Whenever I do a Google search for ethically made brands for kids, I see a ton of blog posts, featuring “affordable” options for kids ranging in cost of $25 for a t-shirt to $80+ for a dress. Do I love these pieces? Yes! Do I wish I could buy exclusively this way? Yes! I adore quality, timeless, items that I can invest in and last forever….for myself. Kids are a different ballgame. They do actually NEED new clothes, usually, every season. Nothing will last them forever. In fact, we’re lucky if we can get through one school year in the same clothes. Multiply this by three kids (and more for some of you) and that is an unrealistic kid clothing budget for most. So how can we still have some ethics and sustainability with our children’s clothes? I have had this exact question asked to me a few times lately, so I thought I would share what I have my own kids wear.
First, before we get into it, I want to say what I always say, which is that there is no perfect way of navigating this. There is no one made-for-all formula that is going to work for every family. This is about doing better, not perfection. It is about living within our means and showing ourselves grace. One hundred percent sustainable does not exist, but if you are wanting to figure out a way to take some steps toward creating a more ethical wardrobe for you kids, keep reading. This post is for you.
Sabrina & Lily wearing hand me downs from their big sister. The shoes were purchase new.
How I source their clothes.
- Hand me downs. When I was pregnant with my twins, one of the strangest things someone said to me was “Don’t you hate that you’ll have to get all new clothes for your twins since there’s a 3 year age gap between them and your oldest? Kids styles change so quickly.” I have not found kids styles to change that dramatically in a few short years, so of course my twins are wearing all of big sister’s clothes. I wash and store everything in clean plastic bins. I label each bin by size range so it’s easy to find what I need when the girls grow into the next size. I’ve also been lucky enough to get some hand me downs from friends. In some cases 4 kids have been able to wear an item and are still getting passed on to some of my friend’s kids. When I was buying what I consider to be an investment item for my first born, things like moccasins, organic rompers, etc, I bought them in gender neutral colours. Since my plan was to have more children, this ensured a little boy or girl could wear these higher quality items and bring down the cost per wear* .
- Thrift shop finds. I actually started thrifting for kids clothes when my oldest was still a baby. I found that kids clothes (especially baby clothes) are usually outgrown before they are worn out. I have found some beautiful second hand pieces at both consignment sales and thrift shops for my girls. A few things I look for when thrift shopping for the kids….
- The condition of the garment. This one probably goes without saying, but it is the first thing I look for. Ok, after size. Maybe that’s the one that goes without saying. After that, I ask, are there any stains, holes, rips, snags, pilling, obvious wear and tear, or anything else that’s visible?
- The fabric content. I really try to keep the bulk of my kid’s clothes to be made of natural fibres. Cotton is the easiest found but linen, bamboo, and Tencel, are other great fabrics to include in their wardrobe.
- Do they need another_______? If you go shopping for pants and find 4 cute dresses, ask yourself if that is what is needed in their current wardrobe. If a few perfectly good dresses that fit are still hanging in the closet at home, maybe just pick your favourite one out of your finds that day and put the rest back.
- If you are shopping for girls, don’t be afraid to check out the boys section. I have found some amazing little sweaters, joggers, and hoodies for my girls just by shopping the boys section. Hot tip: Boys items are often priced lower too.
- Don’t get too hung up on the brand. I’m not one to fall in love with an item solely based on the brand. Most of the kids clothes I buy second hand are the usual suspects….The Gap, Old Navy, Carters, etc. Every time you purchase a thrift shop item, you are giving a garment an extended life and keeping it from landfill. That’s a win!
- Local makers. I totally appreciate local makers and all the work that goes into making an ethical, locally made collection. This is where I will find those few special pieces for the kids. Most recently I shopped Little & Lively’s sale they had on and bought all the girl’s some adorable printed leggings and a new little dress for Madelyn. Support local when it is feasible to do so and for those times when you want something a bit special. Pro tip: Sign up for local maker’s newsletters. You will be the first to know about any sales, free shipping promos, discounts, etc. This is always a great time to buy and save.
- H&M. So this is a place I’ve gone back and forth on buying from. There are varying opinions on just how ethical they are. They are, after all, one of the companies leading the fast fashion charge. So why did I list them as an option? They have their conscious collection that offers up organic cotton options for kids wear. This is often where I will buy needed basics I don’t find thrifting. They have most recently launched a transparency initiative. Now, whenever you click on a garment listed for sale on their website, you have the option to get more information on the ethics of the garment including where the garment is made and information regarding the factory and suppliers for that product. They are also working toward a goal to use 100% recycled or other sustainable sourced materials by 2030. It is largely debated if this is an achievable goal as textile recycling to be made into new textiles is a very new technology and makes up only a very small percent (like 1-2%) of garments/textiles. I give them full marks for at least trying and making the efforts to change part of their model. They are still dropping new collections at an alarming rate, however, but it’s a start.
* Check out this great post here about how you can calculate a garments cost per wear.
Madelyn’s wearing a thrifted top and hand me down pants from a family friend. I have mended these pants once as well. Runners were bought new.
Sabrina & Lily in their play clothes. In reality all clothes are play clothes because that’s what kids do.
Lily is wearing a hand me down tee that was gifted to Madelyn from a local maker.
A few other tips for getting the most out of your children’s clothes and not over shopping are….
- Mending. My kids put a new hole in a pair of pants almost everyday. I’m getting handier with a needle and thread and lets face it, there will just be a new hole tomorrow, so might as well keep that pair of pants in rotation.
- Keep their shoe collection under control. Limit their shoes to one shoe for each use needed. For example, my kids each have 1 pair of runners,1 pair of rain boots (west coast living), 1 fashion shoe, 1 pair of slippers, and 1 seasonal shoe..either winter boots or sandals). My oldest daughter also has a pair of soccer cleats and a pair of ballet slippers as they are, obviously, for her activities. Again, multiply that by three and that is plenty of shoes to need to buy without buying multiples of different style options. (PS. Babies who don’t walk, do not need 15 pairs of adorable shoes that just fall off. I had one pair of Mini Moccs for each babe at each stage. They stayed on and added warmth to their tiny toes.)
- Don’t “save” too many clothes for good. Kids play everyday. They crawl, climb, roll, hide, slide, tumble, run, spill, and it all results in them getting dirty. Keep a couple pieces aside for when they need to look a bit more put together, but their clothes should be lived in.
- Be realistic about what kids wear. I used to way overbuy for my oldest. I started noticing that I tended to put her in the same favourite pieces again and again and those items were enough. As they get older, you’ll notice they will have their favourite items to wear just like we do.
my current pile of mending I’m making my way through
Madelyn is wearing a sweatshirt and jeans purchased from H&M.
Sabrina and Lily doing what they do best, getting dirty and having fun doing it.
If you’re looking for some more tips on thrift shopping, head over to my girl Kat’s blog, Our Happy Place .