Children of expatriates who move back home are leaving their clothes behind for younger classmates to grow into, helping parents keep school costs down. An informal uniform exchange to swap children's clothes and shoes was recently set up by Jessica March, a mother of three, who arrived in the UAE nine years ago and lives in Sharjah. Her husband, Tim, said their son Freddie had inherited a pair of shorts and shoes from an older boy. "There is a high turnover of people here in the UAE, so when people leave they also leave a lot of clothes," Mr March said. "This year, two families have left things for Freddie to grow into and we will also be passing on some of his stuff. "When they are young they grow so quickly they do not wear out their uniforms, so it is a waste to throw things away. Of course, it cuts costs, too, which is great because things just keep getting more expensive." Caroline Jenns, a mother of two in Dubai, said that apart from the fees, the biggest costs of sending her children to the English College Primary School were the uniforms. With children aged six and eight, her costs are already mounting at the start of each school year. "After their typical growth spurt in the summer, we always need to buy new shoes and trainers and often have to buy new uniforms, too," she said. This year, to get them through the school week, Mrs Jenns had to buy four blouses and three dresses for her daughter and four polo shirts and three pairs of shorts for her son. She must also provide each child with one pair of school shoes and one pair of trainers, school hat, a new PE kit and five pairs of socks. Over the past five years, Mrs Jenns has noticed several price increases. The school uniform, which comes from Magrudy's, increased last year by around Dh5 to Dh10 per piece, she said. "They have a monopoly so there's no other shop we can buy from. Shorts and dresses went up from around Dh40 to Dh45." At many schools even PE kits must be emblazoned with the school logo, again pushing the cost up. At the GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi, the starting price for a polo shirt is Dh60 whereas in retail outlets such as Adams, parents can find a pack of three similar shirts for Dh50. Most schools also require a pupil to have PE and library bags with the school emblem. At Al Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, these two items alone cost Dh70 and a pair of PE shorts bearing the logo will cost Dh65 compared with Dh24 in Adams. Leather school shoes from Zaks, the nationwide supplier for international schools, start at Dh250, but in Adams, Hush Puppies and Pumpkin Patch they are under Dh150. Mrs March said hot weather in the UAE eliminated the need for winter wear, but the "monopoly" of suppliers such as Zaks and Magrudy's offset any savings from not having to buy blazers or coats. Other parents complained that uniforms and other school gear were made from inferior materials that often did not last through the school year. One father in Dubai, who asked not to be named, said his two children needed new uniforms every year because the quality of the materials was so poor, they did not last longer than a year at a time. "The costs keep getting more expensive and the quality just gets poorer," he said. He, too, complained of the "monopoly" that he said forced him to spend hundreds of dirhams to kit out his children each year. "We are seriously considering going to Al Satwa and getting the clothes made there with proper material, like cotton. All these uniforms are made from cheap polyester." He went on to say that after a few washes the clothes lost their colour and shape, while the mandatory school rucksacks broke and could not hold the weight of the books. Also, he said, some schools tended to change the uniforms during the year, forcing the parents to fork out more money for the newer versions. Some suppliers in Dubai admit that the quality of uniforms has gone down. Sholah Mahdavi, the managing director of Stitches, a company that supplies uniforms to approximately 15 Dubai schools, said: "There are some schools out there that don't care about the quality and go to their suppliers for the lowest quality material but charge the parents the highest price." At Globe Uniform Suppliers in Dubai, the head designer, Ashwini Navnbeth, said "prices do shift depending on the quality of fabric used". The company provides uniforms for a large number of GEMS schools and Westminster School. email@example.com * With additional reporting by Nour Samaha
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