Clothes do not maketh the baby

Posted by rosanne on Aug 3, 2009 in Product Recommendation, Sustainable Parenting |

Babies grow so fast, they’re barely in any one item of clothing for more than three months. I shudder to think how many items of clothing one child goes through in a lifetime, but I’ll hazard a guess they’re a huge contributor to the growing piles of landfill that pollute the world. As a greenie, I try to limit unnecessary consumption, but I also want natural fibres and organics… Clothing your baby is hardly unnecessary, so it’s become one of the most angst-filled issues of my life.

According to the fabulous video, The Story of Stuff, in the US, 99% of the stuff that is bought ends up discarded within six months. That’s just disgusting to me. Then there’s the issue of pollutants and pesticides in growing new cotton… it’s a fraught issue. My guidelines go something like this:

  1. Avoid new if possible. Reuse.
  2. If new is necessary, try hand-made, market-made, fair trade rather than corporate.
  3. If these aren’t available, aim for commercial but organic & sweatshop-free.

Everything old is new again

One of my solutions is recycling, but even better is reusing. There’s a reason that the slogan is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. It’s supposed to go in that order. Secondhand is good, fifth-hand is better. Once upon a time, everything was made to last, and then the capitalists realised that their markets were finite unless they did something about it. That something was inventing built-in obsolescence. So, fifth-hand is about as good as you’ll get these days.

With stuff for kids, there’s also a cost factor. Even if it’s second-hand, shelling out hard-earned cash for something you’ll use for maybe a year at most is disheartening.

The hand-me-down system is a gem here — our baby’s cot, cot sheets, high chair, the glider I feed her in, all came from diverse wonderful friends. They don’t always have what I’m looking for though. Freecycle (which almost certainly has a chapter in your area, so check it out) is one way I solve this: I got my baby’s change table for free from a Freecycler, and recently I’ve been grabbing bags of clothing.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

There’s a problem here though. The clothing from Freecycle is frequently not what I would buy myself. For one thing, it’s almost all gender coded in ways that I find extremely challenging. (I’m sure there was a gender revolution when I was growing up. Second-wave feminism, wasn’t it? How on *earth* did we get back to every single girl baby wearing only pink?) For another thing, at least half of it is polyester or poly-cotton, which I avoid.

Ideally, we’ll make the clothes ourselves and swap with other people doing the same, on and round and down the chain. This is time-intensive, of course, and I don’t think one mama could possibly take care of her bub and knit/sew/make every stitch they wear. Not in this day and age. Unless you’re happy with baby owning only five items in any one size. And washing every single day.

What my little conspicuously consuming little heart really wants to do is go out to all those adorable clothing stores and buy pure organic cotton and bamboo items so that her darling skin never has to touch anything harmful. And I’ll feel good doing it, right?

Well, wait a minute. Organic is one thing, but who made the stuff? Was someone exploited in the process? So now, I have another criterion: fair-trade or Australian-made so I know there was no sweatshop labour involved. And ideally, that cotton was grown somewhere with abundant natural rain, because growing cotton is intensely water-intensive and Australia doesn’t have a lot of it (it’s an issue everywhere, to be honest). Complicated enough for you?

I thought I’d try to make it easy by keeping track of the local brands and what they claim, so I have a quick reference guide handy.

I’ll add to this as you help me find other brands.

Brand Organic Fair trade/No sweat Gender Other
Pure Baby Yes “Made by” agreement Pink & Red for girls, boys get greens and blues and browns, tans are neutral Australian owned & designed
Gaia Baby Yes Doesn’t say Predictable with some rare brights Australian owned
My heart beats green Yes Made in Australia Neutral with fun images/slogans Sustainable growth, carbon neutral, Australian-owned
muddkids Yes Fair trade Depends on brand Resells other brands. Not local.
Little Green Radicals Yes Fair trade Neutral with fun slogans UK owned
Kee-ka Yes Fair trade & fair wage Neutral with cute slogans Coop America member

These are the ones I know… I haven’t had time to research extensively. Got a favourite brand? I’ll add it to the table!

Oh, and of course, anything I buy new gets added back in to the hand-me-down/Freecycle system. I won’t throw it away unless it’s absolutely falling apart. It’s only fair.

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1 Comment

Aug 3, 2009 at 11:47 am

Fave brands…
I was given an organic cotton Toby Tiger suit, which is absolutely gorgeous! A quick look at the website doesn’t make it clear whether or not all their stuff is organic, and I have no idea about their FT (or not) policy.

Second hand…
Here’s a link to the local Baby & Kids market network for people who don’t have the time and internet savvy to Freecycle. I found Freecycle a little daunting to use. It’s a mailing-list-based system which requires email folders and rules at the user end to make it manageable. I’ve Freecycled-on my maternity pants, but I haven’t got my act together to look for baby gear.



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