M&S launches autism-friendly school uniform
Retailer teams up with National Autistic Society on new Easy Dressing range.
By Laura Turner
27 July 2016
Marks & Spencer (M&S) has teamed up with leading autism charity, the National Autistic Society
, to launch the first mainstream range of autism-friendly schoolwear.
The Easy Dressing collection will be available online at marksandspencer.com
from 1 August, with customers able to register their interest in advance via the website. Initial responses have been extremely positive, with over 6,000 people registering for updates.
The launch of the Easy Dressing collection follows M&S’s product development campaign, Inventors Wanted, which saw the retailer inundated with requests for more to be done for people struggling with clothing, especially children on the autism spectrum
Seventy-per-cent of autistic children are educated in mainstream schools and are therefore required to wear a uniform every day. Many of these children experience sensory sensitivity, with others also suffering problems with motor skills, making small buttons difficult to manage, for instance.
“We are always listening to our customers and looking at how we can develop our ranges to suit their needs,” says Charlotte Hunt, product technologist for M&S. “Through working with the National Autistic Society and its partners, we were able to tap into their expertise to understand the needs of autistic children and what may make finding and putting on school uniform difficult or challenging. It sometimes takes extra time getting dressed in the morning or after P.E., and many children can feel really uncomfortable in their clothes.”
To create a school uniform that helps overcome such problems, M&S’s Kidswear team consulted with professionals who work with autistic children to discover more about the sensory difficulties that can be caused by fabrics and standard clothing design.
The retailer then approached the National Autistic Society to help it develop the new range. As well as providing advice, the charity arranged for children at its Helen Allison School
to work with M&S’s designers and tell them what they did and didn’t like about clothes – particularly things like “scratchy labels” and “fiddly fastenings”. In March this year, M&S returned to the school with prototypes of five garments for the children to try out, which received rave reviews.
“Our aim was to try and find a solution that eased the worries associated with school uniform experienced by autistic children,” continues Hunt. “The charity has been with us every step of the way, advising throughout product development based on their expertise and knowledge. Working closely with the Helen Allison School was also extremely valuable, as their ideas and feedback really helped us develop the range.”
Commenting on the Easy Dressing launch, Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, says, “We are thrilled to be working in partnership with a household name like M&S. Parents often tell us how sensory sensitivity can mean that children don’t like putting their uniform on, which can even make them reluctant to go to school.
“Finding uniform items their children will wear can make shopping for school clothes a time consuming and stressful experience. Many parents have had to scour specialist shops for everyday items that other families are able to buy easily from mainstream outlets.
“M&S has responded brilliantly to what it’s heard from our experts and the children at our Helen Allison School. Simple changes, like putting a scratchy label inside a pocket, make an enormous difference.
“Since we’ve announced that this autism-friendly range of clothing will be available from M&S, the response from our supporters has been amazing. Over 3,000 people have liked our Facebook post and we’ve had over 3,000 shares, too.
“More than one in a hundred people are autistic in the UK – that’s around 120,000 school-age children - and they deserve to have the same choices as everyone else. When a famous retailer like M&S leads the way like this, we’re sure that others will follow its inspiring example," concludes Lever.
As well as working with the charity to develop the range, M&S will also be donating 10 per cent from every item sold to the National Autistic Society to help provide vital support to autistic people and their families.
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