A guest post by Mick Schulte
As a mother of four with a set of twins in the mix, focusing on the sustainability of products in our home is a fairly recent development for me. To be completely honest, when I had my kids, I didn’t think much about the impact of their lives on the world’s resources. I was more focused on diving into the major life experience of motherhood. I dreamed of cute family pictures with all of us in perfect outfits, looking coordinated, but not matchy matchy, and living the happily-ever-after life most people think of when they’re just starting out.
Then I had my kids and realized happily-ever-after is complicated.
It is most definitely happy. The joy they bring to my life is something deeper than anyone could explain in words. But because I’m now intimately connected to their future, I can’t ignore the situation we humans have put ourselves in. If we want to protect the environment for our kids, we need to think outside of our own lives and make sustainable choices.
The encounter that really motivated this way of thinking for me was learning about a friend’s Zero Waste lifestyle. Understanding her reasons for living such a drastically different way rocked my world. Suddenly every diaper change convicted me to the core. So I had our family of six, with kids of the ages 6, 4 and twin 2-year-olds, attempt Zero Waste for a month and I wrote an article about the experience for Carolina Parent magazine.
In the end it proved impossible to be completely waste free. Our “throw away” culture is hard to fight against when it is so ingrained in our daily lives and the ways we operate. But I did learn about the topic and other issues surrounding sustainability. One that stuck with me the most was the unethical practices in the fashion industry. That’s why I’ve challenged myself to a year of no new clothes for our family in 2019.
The fast fashion industry capitalizes on our little ones’ growth spurts. And with all those darling family photos shared on social media (mentioned above), the pressure to keep our kids fresh, stylish and hipsterific can make any mom give in to the convenience and cuteness the less sustainable brands offer.
As a photographer who does a lot of family portraits, I 100% get it. Before knowing any of these issues, you can bet I was cruising those H&M and Forever 21 aisles like nobody’s business. I really enjoy style, and that’s why I think it’s important to raise awareness. As consumers we have the power to change things for our kids, the environment, and poor populations that fall victim to unethical practices by fast fashion employers.
When I began the #nonewclothes2019 year, I found my kids’ clothing is a great place to start thanks to hand-me-downs. They see us using other people’s clothes and then passing them on, and with that handing down process comes conversations about recycling, living in community, and contentedness.
Laura asked if I could write a post about my process of finding sustainable clothing for kids. So here are the 5 steps I follow below. Honestly I usually stop at number 1 because we have some really generous and super stylish family members who had twins before us. I can’t even remember the last time I bought something new for our kids. But in the rare instances I have to find something special (like for that fall family photo shoot), these are the steps I follow – ranking from most sustainable/convenient/budget-friendly to least.
Teaching my kids not to crave new things all the time is a top priority. Granted, that’s easy in these young years, but hopefully the lessons we impart now will stick with them throughout those need-to-impress teenage years (we shall see…). Reusing clothing is the best way to avoid using resources to create new products. For example, every t-shirt NOT made saves our earth 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water. So my advice is to find those family members and friends who might be able to share. And know that sometimes parents are too busy to remember to pass them on (that’s me!), so don’t feel badly about reminding us.
2. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist
If you don’t have an obvious family member or friend to share clothes with, you can find large bundles of specific sizes on these sites. I recently needed pants for my twins after a growth spurt, and I found a local woman who sold 15 pairs for just $10. Plus, I only had to drive two blocks to pick them up! She has twins too, so whenever I need something that’s not in our hand-me-down bin, I check with her.
3. Local kids’ consignment shops
If possible (which I know is not realistic for some because it is a miracle for me to get to a store with my crew), go to a retail shop that offers discounted, used clothing. I opt for the physical location versus online first to avoid the carbon footprint involved in the shipping process. Some popular large chains include Once Upon a Child and Kid to Kid. I like these stores for footwear specifically. Shoes are hard to hand down because of the wear and tear from active kiddos, but I’ve found these stores sell ones that were barely worn and look almost new.
4. Online thrift/consignment shops
If you don’t have access to a local consignment store or life just gets in the way of making that sort of trip, don’t worry! You can find almost anything online with varying prices. Some of my favorite shops are Kidizen, ThredUp, and Poshmark. I’ve also heard of a new app called KidsTrade where kids learn to swap toys and clothing themselves, which is so cool. What a great way to teach kids about sharing and reusing things before buying new.
5. Fair-trade and ethically made brands
When all else fails and you need to get something new, again, no need to fret — many fashion brands and stores are coming around and offering ethical options. Even Target (yes TARGET!) partnered with other big name brands like NIKE and Levi’s to work toward more sustainable products. Even though I believe using less is the best option, I also think supporting fashion brands that strive to do better is important. At some point, something new is necessary and thanks to creative and innovative brands, we don’t have to feel guilty about it.
That’s my shopping process but it took a while to get there. To become more sustainable, we need to create sustainable habits, not drastically change our lives in an instant. Every baby step we take is another step toward providing a healthier environment for our babies!
I know there are so many great suggestions out there that I missed. Please share your ideas for buying sustainable kids’ clothing in the comments below!