This is a guest post written by Katy Lytal of Ethical Infant about sustainable baby clothes.
There is no faster fashion in the world than that of baby fashion. This thought had never crossed my mind until I had kids, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks – or more appropriately – like a ton of barely worn onesies. Babies can literally go through an entire wardrobe of clothing in a matter of weeks.
When my first child was 6 months old, I remember feeling overwhelmed by guilt as I packed away an entire tub of nearly unworn clothing. A few garments still had tags on them! It was so wasteful, so excessive, but it seemed almost unavoidable. This has to change, but how?
Being ever so slightly “type A,” I decided that I needed to:
- Identify what was driving this excessive purchasing
- Identify steps towards sustainability that were actually feasible
After some thought and a bit of trial and error, I was amazed at how easy it was to create a HUGE, positive shift in the way I viewed and participated in the world of baby clothes.
Step 1: Take the Community Approach
The road to sustainability is one that should not be traveled alone. Community will be key to our success. Thankfully, community comes in many forms these days. Yes, you could take a bin of barely worn baby threads and gift them to the new mama down the street. No babies on your street? Try posting pics of your items on local Facebook or Instagram pages. You can even try websites like ThredUp to reach communities all over the country. The options to share clothing are endless. Babies never wear out their clothing. This first step towards baby clothes sanity allows you to extend the life of a garment and possibly build relationships in the process.
Step 2: Buy Only as Needed
This step takes a bit of self-restraint, but you will save a ton (of both money and wasted textiles) in the end. If you’re like me, you frequently ask yourself things like, “do my little ones have jackets for the coming rain?” “Do they have long pants for colder weather?” And so on. I’ve always been told that being prepared is preparing to succeed. However, when it comes to baby clothing, advanced purchasing can be quite problematic. Just like the weather, growth spurts are far too hard to predict. When you think to yourself in August, “it’s supposed to cool off in October and my little one should fit into 6-month size clothing by that time,” it doesn’t mean either of those things will actually be true. You may end up with the warmest fall on record and a baby who grows like a weed then passes right through the 6-month clothing stage. So resist the urge to pre-buy and wait until you are certain of both the weather and baby’s size.
Step 3: Clean, Quality Garments
Cotton is the world’s dirtiest crop. Period. Conventionally grown cotton accounts for roughly 4% of the world’s crops, but uses 25% of the world’s pesticides (The cost of cotton: Dirty cotton). Due in part to their size and skin-time in contact with textiles, babies are far more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults. We must be as careful about what we put ON our babies as we are about what we put IN our babies. Even with thorough washing, some chemicals cannot be removed from garments and will then be taken in and processed by our skin (the bodies largest organ). Organic clothing = healthy clothing!
Step 4: Gender Neutral is a MUST
I’ll skip the part about hyper-gendered clothing being oddly sexualized, demeaning, and creepy (i.e. clothing that say things like, “Future Diva” or “Little Bruiser”– gag), and stick to the part about how hyper-gendered clothing is KILLING sustainability! 40-50 years ago, babies were just babies; not little men, or little women, just little humans. By branding clothing as being for a boy or girl ONLY, clothing companies have doubled the odds of having to purchase entire wardrobes from one kid to the next. Sticking to neutrals allows you to focus on the beauty of your babe and opens up options for future clothes sharing.
Step 5: Size Smarts
Want to cut your purchasing in half? Follow this one step. Currently, if you walk into a baby store, you will find the clothing separated as such: Newborn, 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months, and so on. Historically, this was not the case for sizing. Until recently, babies were clothed in just 3 sizes. Yep, that’s it; Small, Medium, and Large. It used to be ok to have your baby in a onesie that was just the tiniest bit snug, or a touch too loose at the legs. That is not the social norm now. By dividing sizes up into such small increments, clothing purchases for the first year of life double – seriously, double! Good news though, there are wonderful companies who are making the switch back to the 3-size model. Often you can find these companies online or in small boutiques. Save the perfectly tailored outfits for the Oscar’s red carpet, or at least adulthood.
Step 6: Upcycle
It’s no secret I am not the crafting queen, but when it comes to upcycling clothing, there are a few projects that I have mastered. With a tiny bit of work, you can double the life of your favorite garments. The easiest project is converting winter clothes into summer ones. A basic hem is about the extent of my sewing talent, and that’s all that it takes to turn a pair of pants into shorts or a long-sleeved shirt into a T-shirt. If your skill-level exceeds mine, you can really have a blast with this step by making a memory quilt out of your favorite t-shirts or even making your own headbands. The possibilities are endless, and again, the more you use an item, the less need there is to purchase new items!
By implementing just one of these steps, you will be positively influencing sustainability and changing the paradigm of over-purchasing. Everyone can help. These six easy steps can apply to working moms, stay-at-home dads, grandmas – you name it. Together we can. Together we will. Here’s to living small and making big changes.
Katy Lytal is a mompreneur and co-founder of Ethical Infant. She and her brother create Organic, Fair Trade, Vegan fashion for babies and children. When she’s not playing make-believe with her little loves, you can find her drinking coffee or making up her own healthy recipes. Living a small life and hoping to make big changes, yeah, that pretty much sums it up. You can follow Ethical Infant on Instagram.