Private schools in the Wichita area are shopping for a new uniform supplier – a change that could shake up the required wardrobes for thousands of students.
“We’re still in the information gathering stage,” said Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of Catholic schools in the Wichita Diocese.
“It’s going to be a process. … But we want to do something as a whole diocese, not each individual school going out and doing their own thing.”
Last week, Parker School Uniforms stores across the country – including one in Wichita – closed without warning. An assistant manager of the Wichita store, which is owned by Houston-based Parker Uniforms, said she didn’t know whether the store would reopen or what would happen with in-stock merchandise.
Calls to the Parker headquarters in Houston continued to go to voice mail this week, and the company’s website was not working. The Better Business Bureau website described the company as “no longer in business.”
Meanwhile, private-school families in Wichita are donating uniforms they no longer need back to their schools, assembling libraries of skirts, pants, shirts and sweaters they hope will meet students’ needs through the end of the school year.
“We have a share bank going,” said Tony Ryff, academic dean of Trinity Academy, a non-denominational Christian school with about 500 students.
“We’ve communicated the situation to our parents, and they’re coming through with gently used items,” Ryff said. “We think that should tide us over until we identify the vendor we decide to use in the future.”
In an effort to keep costs down, many schools allow simple garments that can be found at department and discount stores or online. Some private and Catholic schools, however, require plaid or houndstooth items in specific color schemes that were available only at Parker Uniforms.
Finkeldei said the Catholic Diocese received more than a dozen inquiries from companies looking to tap into the school uniform market in Wichita.
A committee of principals and parents will explore the options and narrow the field, he said, in hopes of choosing a new vendor by summer.
“Our preference at this point would be … a company that would be willing to open a physical location” in Wichita, Finkeldei said. “I think our parents would prefer to have a physical location to go try on the clothes.”
Another challenge, he said: Finding manufacturers who could match – or at least closely replicate – the various plaid patterns adopted by Wichita schools. Many families use the same uniforms for multiple children, so adopting new patterns would restrict hand-me-down options.
“One of our criteria when choosing a new company is going to be how many of our schools would have to change their plaid,” Finkeldei said. “We want that to be as small as possible.”
Parker Uniforms had operated in Wichita for about 40 years, serving schools in Wichita as well as Salina, Dodge City, Hutchinson and other communities.
Finding a new uniform vendor is a complication schools hadn’t expected, but they’re adapting, Finkeldei said.
“For the remainder of this year, I don’t anticipate many issues,” he said. “Schools will draw from their used uniform supplies, or they’ll make accommodations for the one kid who grew six inches.
“If there is an isolated incident where the used uniforms don’t meet the needs of an individual student, then schools would make exceptions based on that.”