Moms who are conscious of the human and environmental costs of their own clothing often ask me, “Where can I find conscious clothing for kids?” As the owner of iSpy Clothing, a kids’ clothing resale boutique, my main answer is of course, shop secondhand! There are, however, two other great ways to make a difference with your dollars, in kids fashion: I call them fabric consciousness and factory consciousness.
The vast majority of children’s clothing today is made from cotton. Conventional cotton farming has a highly negative impact on the environment, and may also have serious health effects for farm workers. More and more, we’re seeing organic cotton being marketed as a conscious alternative in baby and children’s clothing. Major retailers like H&M now offer a wide selection of “baby basics” in organic cotton, and use these items, not yet the majority of their baby collection, but growing, to market their brand.
Organic farming is definitely the ideal future of cotton, but organic farming is more expensive than conventional farming, due to untreated crops lost to pests and disease. In turn, Farming costs drive clothing costs up. As consumers, we can show our support for the organic farming movement by buying organic cotton, when the family budget allows. We can let our favourite brands know that while we did choose their organic pieces for our kids, we did not purchase their conventional cotton pieces, despite being displayed conveniently alongside. Finally, we can also ask our government representatives to support subsidies that reward organic farming, at the national level. Almost daily, I find myself reminding the kids about their power as consumers: dollars are votes.
More recently, some really cool technical fabrics have been coming to the fore. It seems bamboo is in every boutique — and at first glance, it’s exciting to see. Bamboo grows like, well, a weed, right? That’s got to be an improvement over cotton farming. Beyond bamboo, there are super high-tech fibres like modal and Tencel (the branded name of the fibre lyocell) showing up in conscious women’s wear all over. Let’s compare: 
Regenerated fibres like Tencel (the branded name of lyocell) and modal do not qualify for organic certification, since they’re not, well, organic. However other awards, such as the “European Ecolabel,” are given to specific companies producing tech fibres, for responsible sourcing of materials and “closed-loop” reclaiming of chemical solvents. There is even a catalogue of textile manufacturers who hold European Ecolabel status, but its is of no use at the mall, since clothing manufacturers do not disclose the source of their fabrics.
Some brands that don’t ordinarily lead with their environmental commitments are starting to use Tencel fibres for occasional pieces, e.g., a Tencel baby dress & bloomers by Juicy Couture was one of the only search results when Googling “Tencel” and “kids”.
A recent visit to H&M netted us two nifty recycled-polyester dresses and one recycled-fibre blouse for back to school, but these were three pieces in a sea of conventionally produced fabrics. Featured in H&M’s in-store poster, our (super cute!) blouse is only 1 of the 10 or so pieces worn by the models:
By and large, we’re not yet seeing these cool eco-tech fabrics taking our favourite kids’ brands by storm. For now anyway, organic cotton is king in kidswear.
To make matters more complicated, the environment isn’t the only fashion victim we need to worry about. Thousands of workers that make the garment industry “go” work under difficult-to-horrific conditions, for next to no money, in developing countries around the globe. The conscious mom asks not just “What’s it made from?” but “Who made it?”
Since the Rana Plaza textile factory disaster of 2013, the dangerous working conditions in many clothing factories have become common knowledge. This disaster and our own children’s reaction to it was the impetus for the founding of iSpy Clothing. iSpy (then known as Eco Outfitters Online) was born of our family’s desire to re-treasure the work of so many undervalued hands.
The “fast fashion” attitude of consumers who are buying excessive amounts of clothing and demanding bargain-basement prices, is a big part of the problem. Secondhand markets go hand-in-hand with the slow fashion movement that we are seeing develop among conscious parents, and our family is proud to be part of it: we buy less, take better care of it, and ask more questions about the conditions under which it was made. “Designed in Canada” is great — we have a lot of talented, creative minds here. “Made in Canada” is a stronger assurance about the conditions under which the workers who cut and sewed your clothes were working.
We’ve arrived back at the idea that “dollars are votes” — As conscious consumers, parents can also give preference to children’s clothing that is (a) made in Canada/U.S.A., where workplace regulations assure higher living wages, and stricter safety standards for workers, or (b) made abroad, but in factories that are inspected by international agencies, to help “raise the bar” for workers in those countries. Even better, reach out to your favourite brands, and encourage them to be public and transparent about where the fabrics they sew with are produced, where and how they were made.
Slow Fashion Options For Kids
Here is a working list of some brands that are committed to making a difference at the manufacturing level. If you’ve got one to add to our list, give us a shout! We hope it will grow and grow.
Made in Canada
- Mini Mioche (organic)
- Sorad (organic)
- Cate & Levi (indie, some handmade)
- Red Thread (indie)
- Redfish Kids (indie)
- Souris Mini
- Deux Par Deux
- Creative Director Clothing (indie)
- Buck and Cook
Made in U.S.A. (with additional benefits noted in brackets)
- Sustainable Kids (organic)
- CWD Kids (some items – they have a U.S.A. tab)
- Hank Player
- American Apparel
- Garden Kids (non-sprayed PJs & organic available)
- Earth Creations (organic Ts)
- Two Crows for Joy (indie, organic)
- Winter Water Factory (indie)
- Coastal Dog
- Ses Petites Mains
- Hi Ho Batik
- Courtney Courtney
- Kallio (indie, upcycled)
- Brooklyn Junior (indie)
- Baby Pop (indie)
- Sew Plain Jane (indie)
- Quirkie Kids Tees (indie)
Internationally Manufactured, but Ethically Sourced, FairTrade-Certified OR publishing mission statements that include social responsibility:
I am definitely keeping my eyes open for these great brands for iSpy Clothing. I hope you will too!
The information and opinions expressed in this post are my own, to the best of my knowledge. I'd love to hear from you about any corrections, additions to or omissions from these lists, and this information. My goal is to curate an accurate, helpful list of ethical children’s clothing options for conscious Canadian and American families, and your help in creating that resource is very welcome.
Want to learn more? Check out The True Cost (directed by Andrew Morgan, 2015) — a powerful documentary film about the human and environmental impact of the conventional fashion industry, from farm to rack.