How To Buy Ethical and Sustainable Children’s Clothes
Do you want to buy clothes for your children that are better for the environment but don’t know where to start? Are you worried that the clothes you put your children in have not been made fairly but you are unsure what to look for to buy better?
When I started out making kids clothes in 2015 I did it because I wanted nice prints and comfy outfits for my own children. I knew about organic cotton and its benefits and deep down I knew that if something was really cheap it was too good to be true.
But the more I looked for better options the more confusing it all became.
Retailers and brands that we think are part of the fast fashion movement might have organic ranges or corporate social responsibility polices on their website. It can be really hard to tell if something is really ethical or if the wool is pulled over our eyes, so to speak.
Then there are the recent headlines that many retailers have not paid their suppliers during the covid-19 pandemic. One article states that Bloomberg reports that about 1,089 garment factories in Bangladesh have had orders cancelled worth roughly $1.5 billion due to the coronavirus outbreak. The AWAJ Foundation says that many factories in Bangladesh have been shut down indefinitely. Some workers were given less than a month’s salary as severance and many others have received nothing at all. (1)
More recently, there have been reports that BooHoo factories in Leicester have paid worked as little is £3.50 an hour – meaning we can’t even assume clothing with the ‘made in the UK’ label have been produced fairly. (2)
With all this going on it can be really hard to know if the children’s clothes you are buying are really ethical and sustainable, can’t it?
I want to reassure you that shopping well for your child’s clothes is not an impossible task. Yes, it takes a bit of time but once you know where to look and start putting it into practise it is really doable – I promise!
This article aims to help you understand why just having policies on a brands website doesn’t make them an ethical retailer and all the different way that you can make a difference when you buy children’s clothes.
Working out What Your Priorities Are
There are at least 8 main issues that ethical and sustainable brands should consider when deciding on their brand values. And if you know what they are you can decide what is important to you too.
- Climate change
- Water stress – 1.1 billion people in the world lack access to clean water yet the fashion industry consumes water in growing fibres, such as cotton, in the production process and in garment care.
- Hazardous chemicals and pollution – the fashion industry is one of the biggest users of chemicals and this relates directly into them being responsible for large about of water and air pollution.
- Land use and biodiversity – biodiversity is the foundation for a healthy planet. Did you know that fashion can be directly linked to habitat loss? Areas of tress and forests have been clears for growing cotton and cellulosic fibres made from wood.
- Diminishing resources – fashion relies heavily on fossil fuels from manufacture and production right through to transportation. An increase in faster and cheaper manufacturing techniques is also contributing to rapidly vanishing hand-based skills and crafts from around the world.
- Consumption and waste – clothing production has doubled since 2000 yet we are keeping our clothes for half as long as we did back then. The vast majority of discarded clothing ends up in landfill with only 20% being reused or recycled.
- Modern day slavery – through forced labour, human trafficking and child exploitation, modern day slavery still exists. With a lack of transparency across the industry, 77% of companies operating in the UK believe Modern Slavery might exist somewhere in their supply chains.
- Wellbeing – the fast pace of the fashion industry compromises the wellbeing of workers, communities, wearers, animals and the environment.
It is absolutely OK to priorities just a couple of these areas when it comes to buying clothes for your kids. But the more you know about the issues the more you can choose what matters to you.
Doing Your Research
You favourite fast fashion brand is likely to have a corporate social responsibility policy on its website. Look through the websites to see what you can find and learn as much as you can about their priorities. What do the words they use mean – and if you don’t know them contacting them on social media is a great way to get a response from the brands you love to find out more about their ethical values.
It is also good to look at how transparent the brands you are researching are. Transparency is key when it comes to understanding how responsible a brand is. When the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed in April 2014 it was clear that many brands did not know that their clothes were being made in such dreadful conditions.
The Rana Plaza building was in Bangladesh and was home to 5 garment factories as well as a bank and a shop. Brands that were produced in that factory included British brands Matalan, Primark and Bon Marche alongside Walmart and Benneton.
READ MORE about the Rana Plaza disaster
But what exactly is transparency? Fashion Revolution say that “Transparency is more than just sharing the good work that brands are doing. Too often we see brands boasting about their business values and positive progress without sharing much about the things that go wrong, the systemic challenges they face and the actual honest results of their efforts to protect human rights and the environment. This can come across as greenwashing. It is also not enough to disclose crucial supply chain information internally or selectively to certain stakeholders only. This is how brands have operated for a very long time, yet widespread abuses remain endemic across the industry. True transparency requires public disclosure.”(3)
Being transparent should make brands accountable. It enables us as consumers to see what they are doing (or not doing) and call for change.
The Fashion Transparency Index
The Fashion Transparency Index is an annual report published by Fashion Revolution. It is a really useful took for seeing how your favourite brands do when it comes to being transparent.
READ MORE: The Fashion Transparency Index
The report is really interesting and a useful tool when seeing how well your brands do at being transparent – but being transparent doesn’t mean that they are behaving in a responsible of sustainable way. It just means they are publishing their policies and practices. They could still be contributing to poor working conditions and climate change. On the flip side there will be many brands that are not publishing any information but who are doing excellent work on many a difference.
Now you have an idea of what matters to you most and you have some tools to do your research – how do you put this all into practice to choose the best children's clothing for your child?
Choose Your Materials and Fabrics
If you want to choose eco-friendly clothing then you need to make sure that you are choosing clothes made from the fabrics that have a positive impact on the planet.
Organic cotton is one of the most popular sustainable and eco friendly fabrics. It is better than regular cotton and loads better than synthetic fabrics which use fossil fuels and chemicals in their production, but it still uses more water in its production that other natural fibres.
Fabrics such as linen, hemp, silk, or even bamboo are much more sustainable than cotton as they don’t use a much water in their production.
READ MORE: Why I stopped making mermaid leggings
If you are choosing organic cotton then look for materials that are Global Organic Textile Standard certified or Soil Association Certified. These certification s guarantee that organic cotton has been fairly grown, produced and manufacturer.
Buy Local and Handmade
Buying locally made clothes means less air miles. There isn’t much point in buying amazing sustainable clothing only to have it shipped half way around the world to get to you, is there?
What does your local high street offer you or your local makers? There are some amazing handmade brands around right now – I bet if you posted in your town or village facebook group you’d find some hidden gems!
Just Do Your Best
If anything this article has probably shown you that there is just so much to consider with it comes to buying ethical and sustainable children's clothing.
The key thing to remember is to do your best.
To some that might mean only buy organic and handmade clothing. To others that is buying second hand rather than new to reduce consumption. Others might prefer and be able to repair what they already have rather than buy anything else at all.
The main thing is to make the change. Any change in the right direction will make a difference.
Good Luck! And if you need any help just let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to help!