Hethersett family put four pound uniform to the test

Aldi is the latest retailer to offer parent's back to school uniforms on a budget, but are the cheaper versions really a bargain in terms of quality? The Wood family from Hethersett puts them to the test. By Emma Harrowing

As the four pound school uniform goes on sale at supermarket chain Aldi many cash strapped parents are breathing a sigh of relief as they can kit their kids for the school year without breaking the bank.

The uniform, which went on sale at the beginning of the month, consists of a round neck sweater, a pack of two plain polo shirts and a pleated skirt or pair of trousers. The supermarket chain is so confident of the products it has committed to a 'lowest price guarantee', so if any other supermarket offers the same outfit for less then four pounds it will drop its price lower.

The fight to offer the best value school uniform is hotting up. Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda are all offer budget-bustng uniforms. The high street is also getting in on the act with retailers such as H&M offering a complete school uniform for �10, or you can go down the more traditional route and get your child's school uniform from a department store or school uniform supplier such as The Schoolwear Centre on Ber Street, who also tend to offer complete uniforms for specific schools.

Paying less for your children's school uniform makes sense. Uniforms really only need to last out the school year and if after a while white school shirts turn a strange colour in the wash, or grass or ink stains just won't come out of skirts and trousers, the items will probably be discarded for being too small anyway.

However, a uniform does need to last a year, so when it comes to the rough and tumble in the playground and endless washing and ironing does a budget buy stand up to the test or is buying cheap false economy?

Mum of two Laura Wood, 34, from Hethersett, is like any other parent when it comes to balancing the household books – budgeting is key. So if there is a way to kit out her kids for less she is keen to buy. Her daughter Evie, six, is starting her third year at primary school and her son Joshua, three, begins nursery in September. 'Both need to wear a set uniform of grey and white with the green school sweat shirt or a green jumper or cardigan, so buying two uniforms can be expensive,' says Laura.

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'I usually look for a bargain by going to the supermarket rather than the high street as they tend to have the best deals.'

To test how well a budget uniform wears compared to a more expensive uniform the Wood family tried out the new Aldi uniform and a uniform with similar items from John Lewis. Both are 100pc cotton and benefit from having Teflon in the trousers and skirt, which is said to repel stains. The total cost of the same uniform set from John Lewis costs �24 for the boy's set and �30 for the girl's. Laura says: 'On first glance the John Lewis uniform looks and feels as if it is better quality, as the Aldi items feel a little thin, and rightly so judging by the cost of the John Lewis uniform!

'There is more choice of colours when it comes to the John Lewis uniform. Although Evie and Joshua can both wear the grey bottoms and the white polo shirt, they cannot wear the navy or red sweat shirts available from Aldi, so green jumpers would have to be bought elsewhere. The sizing of the Aldi uniform is also a little too big for Joshua, whereas the John Lewis uniform caters for pre-school children who are required to wear a uniform when they go to nursery.'

The Wood family tried out both school uniforms for two weeks.

In that time Laura washed and ironed the uniforms a few times and Evie and Joshua stretched the limits of each outfit by playing out in the garden and around the house in their uniforms.

'There wasn't much of a difference in durability between the two uniforms,' says Laura.

'The John Lewis uniform did wash a lot better than the Aldi one, which became a little thinner after washing, so the John Lewis uniform was by far the better quality. However, the thinness of the Aldi uniform wasn't noticeable and considering the difference in cost and the fact that they would only wear this uniform for one year before they grow out of it the Aldi uniform seemed the best buy.

'The only downside was the limited choice of colours and sizes available from Aldi.'

Cheaper clothes often come with the stigma that in order for the retailer to make any money, clothes are made using poorly paid labour. Although we are constantly assured that they are not, questions still remain on how retailers can make a profit out of, for example, a pair of school trousers that cost a mere �1.50 to the consumer.

Yet it is also worth noting that unethical working conditions are not just limited to budget brands. Mid end high street and designer brands have also been accused of using sweat shops in the past.

'How clothing is made is a concern, but the majority of shops say that they are ethical these days so I guess we have to trust that they are,' says Laura. 'My main concern is how much an item costs and how well it lasts and I'm sure that this is the same for other families. From doing this experiment I've found out that in this case cheaper options are as just as good quality as the more expensive options when it comes to buying a school uniform.

'Of course buying on a budget is great while Evie and Joshua are in primary school, but when they get to high school we will have to buy blazers from the school's chosen department store or school specialist shop. Hopefully by then they too will be able to offer parents a deal like this when it comes to kitting their kids out for school!'