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Do schools care about eco-friendly uniforms? This brand is betting on it

Kapes uses smart tech to make school uniforms from quality sustainable materials, and outgrown uniforms are given as a pre-used item to a child in need, reducing emissions

[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Sustainability is often a buzzword used when the conversation is about climate change, food waste, and fashion. But when we talk about fashion, it accounts for 10% of global emissions, approximately 80% of our clothing ends up in landfills or incinerated, and that’s before you’ve even considered the amount of plastic used for packaging.

Why are we becoming more conscious of where our clothes come from and where they will go, the products we buy, and how we can reuse them?  

One area of fashion and retail that isn’t a popular discussion is school uniforms. These are often an overlooked part of the retail and sustainability industry, despite the fact that between the ages of 5 and 18, the clothing worn by children and young people is a school uniform.

During the pandemic’s peak, a startup named Kapes combined smart tech and a vision to positively impact the environment by offering schools, parents, and children ethically made school uniforms free from harmful chemicals.

Founder Matthew Benjamin created Kapes to make a difference in the UAE, where he resides, and in Kenya, where school uniforms are produced. Benjamin highlights that children grow out of school uniforms quickly or wear through them, and as a result, the environmental impact is enormous. 

There is also a sizable social implication, as it has been documented that some uniforms are made in unethical conditions in developing countries. With fashion being responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, a school uniform is a great tool for educating children and adults about sustainability.

“It’s incredible to see Kapes at the forefront of sustainability – changing culture and consciousness of the students about sustainability and creating an entirely new system for apparel – leveraging best-in-class technology, design, and material science innovation to do so. The system they’ve built is a microcosm of the future of fashion and apparel,” says Natasha Franck, Founder & CEO of EON The Network for Connected Products. “We’re proud here at EON to be their technology partner — giving each product a QR Code. It can connect to customers, resale and recycling partners and be stewarded through a circular lifecycle.”  

The uniforms are made from quality sustainable materials, including GOTs certified organic cotton, recycled polyester, regenerated nylon, coconut shell, and non-harmful and non-toxic dyes.

In addition, each school uniform collected when outgrown is given as a pre-used item to a child in need, reducing emissions and supporting the community.

“There is a lot of room for improvement in school uniforms, and for years parents have rightly complained about the lack of quality and, more recently, the lack of sustainability. We believe we can play a vital role in empowering children to become change-makers by encouraging them to be more connected to the things they wear, the people who make them, and the places the pieces are made. As these children become adults, they will hopefully be more conscious consumers and continue to pass this onto future generations.” 

“Uniform suppliers have a responsibility to focus on sustainability and transparency, but schools, parents, and students must also vote for the change they want to see,” says Benjamin.

Currently working with two schools in the city, Arbor School and Fairway in Dubai, Kapes plans to work with the education sector within the region to provide an opportunity to show real-world leadership when it comes to these critical issues.

While the plan to target international schools in the UAE is, for now, tackling sustainability in school uniforms is a broader plan within the GCC and then global. 

Entering the realm of fashion is powerful; we always want to make a statement and reinvent ourselves. It can be challenging to know how to do your bit when it comes to sustainability when partaking in fashion. We’re demanding more from the fashion industry; the rapid season changes, must-haves, and fast-fashion retailers on the rise – how do we stay accountable? 

Clothing can be tough to recycle, with the many components attached to each garment, i.e., buttons, elastic waists, and zips. While it takes a lot of work to recycle our unwanted jeans and jackets, here’s what we can do to cut our wardrobe’s carbon footprint. Consider second-hand as your first option, borrow and swap, love what you have, or jazz up what you have (it’s incredible what a few colorful buttons or zip can recreate) and if you can afford to go quality over quantity. 

Diesel Library is one of the brands’ launches, consisting of an eco-friendly library of Denim in multiple styles, shapes, and shades. “I launched the Diesel library, a concept of responsible key pieces. These are iconic denim pieces that are transversal and that everyone can wear. It is fundamental that brands with a specific weight like Diesel, with a wide, international, and transversal audience, who can sensitize, undertake an eco-friendly path. We do not like a brand because it is sustainable, but because of what it produces and its design. That was one of the reasons I decided to work in an international brand like this one because I knew I could make a difference and get messages across through creativity. We are currently in the process of launching the first sustainable denim jean,” says Creative Director at Diesel, Glenn Martens.  

Reusable and stylish gifts are all the rage for reducing your waste, so these reusable items consistently mitigate your carbon footprint. Small-business born during the pandemic, like Sip, combines both style and sustainability to create a range of sleek reusables to help the UAE stay hydrated and reduce single-use plastic. 

Reusable thermal bottles come at a higher price tag, but they certainly make up for it financially, environmentally, and for your health over time. Supporting the UAE’s sustainability goals and in line with the recent announcement in Abu Dhabi to ban single-use plastics in the capital by the end of 2022, Sip has already provided over 1000 reusables thermals to the Emirates. Thus helping consumers reduce single-use plastic straws, bottles, and disposable cups — any room to reduce waste is positive. “It can be overwhelming knowing where to start and how to help the environment. At Sip, we encourage our customers to make small daily changes that contribute to a sustainable lifestyle without compromising style,” says Jodie Fowler, founder of Sip.

It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade completely, and bottled water requires up to 2,000 times the energy used to produce tap water; no wonder more people are conscious of plastic waste and taking small steps to lower these statics. With numerous benefits, reusable thermal pros outweigh the cons; zero plastic used (in some), removes bacteria, made from recycled materials, keeps the drink cooler or warmer — for longer, and comes in various stylish patterns and colors. And suddenly, carrying plastic bottles around is seen as uncool. 

Sip is made from high-quality 304 stainless steel; the thermal cups and bottles keep liquids cool for up to 12 hours and hot for 6, combating the fierce desert sun and cold AC. Not only that, the unique design and personalization service sets Sip apart from other high street brands, making it the thermal of choice that represents sleek, fashionable sustainability.

Some areas of fashion and retail still have a way to go in becoming eco-friendly. However, giving consumers access to more sustainable options like these products is a step in the right direction.


A Dubai based content writer, passionate about all things arts & culture related and has a thirst for writing about happenings in the city. More