ethical kids clothes
Kids Slow Fashion

Sustainable Kids Wardrobes. Can It Be Done?

ethical kids clothes

All three kids are wearing outfits from PK Beans (last year).  Runners will all bought new. Lily’s headband was from a Halloween costume. 

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 with all 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?  This is a question I am often asked, so I thought I would share what my own kids wear.

First, before we get into it, I want to say 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 your kids, keep reading.  This post is for you.

secondhand kids clothes

The Girls are wearing a mix of new and secondhand pieces.  Sabrina (far right) is wearing some cotton shorts I had thrifted for her big sister and then both her and Lily got to wear them. 

kids clothes

Kids clothes are meant to be played in and for ketchup to be spilled on.  I try not to purchase them precious pieces that can’t handle kid life.

How I source their clothes.

  1. 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 leather booties, 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*.  {Side note: Colour themes linked to gender is a whole lotta who cares, but that’s another conversation.}
  2. 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….
    1. 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 and not repairable?
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Don’t be so stuck on what gender department you’re shopping in.  One of my girls loves dinosaurs and racoons.  I usually will find items like this in the designated boy area.  She loves them.
    5. 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. My local Value Village seems to also have a lot of international brands I’ve never heard of before, so I often luck out with unique finds. 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.
  3. Once Upon A Child (or any other local consignment style resellers).  OUAC has locations all over Canada and the US.  I have been able to find some fantastic, great condition, secondhand option for the kids there.
  4. 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. 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.
  5. PK Beans. I have purchased clothes a few times now from this ethical + sustainable kids wear brand, PK Beans.  I have been so happy with the amazing quality and my kids LOVE to wear their pieces.  It can still have a higher price point, but the clothes really do last.  I have also taken advantage of their sales when they have them.  I’ve lucked out scoring some amazing deals when they are clearing out previous seasons stock.  I have bought the kids dresses that were regularly like $60-$70 for less than $20.  Always check out those sale and clearance sections. They also have a page on their site dedicated to PK Beans pre-loved items.* Check out this great post here about how you can calculate a garments cost per wear.
  6. Fast Fashion Brands. You probably didn’t think this would make the list, but yes, I do occasionally purchase from fast fashion brands for the kids.  I have found that as they get older, certain items (like leggings), are harder to find in good condition secondhand.  It’s not impossible, but I can usually only find a pair or two at a time. All three of my Girls have shot up over the winter and some items are no longer in pass it down condition.  So, onto the Old Navy website I went to grab all of them a few pairs of legging and a couple of long sleeved cotton tops for my oldest.  Nothing excessive or extra.  Just filling in a few necessities.

sustainable kids clothes

Another pic of the Girls in their PK Beans (last year)

sustainable kids wardrobes

This was Maddie last week.  She is wearing a pair of leopard overalls I thrifted for her.  They were brand new with the original tags on, but they had a broken belt loop, so I sew’d them.  Her jacket was a hand-me-down from a family friend.  Her runners be bought new.  

A few other tips for getting the most out of your children’s clothes and not over shopping are….

  1. 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.
  2. 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 kids also have a pair of soccer cleats each and a pair of ballet slippers as they are, obviously,  for their 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

ethical kids wardrobes

Sabrina (left) is head to to hand me downs + secondhand items.  Maddie (middle) is wearing a hand me down dress + shoes, and a cardi I bought her new.  Lily is wearing that PK Beans dress again and a cardi I had thrifted for her big sister that she is now wearing. 

As I stated at the beginning, there is no perfect formula for your kids wardrobes.  I try to shop for them only when they need something.  I choose to shop secondhand first.  I purchase the basics new from wherever works best and into our budget.  The final place, I should note, of where we receive clothes from, is gifts.  They often receive new clothes from family for Birthdays and other holidays.  I don’t put any rules on other people with what they can and can not buy my kids.  We are appreciative of whatever they receive and we make sure the items are worn often, cared for, and handed down.

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