This guide aims to explore environmental problems caused, and the ethical concerns created, by the children’s fashion industry. We’ll explore some of the innovative and compassionate solutions that are on offer, helping you to feel confident in making an ethical choice as you attempt to shop for truly sustainable kids clothing.
By Dawn Cowles
The Ethics and Sustainability of Kids’ Clothing
Buying sustainably has never been as affordable as it is today, which is excellent news as we’re all being encouraged to shop more conscientiously. Sustainable kid’s clothing wasn’t ‘so easy to find a couple of decades ago when I was shopping for my little darlings. And what was available was definitely out of my price range.
Big chains offering super cheap clothing for children were so hard to turn down. With my kids growing so quickly, there was no problem finding quick outfits that didn’t break the bank, and they didn’t have to miss out on the latest trends.
Fast forward to today, and there are endless budget-friendly ethical kids’ clothing brands to choose from. Before I introduce our complete list, let’s look at the benefits of shopping sustainably and what you need to look out for.
5 Reasons Why You Should Shop Sustainably
Sustainable is a very trendy word at the moment, but what are the benefits of shopping this way? Here are five very good reasons to steer clear of the big-name brands that sell you inferior quality clothing typically made using synthetic materials.
Mainstream Brands Often Contain Potentially Harmful Chemical Compounds
Did you realise that more than 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to produce the clothing many of us wear every day? Lots of research has gone into these chemicals, and many have proven to be toxic and carcinogenic.
Some of the chemicals are there from the very beginning. Toxic pesticides are used when growing certain crops, and polyester, nylon, and acrylic are made from petrochemicals.
Then there are the various processes such as scouring, bleaching, dyeing, and finishing. These are all chemically intensive, and it has been proven that residues of the chemicals are left behind. For some people, these chemicals cause allergies, rashes, and even worse.
If you want to shop sustainably, look for clothing brands that share how their clothing is made, from fiber to washing, drying, and finishing.
Natural Fibres Breakdown Naturally and Biodegrade
Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic, can take anywhere between 20 to 200 years to decompose. You’re probably already aware of the increasing textile waste problem we’re currently facing. Landfills are filled to overflowing, and some brands are burning excess stock because they have nowhere to store it.
When your kids’ clothing has reached the end of its useful life, it’s reassuring to know that it will break down naturally and biodegrade.
Our Kids and Grandkids Deserve a Cleaner Planet
If we’re not going to do it for ourselves, we can at least do it for future generations. The production of conventional fabrics is devastating the environment. Non-eco dyes are applied, and harmful finishing chemicals used, which all end up being swallowed by our oceans and air.
Here are a few statistics, published by the UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
- Every year, the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
- Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
- Of the total fibre input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions.
- Every year, half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped in the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
Sustainable Clothing is More Kid-Friendly
Many of the sustainable fabrics used are moisture-wicking, antibacterial, and hypoallergenic.
Let’s Not Forget The People Who Make Our Clothes
Millions of people are employed in the clothing industry, often in developing countries where labour regulations are at a much lower standard than in the Western world. Buy eco-friendly kid’s clothing, and you can be assured that the people making the clothing are not getting exposed to toxic chemicals that are harmful to them and their families.
It is estimated that 77 million agricultural workers suffer poisoning from pesticides each year growing conventional cotton. Exposure to azo dyes has been associated with cancer in textile workers.
What Makes Kids’ Clothing Sustainable?
There are a couple of things that stand out when it comes to sustainable clothing. Compared to the “fast fashion,” we’ve become accustomed to, it’s planet-friendly and worker-friendly. Sustainable clothing tends to last many seasons, is made using eco-friendly fabrics, including reused or recycled materials. Most sustainable clothing brands pay their workers a fair wage and provide decent working conditions.
Not all natural fabrics are greener than synthetic materials such as polyester. Take cotton, for example. When grown conventionally, it requires vast amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, many of which are highly toxic. Cotton can be grown without these chemicals, but harvesting it is very labour intensive, and organic cotton requires vast amounts of water.
There are greener fabrics made from renewable fibers that are easy to grow or produce. The amount of water and energy they require is limited, and many of them are recyclable.
- Linen: Made from flax, which requires far less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than cotton. It requires little energy to manufacture and is easy to compost or recycle into paper.
- Hemp: Doesn’t need much fertiliser or pesticides. It can be made into a wide variety of fabrics, including canvas, denim, jersey, fleece, and twill.
- Bamboo: Has both pros and cons as a sustainable fiber. It grows fast and requires almost no pesticides. The fabric it produces is soft and easy to care for. However, turning the fibres into cloth often requires toxic chemicals.
- Lyocell: This is a fabric made from wood pulp, typically the eucalyptus tree, which grows quickly with little water or chemicals. The material produced is naturally wrinkle-resistant, so it’s easy to care for.
- Alpaca: Alpacas are similar to llamas and are native to Peru. They have long hair that produces beautifully soft fibres. Alpacas are hardy animals and don’t eat or drink much. They can also stay healthy without antibiotics. Alpaca wool is more eco-conscious than cashmere.
- Organic wool: Organic sheep farms don’t use traditional toxic pesticides on their pastures or treat their animals with toxic dips. Organic farmers keep their sheep and pastures healthy utilizing the animal’s manure to nourish the soil.
- Silk: Produced by caterpillars known as silkworms. This natural fabric is lightweight and durable. At the end of its life, it breaks down naturally.
A big problem with many fabrics is that dyes are used to colour them. Many traditional dyes contain harmful chemicals, and the dyeing process requires vast amounts of water. During the colouring process, much of the dye washes out, polluting rivers throughout the developing world.
Does that mean white fabric is a cleaner choice? Absolutely not, because in most cases, snow-white fabric is bleached with chlorine. The bleaching process releases dioxin, a chemical that the US Environmental Agency says can cause cancer and damage many bodily systems.
A greener alternative is natural and low-impact dyes. Natural dyes such as cochineal and indigo are derived from plants, insects, or animals. Low-impact dyes are lower in toxic chemicals and require less water to process. Another green option is unbleached fabric, which has a natural, off-white colour.
Recycling and Reusing
Another way to make clothing eco-friendly is to make them from recycled materials. Fleece, for example, is often made from recycled plastic bottles. This turns a waste product into something useful and reduces the use of non-renewable oil.
New polyester fabric can also be made by recycling old polyester garments. The process uses less energy and produces less pollution than making fabric from petroleum.
The greenest choice of all is to reuse clothing. Recycling reduces waste and energy use, but reusing clothes cuts both to almost nothing.
The easiest way to reuse clothing is to simply pass it on to new users. For instance, take any old garments that are still in good condition to the thrift store or sell them online. Pass outgrown clothing from older children to younger children.
The primary focus of sustainable clothing is to protect the environment. However, many eco-conscious brands are also concerned about human rights. Truly sustainable clothing must be made in ways that are safe and healthy for workers.
Look for clothing that bears the Fair Trade label. To earn this label, manufacturers must promise to pay all their workers a living wage. They must also guarantee their factories are safe and their production is eco-friendly.
A List of Ethical and Sustainable Kids’ Clothing Brands
Sustainability is all about doing things today to make the world a better place for our kids to grow up in. To that end, kids’ clothing brands are springing up all over that specialize in sustainability. By choosing companies that care about the environment and the fate of future generations, you can use your power as a consumer to make sure that the future is a bright one.
Based in the Netherlands, Jackalo features clothing that is made to be durable and long-lasting. This eco-friendly, 4- to 14-year-old, sustainable kids’ clothing range is made using materials that have been sourced from energy-efficient factories and those with sound waste reduction and recycling practices.
Another very attractive feature of this brand is that they offer discounts on any future purchases for customers who send back their used Jackalo products for repair or upcycling. It is currently a $15 discount on your next purchase. The way that this supports a culture of repair and reuse is something that attracted me to this company.
The owners of this brand are obviously very aware of the harm the clothing industry is doing to the environment and the website includes some very helpful tips for the cleaning and repairing of their garments.
Certifications this brand has earned include IVN, GOTS, and Fair for Life.
The Kinder Voice is a brand that promotes more than just sustainable kids’ clothing. The online shop sells T-shirts that have printed across them some very positive and uplifting messages. What these messages promote is kindness to self and others, which is something that often seems to be missing in our modern world.
The T-shirts are manufactured using various eco-friendly materials, including certified organic cotton and recycled polyester. The inks used are water-based and free from phthalates and PVC.
To make this brand even more sustainable, I’m pleased to report all products are packaged using 100% recycled materials. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet.
This is a brand that prides itself in producing seasonless, gender-neutral clothing using eco-friendly materials. From the very beginning, Primary has met the OEKO-Tex Standard 100 Certification which indicates they are free from more than 300 chemicals and there are no known irritants.
Primary actively looks for ways to make their clothing ranges more eco-friendly. Examples include their use of recycled materials in their swimsuits and denim items and the increased use of organic cotton.
BeyaMade is a sustainable kids’ clothing brand that makes pieces that grow with your kids. The garments created have Extra snaps, buttons, or elastic are used so that the garments can grow and expand with your kids.
The clothing is handmade using sustainable materials and many are gender-neutral.
Orbasics clothing line includes a range of gender-neutral pieces. They are made with 100% organic cotton, and very durable. The organic cotton used in the clothing line is certified under Global Organic Textile Standards. What this means is that the cotton is grown sustainably, without the use of harmful chemicals, pesticides, or toxins.
Soul Flower is an eco-friendly clothing brand with a clothing line that covers all the family. All products are ethically made, using organic and recycled fabrics including:
- Organic cotton: GMO-free, GOTS certified.
- Recycled plastic: All recycled plastic pieces are made by transforming post-consumer plastic such as soda bottles, into eco-friendly polyester.
- Recycled paper: All recycled paper items are made with 100% post-consumer fiber that is FSC certified and made with 100% renewable green electricity.
The entire Art & Eden girls’ line is made with organic cotton. The boy’s line consists of items made of organic GOTS certified cotton, or a mix of organic cotton and recycled or upcycled polyester.
Green Sprouts is a company that strives to maximize the lifecycle of every product they make and minimize its environmental impact. As often as possible, the company strives to source materials that are renewable, recycled, or recyclable for their products.
Take the reusable swim diapers, for example. They can be used all season then passed along to a friend when your little one has outgrown them.
Shop 1212 uses organic GOTS certified cotton across its product range. The cotton used is strong, tough, and not afraid to get dirty. It is breathable and doesn’t retain odours like oil-based fabrics which means you’ll save money, water, and energy.
For every 1212 purchase made, the brand donates an item from the collection to Baby2Baby. This is a non-profit organisation that provides nappies, clothing and all basic necessities to low-income children.
All the sustainable kids’ clothing made by Colored Organics is 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton. The clothing range is sourced from factories that pay employees a fair wage and provide a safe and healthy working environment.
Each month, a percentage of their profits are used to help a featured non-profit organization. In August, for example, they partnered with Door of Hope. This organization helps equip families and children experiencing homelessness to rebuild their lives.
Since 2015, Minimori has been using the softest organic fabrics to make the highest-quality products. All pieces are thoughtfully crafted using sustainably sourced fabrics and manufactured in trusted factories.
Fabrics used for their kid’s clothing range are made using a unique blend of 30% organic cotton and 70% bamboo from viscose. The bamboo is a highly sustainable resource grown in China and the organic cotton comes from Turkey, which is GMO-free and supports sustainable development programs for workers.
In its first every swimwear range, Minimori uses recycled nylon which is breathable, lightweight, and moisture-wicking. The REPREVE Nylon used comes from pre-consumer textile waste that would otherwise go to landfills. Compared to regular nylon production, REPREVE uses 80% less water to make and the process emits 90% less CO2 into the air.
What’s also praiseworthy is that customers in the UK can donate their pre-loved or unused MORI clothing back to the company and they will pass it directly to Little Village to use in their bundles. Little Village is a parent-run charity based in London, who curate bundles of clothing and equipment donated by local families to those in need of a helping hand.
If you’re looking for ethical and sustainable basic wear for your infants and toddlers, Lark Adventurewear is a brand that might tick your boxes. Materials used include Oeko-Tex 100 certified cotton and bamboo and the sustainable kids’ clothing range is manufactured in the US.
Little Sleepies is a kid’s sleepwear company that makes all its products from sustainable, eco-friendly bamboo viscose. A portion of every sale goes to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to help find a cure for childhood cancer.
Lucky+Me is a family-owned company that makes sure every step of the manufacturing process is ethical and safe, not just for its customers but for its workers and the planet.
Only OEKO-TEX certified fabrics and dyes are used so you can be certain the clothes you buy are free from harmful chemicals and heavy metals.
All the organic cotton used in their sustainable kids’ clothing is certified by GOTS so you know it is environmentally and socially responsible at every stage.
“Offcuts to Overalls”
Over All 1516 is a company trying to change the problem of scrap fabric from clothes factories ending up in landfills.
The company is based in Australia and works with a mill in Guatemala. New textiles are produced from discarded denim offcuts and then upcycled into trendy, long-lasting overalls, suitable for kids aged 0-6. The company motto says it all.
The processing and manufacturing methods used are reported to save 20,000 litres of water for every kilo of upcycled denim and prevent 20 tons of CO2 emissions for every ton. And that’s not taking into account all the denim that is diverted from landfills.
The denim used for the kids’ overalls contains no chemicals or dyes, is biodegradable, and produced to order, to your requirements. This means there are no wasted fabrics and no piles of unsold stock.
Sustainable Clothing That Grows With Your Child
Buying clothes that last can be a challenge when it comes to buying for our kids. They grow up so quickly and before you know it, they’ve grown out of that cute one-piece you purchased just a few weeks ago. If you’re not planning to add to your family and use the clothing again, it’s not sustainable, and that doesn’t take into account the harm you’re doing to the planet.
Based in San Francisco, UpChoose is doing things a little differently, and I’m pretty blown away with the concept. Their mission is to provide a sustainable, organic clothing range and remove the need to own the clothes your child wears. Quite a revolutionary concept for sure. Their range of apparel is for babies aged 0-3.
UpChoose garments are 100% certified organic. They are ethically sourced and no harmful chemicals are used in the growing of the fibers.
How does it work? You pay a monthly fee and select a set of clothes for your baby. When they’ve grown out of them you ship the clothes back for free. You then get a completely new set delivered to your door and it’ll fit perfectly.
Alternatively, you can buy the clothes and when your little darling has grown out of them you can sell them on the UpChoose online platform.
UpChoose is only available in the US at the moment, but they are hoping to expand their operation. To tide you over until UpChoose is available in Europe, you might want to check out Circos, another eco-friendly company that offers a very similar service.
Keep Your Kids Dry Sustainably
Faire Child is helping to clean up the mess and ensure it doesn’t get any worse. red. This Canadian brand makes waterproof kids’ jackets, coats, mittens, dungarees, trousers, and hats from PET plastic bottles, which are a pet hate of mine.
Climate-neutral manufacturing processes are used in the company’s manufacturing center in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I particularly like the fact that each garment is made from PET plastic bottles, but something else that is very appealing is that they can be recycled over and over again.
Could it get any better? Yes, it can. Faire Child provides a ‘Take Back Program, so you don’t have to worry about recycling the garments. You simply send them back and they’ll recycle them. You’ll get a 15% discount on your next purchase as a thank you.
Made With Purpose and Love
Any of my readers who are based in the UK might be interested in a social enterprise that sells ethically-sourced baby clothes and gifts. From Babies With Love is a brand that teams up with charities such as SOS Children’s Villages and Street Child. All profits made from the sale of their clothing are donated to orphaned and abandoned children worldwide.
To date, more than 7,000 underprivileged children have been helped.
The baby clothing range is made from certified organic cotton in factories in Turkey and China. These factories are SMETA audited and ethically run.
Certifications for Sustainable Kids’ Clothing
There’s a lot of confusing blurb used when it comes to sustainable clothing, but there is a secure way to evaluate a brand’s green credentials. Certifications are crucial because they reveal a lot of information about how a garment was made and what the working conditions are like.
This standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made using at least 70% certified organic fibers. GOTS certification also includes an Örganic” grade which means it must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers.
This standard focuses not just on cotton, but all organic fibers including wool, bamboo, and silk.
Under this standard, limits are set on the environmental impacts of the production process. These limits include restricting toxic and potentially toxic chemicals, no use of azo dyes that release carcinogens, biodegradability requirements, waste management, and water treatment and packaging materials.
Workers should be able to choose their employment, there is no child labour, health, and safety criteria are met, and fair wages paid.
The Oeko-Tex Standard is a four-tier system used to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals present in clothes. Compliance tests are run by independent inspectors. Oeko-Tex certification is often awarded in conjunction with GOTS certification.
The Fair Wear Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs, and sometimes governments to verify and improve workplace conditions for garment workers in 11 production countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Brands that become members of 1% for the planet commit to giving 1% of gross sales each year to the organisation’s approved nonprofit environmental causes.
If a brand has Fair Trade Certification, it shows that its workers receive a fair wage and the conditions they work in are safe. The Fair Trade website states that “a Fair Trade certified seal means a product was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.” You can be certain that the methods used in the manufacture of the material protect the people who made them and the environment.
Want to see your favourite brand on this list? Leave a comment, or get in touch with us at [email protected].