5 ways to clothe our kids ethically (without going broke)

Before my daughter was born, I was as fast fashion as they come. I lived for trends, was notorious for only wearing something once or twice, and popped into the mall on a near weekly basis to see what was new.

And then I had a baby. And I, like every other new mom out there, was overwhelmed with how much I loved her. But what surprised me the most was how fiercely I felt like I needed to protect her. The thought of something horrible happening to her was unbearable. I spent many nights irrationally thinking of all the bad things that might come her way, and how I could save her from them.

So when I came across an article in the Toronto Star about a reporter who went undercover in a garment factory in Bangladesh, where she was surrounded by 9 year old children working 12 hours a day sewing garments for one of the fast fashion companies I visited on the regular, a lump in my throat began to form.

I know for a fact that I am not alone by wanting to protect my child at all costs. Every mother in the world experiences that-it’s in our biology. Yet here I was buying clothes for myself -and my child- that another child had made. Someone else’s baby was being treated like a slave on a daily basis, and I was supporting it.

I stopped buying fast fashion right then and there. It hasn’t been an easy change, especially when you have to clothe a growing child. But it can be done, and it can be done without breaking the bank. Below are 5 ways I’ve stopped buying fast fashion, without going broke.

Seek quality over quantity: 

People see the price tag of ethically made, environmentally conscious garments and often scoff at the price. “I can’t afford that!” or “That’s insane! I can go to (insert fast fashion chain here: H&M, Zara, Topshop, Joe Fresh, Primark) and buy 20 of these for that price!” But here’s the thing: buying ethically made goes hand in hand with buying well-made. So although it’s an initial investment at first, you WILL spend less in long run because your clothes last so.much.longer. Natural fibres like wool and linen are incredibly stain and sweat resistant, unlike cotton, which stains from nearly everything and anything and wears out quickly. So rather than buying a new t shirt every other month that quickly looses it’s shape, pills, or is ruined the second your kid eats strawberries, invest in higher quality items and over time you’ll spend less money in the long run (as a side note, if you’re going to buy wool, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE inform yourself on the sourcing practices. Millions of sheep the world over go through awful torture involving ‘mulesing’ – removing strips of skin off living sheep – to deter flies and maggots. It’s a terrible practice. Second hand wool is always your best bet!).

mom-hack: Even for my daughter, who is hard on her clothes and grows out of them quickly, I still find I spend less overall by investing in two or three high quality shirts and pants, rather then stockpiling on fast fashion items. I size up and rolllllll-the cuffs, sleeves, bottoms, whatever it takes to get an extra couple months wear out of them. Because they’re natural fibers like (ethically sourced) wool or linen, they are tough as nails and incredibly stain resistant, something that still amazes me to this day. I can’t count how many times she got the juice from blackberries all over her white linen shirt, and each and every time it came out with a natural wash bar and some time bleaching in the sun. I was shocked each time but it’s true!

Side note: again, I can’t stress this enough – if you’re buying new items that are made of wool, please make sure that the wool is ethically sourced! Many sheep are treated in extremely inhumane ways for the mass production of wool.

Hone your personal style:

No one wants to show up to the party looking like a Zara look-book. Talk about unoriginal! Think about someone’s whose style you really admire: what is it that makes them such a style icon? I would argue it’s their ability to put unique pieces together that only they seem to be able to pull off. I think we can all admit there is nothing unique about mass production! Spend some time thinking about what pieces you feel great in. What pieces look amazing on you? Build a collection around that. Sticking to this mindset is a great way to avoid being sucked in by that trendy item you buy on a whim and never end up wearing because it’s totally wrong for you and your personal style.

mom-hack: mix it up! People often comment on Liv’s outfits, which are a mix between new, used, and hand-made. I can’t sew or knit but my mother-in-law and my grandma do, and they were none to eager to make something for Liv. I found a pattern and some organic fabric I loved and they did the rest. No one in your family with that ability? Ask around! People are often happy to utilize a hobby they have when they see how happy it makes someone (and how cute your kid looks in their handiwork!).

Or, learn yourself! I learnt how to crochet while pregnant and love making cute, practical accessories for Liv, like leg-warmers, hats and even cardigans. I’ve listed all the youtube videos and patterns I’ve used to learn here.

Celebrate being seeing wearing the same beautiful pieces again and again:

I’m gonna throw a little bit of social psychology at you here: did you know that more than anything else, repetition forms our personal preferences? Take, for example, a new song you hear on the radio. At first, you might hate it, but a week later, you find yourself singing along, totally enjoying the groove. What happened there?? Repetition happened. The more often we see or hear certain things, the more we begin to like them.

So, I challenge you to a little social experiment. Take pride in wearing the same beautiful pieces over and over again, no matter how many times you meet with the same people. I bet that over time, you might start to notice that people are suddenly starting to dress like you. You are unconsciously forming their preferences and suddenly they are lusting after your wardrobe! You’re one step closer to becoming that style icon I talked about earlier!

(If becoming a style icon is totally not your jam, then do it because we have to stop supporting these fast fashion. The whole fast fashion premise works by continuously speeding up trends, releasing a new clothing line not every season, but every week, gives clothing shorter lives in our closets and forces a mindset of needing more, more, more.)

mom-hack: I generally try to buy, make or source Liv’s clothes in the same colour palette. That way I can mix and match and layer yet her outfits never clash. She wears the same handful of pieces again and again, but in different combinations that all work well together.

Shop your favourite influencer’s wardrobe:

Even if you invest in a beautiful and timeless “capsule” wardrobe, you’re likely to pine after a trendy item from time to time. We are only human, after all. Don’t let that be the catalyst for a fast-fashion binge shop. Instead, consider raiding your favourite instagrammer’s closet for her hand-me-downs. Websites like postmark and depop make this easier than ever.

mom-hack: do the same for your kid’s clothes!! Some of my favourite pieces I’ve ever bought for Liv I bought off Instagram moms. I could have never been able to afford the item new, but new-to-me almost always came with little to no signs of wear anyway.

Enjoy the thrill of the chase:

Another trick I turn to when I find myself wanting a cool, trendy item is to hunt it down at a local consignment shop. I might, for example, decide that I really need a pair of culottes. I see them everywhere and they are so cute so I really want a pair. Rather then heading to my local H&M, where I’m going to end up buying a pair that 10 other women in my circle either have or have seen, I scourge my favourite used-clothing stores for a truly unique, possibly vintage pair. I save a ton of money buying them used and don’t support any abusive fast fashion companies in the process. And if I don’t find them? Guess what? By the time I stop looking it’s because the trend is over and I’m glad I didn’t buy spend all that money buying them new. It’s win-win all around.

mom-hack: used clothing stores and websites are overflowing with gently worn kids clothes. I find this is a great way to stock up on basics like pj’s and leggings. Even if they are from fast-fashion companies, buying them used doesn’t support the industry. I try to stop in at my neighbourhood used-clothing store on a weekly basis. Sometimes I don’t find anything. Sometimes it’s a goldmine of high quality, gently used items that I save a ton of money on.

Not too long ago, I (nervously) walked into a fast fashion store again. The window display lured me in, and I convinced myself a look wouldn’t hurt. The truth is, I worried I would cave and buy something. I walked in and saw thousands of articles of clothing, for one season. Everything just kinda looked like a similar version of everything else, and I suddenly felt extremely underwhelmed. The clothes, or more specifically, the cookie cutter looks, they didn’t appeal to me anymore. More than I felt the need to look like a mannequin, I felt sad for all the waste and a little grossed out at the lack of ethics behind making all these pieces. I walked out feeling more confident I was on the right path then ever before.

Not sure if an item is fast fashion? A general rule of thumb is if the tag says made in China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, or Thailand, it is not our friend!

And if you need a bit more convincing, here are a few more links about all the horrible things happening because of fast fashion companies we are shopping at:

meet my 9 year old boss

labour without liberty

environmental costs of fashion