Children’s Clothing, A Fashion Documentary, and Some Suggestions for Ethical Shopping.

Ethical Kids Fashion     

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A few years ago, Mark and I watched a documentary on Netflix called The True Cost. We watch tons of documentaries and this one promised to be interesting, but we didn’t really watch it because of any specific interest in fashion – I honestly knew very little about the fashion industry beforehand. It’s not exaggeratng though to say that that 90 minutes forever changed the way I think about shopping.

Ethical shopping is one of those tricky areas. I know there is so much more to fair labor laws or ethical consumerism than simply slapping standards onto factories or widespread boycotts. Especially when dealing wth countries where laws and social norms (i.e. child labor) and infrastrcture and income is so vastly different than ours, there isn’t an easy solution to so many issues. It would be the height of arrogance to say I even knew what the solution or even really what the “problem” is.

All of that is to say I don’t think any of us are going to solve the fast fashion crisis (and it is a crisis) or international child labor injustices (which is a significant aspect of, but not the entirety of, the fast fashion ethical discussion) today or tomorrow or even in our lifetimes. 


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Just because I can’t solve something neatly and slap a bow on it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a responsibility to be a better steward of the resources at my fingertips. I can’t pluck all of the children out of Bangladesh clothing factories and hand them private school educations, but I can make sure that I am spending my money thoughtfully, that I’m consuming in a way that models good stewardship for my children, that I am being consistent with our family’s values in the way that we consume and shop. 

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In case you have been thinking about this issue as well, or in case you’ve never thought about it and are overwhelmed trying to find a starting place, here’s a very few ways I try to shop for clothing for our children a bit more thoughtfully.

  1. Buy LESS. Simply holding up a big yellow light on shopping for my children has given me enormous peace. I just try to curb the impulsive “oh my gooosssshhhh Violet would be so cute in that!”. Do I still buy impulsively on ocassion? Of course. But I try to avoid constantly acquiring new cute accessories ever time I walk through Target’s doors. I try to focus on the question of need rather than adorable (everything my babies wear looks adorable on them, so….;-) ). Do we need that right now? Do we have something similar or that will “work” equally well? Am I actually buying in season or for an event or weather that’s not really going to occur? It’s amazing what simple delay and a few occasional moments of passing over that impulsive urge to toss it in the cart will do for the budget. It also helps our home stay organized and uncluttered, so triple win!
  2. Buy clothes that will actally be worn a number of times. It may just be my little ones’ personalities, but they are incredibly resistant when it comes to clothes that are bulky or itchy or cumbersome or hindering. As in, screaming, whining, writhing, all-out-meltdowns from clothing that they dislike. And honestly, I could talk for a long time about the issues I have regarding putting our children in clothes that hinder their ability to just *play* freely and comfortably anyway. So when I’m shopping, I ask myself a few of these questions:
    1. How many times do I really think he/she will wear this?
    2. Can they play freely and comfortably in this?
    3. Can I let Violet or Miles just be themselves in those clothes or will I be ultra-picky about when this will be worn and stressed out about dirt and crumbs and wear when he/she is wearing it?No matter how cute an outfit is, if you’re child is uncomfortable in it, the numbers of times that he or she actually wears it is going to be limited. 
  3. Buy clothes that are high quality, that will wash well and last. Over time, I’ve learned which brands produce clothing that seems to last longer and wash/wear well. This relates to #1 – if clothes last longer and fade and wear slowly, the there’s less need to buy again.
  4. Buy items that can be mixed and matched easily and then be realistic about how many outfits a child needs. This is sort of like thinking in terms of capsule wardrobes for children. (If you’re interested in actual capsule wardrobes for children, Pinterest has some really helpful suggestions.) For instance, Miles had two pairs of overalls last summer that worked really well for him. He was comfortable in them and they matched every shirt he owned and he realistically wore them probably four times a week between the two pairs. We just rotated and washed. So if he’s wearing two pairs of pants four days a week, that only leaves a need for a few more outfits. This is something I’m still working on since quantity stacks up so much more quickly than I think it will, but I am trying to pair down the number of outfits we have in rotation because in reality, my children settle into the same clothing rut of 3-4 outfits that I tend towards as an adult. 15-20 outfits, most of which can be interchanged, is just silly, excessive, and means that some cloting never gets worn at all, especially at the age when children change sizes so quickly
  5. Discover some companies that engage in ethical production practices and turn to them often. I’ve compiled a list of companies I trust below to help you jumpstart the process. Is it practical to expect to know about the background, sourcing, and practices of every child’s clothing company? Not unless you have a lot more time than I do! But depending primarily on a few brands will help cut down your research time and ensure that your money is being spent on companies that you want to support.

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Here’s a quick breakdown of brands that I trust and where I try to turn first when shopping for children’s clothing. 

  • Hannah Andersson – This company is at the top of my list. Their clothes are soft, comfortable, last better than almost anything else I’ve purchased. They also have demonstrated that they are thoughtful about their factories, sourcing, etc. The company has been around for a long time (my mom used to shop for us from their *catalogue* – remember those?) and their customer service is top-notch. They are based in Portland. Whenever I talk to someone about HA, the response is “They’re so expensive!” And if you just buy from the catalogue, they are. However, they consistently have great sales and their sales and clearance prices are absolutely competitve with other brands, especially if you do the initial work of checking sizes, planning ahead for seasons, etc. 
  • Burt’s Bees  – Cute soft clothes for babies and ethically sourced and produced. My only qualm about their clothing is that the colors and patterns seem a little boring after a while and for whatever reason, they don’t seem to wash or last quite as well as other brands. For babies that grow quickly though, their onesies and outfits are soft and perfect. The link leads to their Amazon pieces, although they have a real site also – the prices seem better on Amazon for some reason?? And who can argue with the free shipping, if you have Prime?
  • – American-based and American-made. Primary was founded by two moms who couldn’t find clothes without ridiculous logos or labels and were frustrated by the lack of choices regarding simple basic quality play-clothes. I love the colors of their clothes and have been thrilled with everything I’ve purchased here. They run sales freqently and with a markup only slightly higher than your average Target piece, there’s no way to lose. 
  • Boden – Boden has a children’s line that is beautiful. The clothes are a bit pricey and I prefer the girl’s line to the boy’s selections, but I’ve been really happy with everything we’ve purchased here. Their sales are not as frequent but if you keep an eye on them, they can be very fruitful. 
  • Carter’s – Carter’s is, unfortunately, NOT a company that has made a particularly big deal outof sourcing or fair labor practices. So I do purchase less from them (or their lines on Amazon, which is where the link leads) than I otherwise would. However, their clothing last through washing, drying, and my children’s rough-and-tumble play better than almost any other brand (Hanna Andersson excepted – and this is a close tie). So if you’re at a point where you are simply trying to minimize some consumption while maintaing a VERY reasonable children’s clothing budget, start here. Buy some cozy sweet basics and they will wear well for an entire season (or longer. My children have rarely actually *worn out* anything from Carter’s. They just outgrow it.)

I have codes for discounts at Hannah Andersson (20% off of your first purchase), Boden (20% off of your firstpurchase), and Primary (free pjs if you spend a minimum of $50!) that I will gladly share. Just enter your email into that box on the right and I’ll send all three codes over. 

Have you watched “The True Cost?” What did you think??

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