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Sustainable Schoolwear | Meeting the changing marketplace head on

While mums are a tough crowd even when it comes to a sustainable and socially responsible products, Anne Thompson’s organic business Sustainable Schoolwear is not only making a huge dent in the schoolwear market, it’s also creating a better environment for the kids who wear her clothes.

Realising that she required more control over her work life, due to struggling with limited time as a carer for her ageing parents and balancing an ever-busy schedule as a mother, Anne made the decision to leave her job working as a high-end banker for Commonwealth to chase her dream of running her own business.

After buying out a then-floundering company called My Organic Uniform in 2015, Anne first waded into the waters of small business. Once ownership was in her hands, she revamped the branding, starting with a name change to Sustainable Schoolwear and moved from a retail focus to exclusively online. Sustainable Schoolwear began selling to schools more actively and has fast become a favourite amongst school parents in Sydney.

Working alongside fellow mums Felicity Stevens and Greti Lindsay, Anne believes motherhood has given them a distinct advantage over their competition. It has allowed them to better understand the needs of school parents; what they want, and why they want it. It’s also helped them realise that to succeed in selling schoolwear, they’d have to meet the lofty standards of school mums.

“Mums are the toughest audience when it comes to school uniforms,” Anne explains, “There’s very high expectations for quality and consistency.”

Given there’s no premium on organic textiles – unlike organic food, where the land must be remediated – Sustainable Schoolwear has been able to sell at competitive prices and compete in a market that has long been owned by a select few brands. Outsourcing manufacturing to Global Organic Textile Standard approved companies in India and China helped this greatly, reaping rewards for the business.

As Sustainable Schoolwear uses a special blend of certified organic cotton and polyester from recycled plastic bottles, Anne is constantly learning new ways to be environmentally conscious. Believing that anyone can adapt environmentally friendly actions in their day-to-day and business lives through baby steps, noting that one of her main goals is to force big companies to use better quality products.

With her business on solid ground and steadily growing, she attended a CSIRO conference a few weeks ago where she first became acquainted with Realise Business. She decided to make the most of the offer of two free advisory sessions, working with Louise Lye. Anne intends to move forward with Realise Business, describing the sessions as “very valuable”.

Without an extensive knowledge of business finance and the stipulations that come with it, Anne found Louise’s expertise liberating, giving her the freedom to concentrate on the aspects of her business that she knows inside and out, as well as the peace of mind to know that everything else is in order. “Having someone like Louise with an expert view of the elements of business we’re not familiar with has helped us focus on the important things,” Anne notes, “You can do a million things in any given day as a small business owner, meaning you often lose sight of the fundamentals.”

Using Realise Business as a tool to keep the focus on her strengths, Anne plans to continue expanding the brand of Sustainable Schoolwear in her local area. She also intends on making the company’s eco-retail products more available to parents through uniform shops and the business’ own retail website. Better quality basic garments including bamboo tights are also on the agenda. Anne hopes to stay around her community, sticking in the footprint of North Sydney, selling to a maximum of 25 to 30 schools.

Anne also provided her top tips for small business success:

  • Cash flow is queen
  • Have a good team with you
  • Know your product and where it fits
  • Listen to your customers – don’t delegate those relationships. After all, they are the fuel of your business.
  • Turn over as much stock as possible
  • Learn to take time out
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