The UK’s first ethical school uniform supplier is aiming to quadruple its customer base to one hundred schools after securing a five-figure investment from the North East Small Loan Fund Supported by The European Regional Development Fund.

Etika Clothing supplies ethically sourced uniforms to the UK primary school market after developing a unique ethical manufacturing partnership between the UK and India which delivers full transparency and ownership of the supply chain.

Launched in 2019, the Gateshead-based firm currently supplies uniforms to around 20 primary schools, most of which are around the North East, and it is aiming to double that number by the end of the next academic year before increasing it to three figures by summer 2024.

The Etika management team has worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to secure the £20,000 Small Loan Fund investment, which will be used to enhance its business development activity and bring in skilled personnel to service growing demand.

Around half a dozen new jobs are expected to be created as the business expands, with the aim of reaching an annual turnover of one million pounds by 2025 and establishing the firm as a truly national brand.

Etika Clothing’s approach has previously won the support of the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who highlighted the firm’s ethical character to schools within his diocese.

Its priorities include ensuring safe working conditions, salary transparency, community development and minimising its environment impact.

It works closely with several charities in India to provide employment opportunities for vulnerable women who are survivors of domestic abuse, and also runs “Wear the Change” workshops Year Five and Six children to help them gain a better understanding of injustices within the garment manufacturing industry

It recently brought its first London school on board after its leadership team had researched uniform suppliers that shared their own focus on ethical behaviour and sustainability.

All the uniforms it supplies come complete with an embroidered logo of each individual school, with the supply chain shaped to enable orders to be fulfilled much more quickly than is usually possible for most suppliers.

Etika Clothing is part of the North East LEP’s High Potential Start-Up programme and has supported by Scaleup North East partner Craig Huntingdon at RTC North.

Sean Murphy, managing director at Etika Clothing, says: “Our core belief is that every child in the UK should have the opportunity to wear an ethical school uniform and our aim is to make this a possibility for as many pupils as we can.

“We work to a clear set of values and ethics which define our behaviour throughout the whole supply chain as well our impact on the environment, and we regularly monitor and evaluate how we’re living up to them as part of looking to have a positive influence on the wider industry.

“We’re confident that the quality of the products and service we offer will enable us to double the number of schools with which we’re working over the next academic year and to then reach three figures during the following 12 months.

“NEL offered the right financial option for our particular needs and the investment team worked closely with us to enable us to complete what was a fairly straightforward application process.”

Jonathan Armitage, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “Etika Clothing is taking a far-sighted approach to supplying a market where the importance of its commitment to ethical practices and sustainability are increasingly widely recognised by schools, parents and children.

“We’re very pleased to be part of the next stage of their expansion and excited at the potential they have to reach and exceed their targets.”

Part of the £120m North East Fund and aimed predominantly at smaller SMEs, the £9m North East Small Loan Fund typically offers loans of between £10,000 and £100,000 to businesses in Tyne & Wear, Durham and Northumberland.

It is designed to assist with the creation of over 1,200 new regional jobs in more than 320 SMEs over the life of the fund.

The overarching £120m North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses, creating around 3,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.