Wichita Catholic schools have selected a preferred vendor for their school uniforms – Schoolbelles Uniform Company, officials announced Thursday.
The Cleveland-based company plans to open a retail store at the site of the former Parker School Uniforms store, which closed suddenly last month.
“We’re very, very excited about it,” said Bruce Carroll, owner of Schoolbelles.
“We have some experience in this type of a transition. … We think families in the Wichita area will be pleased with what we’re able to provide.”
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Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Wichita Diocese, said a committee of Catholic school leaders and representatives of three other private schools – Trinity Academy, Central Christian Academy and the Classical School of Wichita – screened more than a dozen potential vendors.
The committee selected Schoolbelles from among five companies that made formal presentations to the committee earlier this week.
Last month the Parker School Uniforms store near Central and Edgemoor, which for decades supplied uniforms to private and religious schools throughout the state, closed without warning. The Houston-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Jan. 12.
That left many Wichita-area families scrambling to find school clothes for their children and prompted private school officials to seek a new uniform supplier.
Finkeldei said Schoolbelles was selected because it could match all but three of the 29 plaid fabrics used in Diocese schools. The committee also appreciated the company’s “Midwestern values” and commitment to customer service, he said, and its pledge to open a retail store in Wichita.
“We think we came up with a great company,” Finkeldei said. “They have a great family atmosphere, and I think it’s going to be a great working relationship.”
Carroll, the Schoolbelles owner, said the family-owned company operates 12 retail stores in five states. The company “sized up opportunities across the country, and we specifically selected Kansas” as a potential new market, he said.
Families may notice slight differences between Schoolbelles and Parker uniforms, Carroll said, but the fabrics and general styles are similar.
“Where they (Parker) might have had gold buttons on their jumpers, we might have plain buttons,” Carroll said. “Not complete style changes, but just slight style differences.”
He said he doesn’t know exactly when the Schoolbelles store will open in Wichita, but that it should be “prior to the summer months” and in time for families to buy uniforms for next school year.
In the meantime, Carroll plans to meet with representatives with about 90 schools that did business with Parker.
In an announcement sent to Catholic school principals Thursday, Finkeldei said schools won’t be required to use Schoolbelles as their uniform vendor.
“We’re not going to mandate anything. This is just a preferred provider,” he said. “Each school will continue to set its own dress code and make its own decision about vendors.”