Irina Price‘s son is so sensitive to polyester that when he started school wearing his uniform brought him out in a terrible rash. Irina urgently needed to find an alternative.
She started researching and soon realised her son was not the only one affected. “Children spend their whole day in their school uniform, often in overheated classrooms,” she says. “I’m sure many parents don’t realise the links between polyester and skin conditions.”
With a background is in anthropology and development, Irina was also interested in the environmental impact of polyester.
She couldn’t find any school uniform using organic materials. So she joined forces with her friend and fellow mum Marina Petrova and the two created Eco Outfitters which sells school clothes made of 100% organic cotton.
“We have a lot of clients who have noticed that their children’s skin is better as a result or at least not aggravated,” says Irina.
After doing initial research and deciding on organic cotton, Irina and Marina started looking for a factory in countries producing organic cotton. The choice was not big, but they were determined not to compromise. They opted for Turkey.
“Our understanding of the textile industry deepened a lot,” says Irina. “I didn’t realise what a big environmental impact the textile industry has. It is a lot worse than people think. We felt something should be done. In our school children learn a lot about sustainability, but the uniform they were wearing while learning didn’t help. We wanted to make the link between what they were wearing and what they were learning.”
Irina and Marina invested all their savings and chose the fabric and design. They launched in December 2012 with four basic pieces of uniform – trousers for boys, a skirt, pinafore and trousers for girls in one colour only. They had a lot of support from parents and good feedback. “People wanted an ethical alternative for their school uniform,” says Irina. They spread the word to parents mainly by word of mouth. “It grew gradually and was a big learning curve for us,” says Irina.
Eco Outfitters now stock a much wider range from school socks, shirts and ties to three colours of skirts, trousers and pinafores. There are different styles of skirt and they are introducing new fabrics. They also cater for larger sizes and demand has continued to rise, including from outside the UK. Most of their customers from the early days are still with them and they have grown new ones. They hope soon to take on more staff.
Their main focus now is on marketing. “As we have had no external investment we have grown more slowly than we would like to,” says Irina. “We have quite a few customers who say they wish they had known about us before.”