cattle hunted in Africa rather than kept in captivity) but I  could find little information on tanning methods.

Prices from £60 on Vivobarefoot

If the high street is where you are heading for shoes, then look up how ethical the high street brands are before you go. The Good Shopping Guide* has a quick brand summary table and The Ethical Consumer has a more indepth comparison though the information is now a few years old.

onyx and green


Onyx & Green  –  Make stationery from recycled materials and compostable bamboo.

Available on Amazon, Ethical Superstore & Natural Collection

frugi back pack

School Bags

Frugi make a school backpack for little ones made from recycled polyester using recycled plastic bottles. You can get it personalised with your little ones name.

In the same range you can also get, wellies, coats, waterproofs, lunch bags and pencil cases all made from the same material in 3 different patterns. You can choose from Rhinos, Rainbows and Polar Bears.

From £8.00 on Frugi

For slightly older children Parkland do a good selection of prints and colours also made out of recycled plastic bottles.

Parkland is available on Amazon & Little Green Bag from £19.50

For older children for a serious investment that should last years look to Patagonia or Fjallraven who makes backpacks using recycled polyester.

Patagonia is available from £44.95 here

Fjallraven is available from £55 on Amazon

lunch box


For little ones you can use a Sandwich Keeper, to save using cling film and foil to wrap sandwiches and pop that into a Lunch Bag made from recycled plastics or the Frugi lunch bag detailed above.

For older children you can use a Stainless Steel Lunchbox that will last them for years. For the younger ones they could be decorated in stickers. Our favourite is the one from Black & Blum as it has no hinges or little bits that could break.

Sandwich Keeper £5.99, Lunch bag from £3.95, Steel lunch boxes from £15.00 here

kleen kanteen

Water Bottles

For water bottles I cannot recommend Klean Kanteen enough. We have had ours for years. Each person in our house has one in a colour of their own. No longer do I open the bottle cupboard and lots of plastic bottles fly out at me!

Easy to wash, use and keep. You can choose between sport tops and screw tops and purchase extra tops if they need replacing. Each top has a loop, so if you buy a carabina clip you can attach it to your backpack.

Available from £15 on Amazon or Klean Kanteen*

Looking at the above buying ethical school equipment can be done but it is more expensive than buying it at the supermarket.

Buying better quality should mean it lasts longer,meaning everything should be able to be replaced at different times not just at the start of the school year, so make the most of Xmas presents, Black Friday discounts, sales and invest wisely for longevity.

My children do not go to school, so I don’t have do this shopping and while I was researching this I was very thankful! But I have done this shopping before and I know how stressful it is. Financially and mentally.

Be kind to yourself and source what you can over the course of the year rather than all in August.


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