How to shop more sustainably for your children's clothes
Guest post by Charlotte Morley - founder of thelittleloop
Ever wonder the true cost of clothing our children and if there was another way? Charlotte, founder of rental service thelittleloop, gives us some insight into this topic and how we can reduce the impact on the environment.
The truth about children’s clothes
Children have a voracious need for new clothes. They will outgrow over 1000 items of clothing before they are fully grown meaning the average household in the UK will spend around £11,000 clothing each child! [Source: hubbub.org.uk, 2018]
And what do we do with all those clothes when they’re done?
An incredible 183 million items of outgrown baby clothing (not to mention all the other ages) are stashed in UK homes. Despite best intentions to reuse them for second and third children, if they are born a different gender or season, the clothes may never see the light of day again. [Source: hubbub.org.uk, 2018]
Over 30% of parents have thrown away children’s clothes because they didn’t know what else to do with them. Yet only about 5% of those clothes are damaged. Many have never been worn. [Source: The Little Loop customer survey of 200 parents]
But why is that a problem?
Kids’ clothing rarely gets enough wear before it is thrown away. It has the potential to be worn by up to 4 children - which would reduce its carbon and water footprint by up to 75% - but it’s hard to guarantee this will happen.
So, for every garment which isn’t re-used or handed on, 3 brand new garments have to be bought unnecessarily.
So the knock on impact of the UK’s store-cupboard of 183 million clothes is the purchase of 549 million garments which didn’t need to be manufactured; creating 2 million tonnes of CO2e* (carbon dioxide equivalent). This is the equivalent of powering 200,000 homes for a year! It would take 33 million tree seedlings growing for 10 years to absorb that much carbon. [Source: calculated using EPA.gov]
So what can we do?
Reducing the environmental and financial burden of clothing our children is getting easier and easier. Until recently, the main ways of accessing preloved clothing has been:
Preloved sales and markets;
Facebook buying and selling groups;
Each option helps keep clothes in use and out of landfill. But they can suffer from a lack of choice, availability and convenience. Buyers can be put off as the quality and condition of clothing is not always guaranteed. So there are now a number of new services springing up which are designed to make sourcing preloved clothing and disposing of your outgrown clothes quick, convenient and affordable.
Kids clothing rental services
Kids clothes rental ensures every garment reaches its maximum potential and is never left to languish in a cupboard until it is no longer usable or desirable.
Clothing is reprocessed, professionally laundered, repaired where necessary, and circulated until it reaches its rental life end. This is at least 4 rentals, and many more in the case of many garments. Once a garment can no longer be rented it can be up-cycled into new products or donated to managed textiles recycling projects - all things which cannot be guaranteed or controlled in the world of ownership.
Because renting guarantees at least 4 uses of each garment, if you were to rent a modest indoor wardrobe (4 trousers, 6 tee shirts, 4 dresses/dungarees, 2 cardigans/sweaters, 2 sweatshirts), for a whole year, you could prevent three times those garments (216 new items) from being manufactured. That’s a saving of 877kg CO2e - the equivalent of 1/10 of your household’s annual energy.
And there are other benefits to rental besides environmental ones.
The cost saving from buying new (it normally costs about 25-33% to keep a garment for 3 months) means you can generally access more expensive ethical and sustainable clothing, from the best sustainable brands, for far less than their retail price. And one in around every 4 garments will be brand new. So you don’t have to compromise on style, quality or ethics for the sake of cost. Plus you can easily exchange items your kids don't like, or that don't work as you'd expected.
It also comes with a big convenience factor. Because you send back all of the clothes you're done with in exchange for another set you don’t have to worry about sorting, storing, or selling on outgrown clothes. And the price reflects this so there’s no risk that you’ll lose money from clothes which don’t sell on. Reminders mean you never miss a potential swap and services are designed to make it a painless process.
Rental services we love:
thelittleloop Designed to be as close to a conventional purchase experience as possible, this subscription service for 2-3yrs and up offers some of the best ethical and sustainable brands (Frugi, Kite, Little Green Radicals, Jujuni), a full choice of the items rented (using a credits system), swaps every 3 months and free postage. At £50 a quarter for an average of 6 brand new items it comes in at about ⅓ the cost of buying new. As the service matures they will offer preloved items for fewer credits increasing the amount you will get for your subscription.
Belles and Babes (birth - 2 years) This service also offers branded items on a monthly subscription bundle basis - 18 items which you pay for on a monthly basis and swap when baby grows. This comes in at around a third of the cost of buying new (£35 per month for £300 worth of clothes). Bundles are available from birth to 2 years. They also have a subscription service for maternity wear rental.
Bundlee (birth - 2 years) This is a monthly subscription bundle service for babies up to 2 (£24 a month for 15 items). Bundlee ethically make their own items in Britain from oeko-tex certified cotton. If your looking for basic items for your baby this is a good, cost effective option.
Pre-loved kids clothing sales services
Again, designed for parental convenience, there are an increasing number of services which allow you to send in your old clothes and buy more pre-loved clothes curated for their quality and style.
They take your excellent condition pre-loved clothes in exchange for store credit or cash saving you the hassle of having to list each item and post it out in separate lots. You will take a slight hit on profit, but it’s well worth it for the convenience.
And buying from them is a breeze too. There’s none of the risk of buying direct from a seller. Garments will have been quality controlled and in some cases repaired and laundered. Plus they are listed online in a user friendly fashion making it easier to shop.
Sustainability isn’t managed in quite the same way as rental as once the clothes have been sold there’s no guarantee they’ll be returned again to be reused. But they do ensure clothes are given at least one new lease of life, reducing the carbon footprint of clothing by up to 50%.
Preloved services we love:
Pure Bundle This service is focussed on saving time and helping parents to get a capsule wardrobe for their kids from the best brands around. They buy clothes from parents as long as they meet their strict brand and quality requirements. Pure Bundle then style them into beautifully curated capsules which they sell for around 40-50% of RRP.
Build a Bundle Sells preloved garments online for babies and children. All brands are stocked, including supermarket, so it isn’t as well curated as Pure Bundle and requires more sifting through, but prices are considerably lower as a result. And they will buy your own preloved bundles for a fair price.
Loopster Essentially the same as Build a Bundle but with slightly higher end brands, this was one of the first online services for secondhand kids clothes.
Eco Mama & Babe This service bridges the new and preloved worlds by selling ethical and sustainable brands new, and then offering to buy them back in exchange for credit meaning it also has a steady supply of preloved clothing on offer too. If you send in your preloved clothes you can choose to use the credit to buy either new or preloved making it a good choice for parents who are less convinced by secondhand clothing.
Embracing sustainable shopping for kids clothing
With all of these services on the market there should be at least one which will work for you. In practice you might prefer a combination.
For my own daughters, I like to buy basics like leggings and vests secondhand from preloved services like Build a Bundle. It doesn’t really matter what they look like and, as they get the heaviest wear, we don’t have to worry as much about damaging them.
Then we use rental services for dresses, dungarees, applique t-shirts and outdoor wear - items which have a high cost per use when bought new and which need to be changed more often due to changing seasons.
Why not give one of these options a go and let us know how you get on. Tag @partykitnetwork to share you sustainable kids clothes successes!
*The Little Loop calculations based on WRAP data on the environmental footprint of cotton production and our data on the cotton mass of children’s clothing