Big, Bright, and Blue: The Story Behind the New Uniforms

Luke Hopkins wearing the new uniform.
Luke Hopkins wearing the new uniform.
By Marca Moran
A group of students in robotics, wearing the new uniforms. (By Marca Moran)

As students stroll in the hallways between classes, it’s impossible to miss the sea of bright blue shirts mixed in with the traditional navy blue worn by returning students. After about two decades, ISB is finally phasing out the old to make way for something a bit brighter, breathable, and updated. 

With its dramatic contrast to previous incarnations of ISB attire, the new uniform has been subject to a myriad of opinions from the student body, ranging from those who like them to those who’d rather wear anything but. Returning students are permitted to wear their old uniforms until next academic year when students will have to say a final goodbye to the navy blue.

Previous Attempts at a Redesign

With the help of an in-house designer, who happens to be a previous ISB student, ISB Marketing and Communications Director Harriett Gething created a new uniform meant to be more comfortable, more sustainable, lighter, and more accessible for students with sensory issues as there have been many complaints about the tag inside of the old uniform scratching against student’s skin which proved to be very distracting and hindered student’s learning. But you’d be surprised by how much thought actually goes into redesigns like this and how long and arduous that process can be.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for parents and students, the new uniforms would have been unveiled five years ago. At that time, ISB underwent a year-long process of working with students and parents to collaborate on a redesign, ultimately resulting in three final options from which to choose. ISB decided to release these designs to the community for feedback. “All this work that all these people put into it just was undermined in a matter of two days based on all this written feedback we got,” says ISB Dean of Students Andy Vaughan. “We had all the uniforms up and people came and wrote, and the feedback was overwhelmingly negative.” There was such a range of opinions, in fact, that the feedback wasn’t helpful for achieving anything close to community consensus. So ISB decided to scrap all the options and stick with the status quo.

The more recent effort was motivated by the desire to make the uniforms “something comfortable,” Mr. Vaughan says. The old navy shirts are made with heavy cotton, a fabric that does not mesh well (so to speak) with the blistering hot climate of Thailand. However, given what happened five years ago, the school administration took a different approach this time to the design process. “We said, look, we’re not going to go massively wide because we know whatever change you do, some people won’t like it,” Mr. Vaughan says. 

Harriett Gething. (By Gething)

The Design for the New Uniforms

The current uniforms are where Ms. Gething, the marketing director, comes in. When she began working at ISB in 2021, one of the first things people mentioned to her was the dreaded uniform redesign that had been on the shelf. “I was like, ok, maybe I could take that on and help that process,” she recalls. The final push to work on this redesign had been the mixture of negative parent and student feedback. “People weren’t 100% happy with the current uniforms, especially the … long shorts. No one liked them. No one bought them.” 

The first step for Ms. Gething was re-examining the previous redesign attempt together with Mr. Vaughan: looking through the samples and surveys and reviewing what had gone wrong last time. Next was talking with students, parents, and staff focus groups to decide what a potential update could look like. She also spoke with the student councils to get their opinions. All of this work was done to create a uniform that Ms. Gething hoped would be comfortable: “My main criteria was comfort. That was always what I wanted. That was number one. This uniform has to perform well and be really comfortable so kids can do anything in them.” As such, Ms. Gething was also in charge of finding suppliers with quality fabrics at affordable prices as well as making sure the uniforms were produced in Thailand in order to support the local economy.

Sustainability was also a consideration for the redesign. Everything from the fabric to the packaging was chosen with environmental impact in mind. Ms. Gething describes the fabric itself as made for “super performance” and one explicitly meant for hot climates. Additionally, there is absolutely no plastic in the packaging, which instead uses recycled paper and cardboard boxes. “Not even the tags that you get in the shop with the plastic tag,” Ms. Gething explains.

The marketing team also took extra time to add small details and improvements to the design most wouldn’t even notice at first glance but that gave the redesign an extra bit of flourish. For example, the pants now have a pocket for student ID cards, making it way easier to pull them out to pay for food or enter the school. The normal pockets are also much deeper now to prevent students’ oh-so-precious phones from falling out of their pockets when sitting down. They’ve also added a little Thai flag on the shirt sleeve, a touch that honors the country and the Thai people.

Through the challenging and often frustrating design process, ISB has finally produced a new uniform that stands out from previous incarnations, is more sustainable, and lighter to wear. But just as the administration foresaw, the effort has not pleased everyone. Some students still aren’t entirely satisfied. Given that, the new uniforms aren’t final. Their design and even color are bound to be tweaked as the school collects more feedback. “So just because this is what we have right now, it doesn’t mean it’s the absolute final piece,” says Mr. Vaughan. “Because as we do each batch, [we can] make improvements.” 

Check out our video story from Putter Ratana-ungkool and Harry Pham that interviews ISB students on their feelings about the new uniforms.

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