Less Factory-Made Clothes For Me…But What About For My Kids?

by Alison Gerber

kids at sand castles

So I face a dilemma. As I explore the topic of less factory-made clothes this month, my plan was to abstain from buying said clothes as I do so. That just seemed to make sense. It’s not so hard for me: I don’t really need anything. I could probably go a year without buying anything at all and be perfectly alright.

But then there’s Ivy. What a style queen, right? She can’t go a year without any new clothes, because she’s shot up at least one full size in the last month. Ralph, too, needs new pants badly. I looked at his clothes from last Fall – he was wearing size 3. Now he’s at least a 5.

So I actually need to buy something. But do I go the second-hand, free, fair-trade, hand-made, slow-clothes lane for them too? Or are they exempt?

After chatting about this with Jonathan we decided that it would be okay to buy the kids some new clothes for back to school from our usual clothing sources.

But you know what? As I was holding the clothes, I just couldn’t get the image of kids sewing clothes for my kids out of my mind. 

old navy children

Yeah, no.

So I’m sending most of what I ordered back. I should say, most. A couple of pieces I did keep. A pair of pants, some tops. I wish I could say I am a perfect 100% ethical clothing consumer but I admit it is really hard to do that when you need to get something. Argh.

So, soul-searching time. I think it’s key to ask the question: why am I happy to buy fast-fashion clothing for my kids but not for me?

  1. It looks nicer. They’re both starting new schools this year. And, call me a crazy Mom, but I want them to look cool. I want them to fit in, and not be the “second-hand-clothing kid”. I want them to have nice new clothes for that first-day-at-school photo. True confessions.
  2. It’s easier. I have tried to rely more on second-hand clothing for the kids in the past. But in order to get them “looking nicer”? It’s hard work. It means regular thrift store visits. It means storing good-condition clothes you have come across there or received as hand-me-downs, maybe for a year or more. For Winter coats it means bidding on eBay for what seems like a month. And it is really hard to find boys things in good condition. I don’t know how they get so worn out – it’s like they rub sandpaper all over their body whenever they aren’t with us.

When I look at both of these points, they really are the same reasons that head over to the mall when I need something rather than taking the time to source something better. They are also the same reasons that I have deemed invalid for myself – because when I weigh the human and environmental costs of buying sweat-shop clothing against “It looks nicer” and “It’s easier” …well…that’s like putting a large and endangered elephant on the scales beside a very selfish mouse.

So, back to eBay for me. And planning what clothes the kids will need. And scouring the give and take. And storing stuff. It’s not easier, but it is better. It’s thinking beyond my own family to them and the world they are living in. And perhaps in doing so I’ll find another opportunity to “train up a child in the way he should go.”

(Photo credit: 1. Claire Harrison. 2. Al Jazeera America.)