Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Kids Clothes - sizes, sustainability and consumption

I've been thinking about kids clothes recently - it's kids clothes week again - and then there is Slotober and all of the stuff on the tinterwebz about capsule wardrobes, and project 333, and slow fashion and self-made fashion. 

One of the things that strikes me is that much of the discussion around ethical fashion, fast fashion and capsule wardrobes focusses on adult clothes. There seems to be little of this discussion directed at children's clothes. Why is that? 

We all need clothes, and arguably, children need more clothes than adults, because (in my experience anyway - your children may be different!) they tend to get their clothes dirtier, more quickly, and their clothes need washing more often. In addition, because they are growing, clothing a child necessarily involves an on-going process of discarding and acquiring items, as things become too small and bigger clothes are needed.

The prevalence of supermarket clothes for children - cheap and plentiful and often v e r y cute - make the temptation for parents, and grandparents and others to add something to their baskets when they do the weekly shop.  As ever, this sort of mindless consumption is problematic  - creating demand for low price items which are often produced at great social and environmental cost in communities far away, and adding to an already bursting wardrobe rather than filling very specific needs. And then, all the fabulous childrens clothes available from indie designers and presented in Stylo and other places, just seems to add to the feeling that kids need to have lots and lots of stuff. 

On the other hand, acceptance of hand-me-down and thrifted childrens clothes seems to be greater than for adult clothes. I have received, and given, many bags of clothes to friends, colleagues and neighbours with new babies, or smaller children. Then there is the in-family recycling that goes on when clothes are passed from child to child. And, I have been to many nearly new sales which give parents the opportunity to buy and sell baby clothes and baby equipment.  So, should I feel guilty about the clothes my children have when a good proportion of them are not new?

I might fairly smug about the things I have made or upcycled for my children, and the things that I have been mending (like this, and this, and this) but should I, if its in the context of overflowing drawers and wardrobes and no attempt to curb consumption? 

Zoe shared some thoughts related to this recently, particularly in relation to charity-shops. My advice to her was to identify things that she really needs (for her daughter), and be fairly ruthless about not picking up lots of other cute stuff which simply duplicates existing items/sizes. For example, I know that my 8yo doesn't need ANY short-sleeved t-shirts, but has only 2 or 3 long-sleeve tops, so if I'm browsing anywhere then that's what I focus on.  

I am also ruthless about passing things on when they are too small. However, one note of caution here - some things can have a longer life-span than you might think, so my other tip: don't believe the age labels! Baby leggings are one example, once nappies are abandoned they can find further use as toddler shorts/capris. Some dresses also work well as tunic or top as girls grow, and shirred sun dresses can easily become skirts later on. If you have slim kids, then baby/toddler trousers can double as shorts for older kids. As a case in point, earlier this summer I noticed my older son (aged 8 1/2) wearing a pair of grey shorts I didn't recognise. They looked great - but seemed just a little bit neat around his backside. He had been wearing them all day - so they obviously were comfortable enough for summer camp. I asked him to take them off, and we checked the label. They weren't his shorts, they were his 2 yo brother's trousers, and were labelled 12-18 months (little bean has REALLY short legs and all my kiddos are slim around the waist/hips)

I don't really have a conclusion about all this - but I think bloggers and designers and parents need to think and talk as much about the sustainability and ethics of childrens clothing and fashion as we do about adult clothing/fashion. Children aren't in a position to think about all of this. We need to model the behaviour and habits we would like to see them adopt (e.g. conscious consumption and a recognition that we cant have ALL the things), but we cant expect them to weigh up the options - we need to do it - accepting of course that children should be able to influence what they wear and be given the agency to choose for themselves.  

In addition, I would really like to see some indie designers producing garments which are designed to be long-lasting - with features that make them adaptable over several seasons for growing children. I love making things for my kids, but when they grow fast, I want to invest my time in making items that will last for more than a couple of months. Has anyone got any links/advice to share about building a coherent/capsule wardrobe for kids? 

I'd love to hear what you think. Do share your thoughts!  


  1. 'Yes!' and 'Exactly' to all of the above! I agree, somehow even those of us who are committed to handmade wardrobes for ourselves, slope off the H&M for our kids. I think a lot of it relates to time. As you say, generally children's clothes do not have the longevity that adult garments have. If I want to make myself a T-shirt, it will probably have about 5 years worth of use in it, but a T-shirt for Dolores is likely to last one or two. So if people who don't have much time to sew are going to choose something to make, I can totally see that a garment for themselves might be likely to rise to the top of the 'to make' pile.

    However, that's a real shame as you can get kids involved in what they wear so easily. I know that Catherine from 'Clothes and Sewing' blog takes requests from her three boys, and that they are very active in choosing fabric and styles for her projects to clothe them. Teaching kids to not just be power-less consumers is super important, I think.

    But I totally agree about supermarket clothing, especially for kids. It is frightening how cheap it is, and also really depressing that collectively we have come to accept such low quality for the lower prices. My daughter received a brand-new super market T-shirt from a friend of my mum's and it was so crispy that I just never wanted her to wear it.

    Anyway, I really wish I had some answers too. This is a topic that is never far from my mind. All we can do is to keep discussing these things, through our blogs and with our friends and relations IRL, and fight the good fight my setting a good example to our kids, and hopefully to other parents that may or may not start questioning the source of their kids' clothing.


    1. Thanks Zoe, it's a funny old thing isn't it? How we do one thing for ourselves, and something else for our kids. Usually we tend to aim for better for our children - but this seems different!

      You are right about clothes as gifts. That's another problem I have: grandparents who give piles of clothes either new (my MIL) or charity shop bargains (my mum). The result is still the same - too much stuff!!

  2. I agree on all counts -- especially with the ideas that kids go through clothes more quickly than grownups (both on a day-to-day basis and in terms of wardrobe turnover), and that even (or maybe especially) shopping secondhand it's easy to end up with too much.

    I wrote a bit about my strategy for kids' clothes a while back, here:

    It's still a work in progress, I have to admit. One major sticking point for me is the idea that "children should be able to influence what they wear and be given the agency to choose for themselves." I completely agree with this, and I want my kid not to have to wear clothes that she doesn't like. But. No sooner do I build her a balanced wardrobe of some tops+pants and some dresses+leggings, than she decides she doesn't want to wear dresses+leggings, triggering a mad rush to obtain more "soft pants," and the outcome is that she has more clothes than she needs.

    I always chafe at sticking to a narrow, defined color palette when it comes to my own clothes (I like lots of color, and offbeat combinations of it), but for a kid's wardrobe it really does make good sense.

  3. Hi Sarah

    Thanks for your comments, and link to your own strategy for your daughter's wardrobe. I've had a quick peek at your blog, and can see I'll be coming back to delve a bit more.

    We go through that wardrobe issue with my daughter a bit too - where the thing that she wore lots suddenly becomes the thing that she does not to wear again EVER. It hasn't happened with either of the boy children (yet).