ROCKINGHAM — Back to school season means lots of shopping for school supplies, and in Richmond County where school uniforms are required, clothing in school colors is at the top of the list — and one enterprising local mom has found a way to make uniform shopping easier and more affordable by using the power of social media.
Laura Mercer’s Richmond County School Uniform Swap is a public group she created on Facebook to help match kids of all sizes with gently used school uniforms in the colors they need.
Mercer, 26, has a two-year-old — who is not old enough to need school uniforms — but it was still family that motivated her to start the group.
“I had a stepson at the time and he was in the school system,” she said. “I did his laundry and I’d send his clothes back home. So I know what it’s like to keep up with school uniforms.”
Mercer remembers the first year Richmond County Schools required students to wear uniforms.
“I was in 7th grade the year school uniforms started and my brother was in 3rd grade,” she said. “My mom struggled buying us school uniforms and regular clothes, too.”
For the first time, the district required specific kinds of pants and shirts for students attending its schools. Not all parents were happy about it, and for some families the uniform policy introduced new economic strain.
Mercer said that the kinds of clothes worn as school uniforms are not what kids want to wear when they are not in the county’s classrooms, so no one enjoys paying full price for them each time a child outgrows a set of school colored pants and shirts.
“All the bottoms are either khaki or black,” she said. “All the shirts have to be polos, but black and white are across the board (colors) now as I understand it. Shirts still have to be tucked in as far as I’m aware and can have long or short sleeves. I’ve seen them wear flip-flops.”
Mercer said that while she has seen students wearing flip-flops to school, she is not certain whether they are allowed under the rules of the official uniform policy.
According to the school district’s uniform policy as posted on its website, “Some type of footwear must be worn at all times. Shoes with laces must be laced and tied at all times. Shoe laces must be white, black, or match the color of the shoes. Shoe laces must match and any straps must be secured. Shoes must match and be the appropriate size. Bedroom shoes are prohibited. Girls may wear pants tucked into boots; however, boots must be below the knee. Shoes with spiked heels are prohibited.”
Given the fashion restrictions of the uniform policy, Mercer said the swap group provides a way for parents to get around investing in clothes that won’t likely be worn anywhere but school and tend to be quickly outgrown.
“It allows you to be able to buy school-approved uniforms at a cheaper price,” she said. “It’s a way for you to clean out your closet and make a little money. You’re not having to spend $30 for clothes that have limited wear. And you can get better brands. Who really wants French Toast pants when they could have American Eagle or Old Navy or whatever? If they’re not hurt, why not share with somebody else who can use those clothes?”
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the group had 248 members and 1 administrator — Mercer. As a public Facebook group, Richmond County School Uniform Swap is open to anyone interested in joining, but Mercer must approve the membership requests and said she occasionally has to moderate the occasional “off-topic” post. But she doesn’t do it alone.
“My friend Amber Chavis keeps a watch on it a lot for me,” Mercer said. “And my friend Wendi Hinson also helps out with it. The only thing I’ve run into so far is people posting things that aren’t supposed to be on there, like toys and things that are not school uniforms. When that happens I just ask them to remove it themselves, but I don’t remove the person. I just make sure it’s only for Richmond County Schools approved uniforms.”
She said there is another advantage to using the swap group for buying uniforms for school: built-in acceptance.
“You know that if they’ve gotten through (a previous school year), you know they’re approved,” she said.
During her interview with The Daily Journal, Mercer received a notification sound and glanced down at her iPhone.
“Oh, I have a reported post,” she said. Asked what happens when she gets those, Mercer said, “I’ve never had one of these, so we will see.” Then after a few moments, “It was toys, so I just took it down. I could take them off the group, but we all do things and you know, it’s not a big deal. I just like to try and keep it only clothes.”
She said that even with the group’s open nature, she has not run into any problems and has seen numerous bargains change hands — including one recent post offering an almost new pair of Nikes for only $20.
Mercer said she’s been a fan of Facebook groups for a while and is a member of One Man’s Junk in Richmond and Moore counties, and even a “baby-wearing group” out of Fayetteville.
“It’s for people who wear their babies, you know, on them,” she explained. “We literally swapped different harnesses.”
She said that this time of year, when people are trying to start getting ready to return to school, the uniform swap group has “a lot more posts about, ‘I need.’” And, she said, someone else in the group is usually able to help.
“If someone stayed on top of it, they could possibly get all their school uniforms this way,” she said.
Chavis texted Mercer about the group, saying, “…I hate I didn’t think of doing it 1st, lol. I mean I now have 4 boys in school.”
“Let’s try this and see if it works,” Mercer said. “It wasn’t anything I planned or thought over. And Facebook is perfect for it. Word of mouth seems to spread fast that way.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.