Ecofy your children’s clothing

Today’s wonderful guest post comes from the lovely Jess Berentson-Shaw from the wonderful Muka kids. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and fantastic ideas with us all.

We need to talk about clothing production there are some pretty crazy things going on in clothing production these days, and some really crazy stuff that affects the environment both here and overseas. Here is an infographic that gives a good summary of all the crazy.

What are the BIGGEST ISSUES for us all environmentally with clothing?
The TWO biggest problems the clothing industry creates for our collective world (not just local environments) are:

1) The carbon, water and waste footprint from clothing production. Carbon contributes to our warming world, water is a very scare resource in many countries, and waste: waste is a mountain of an issue! The more clothes that are made, brought, infrequently worn and chucked out, the greater the footprint per item of clothing.

2) The use of toxic chemicals in growing natural fibers like cotton (and wool here in New Zealand), processing and treating it, and then dying and finishing garments it is made from. These chemicals include heavy metals, NPEs, phthalates, azo dyes and formaldehyde.

How do chemicals used during production in countries on the other side of the world infiltrate all ecosystems?

A lot of the chemicals used in clothing production are not washed out (as recent consumer testing by Greenpeace and consumer groups have shown). They bind to the cotton fibres at the molecular level. Some of these hormone disrupting and cancer causing chemicals (azo dyes by the way are banned in the EU) will eventually be washed out in your washing (and down our drains and into our soil and water). They build up in our soil and marine ecosystems. We know this because these chemicals have consistently been found in the fat of many land and sea mammals (including human breast milk) showing they spread throughout the food chain.

Some other chemicals (like formaldehyde) will never be washed out (they create a permanent bond to fabric) and will be worn against skin. Formaldehyde is used on many clothes including babies and kids to reduce creasing and give a smooth feel. There is an impact of these chemicals on the people and kids who wear them as I found out.

So the story is a little concerning…
However, no problem is insurmountable and I am all for the clever solutions.

The six solutions
Here are six ways to reduce the chemical and environment impact of kids clothing. It is not an all or none scenario either; do what you can when you can and you will be making a good start.

1) Consider certified organic cotton (or wool) and remember it need not be new.
safer for the farmers and their families,
uses less water,
▪ doesn’t use GM modified seed (GMO is not compatible with a sustainable system reliant on renewable resources),
▪ means farmers are not reliant on buying expensive pesticides,
▪ improves the health of the local ecosystems,
▪ prevents toxic chemicals being released into the environment during the growing of the cotton, the processing of it into fabric and when we get them home and wash them.
▪ means we are not wearing clothes finished with chemicals like formaldehyde (never washes out).

(also have look out for certified fairtrade cotton as these standards also contain strong environmental standards, and most fairtrade certified cotton is also organic).

DO make sure it is certified, as it is the only way you can be sure that claims of both ethical and environmentally friendly practices happen.

2) Buy quality second hand
While some chemicals may never be washed out, if you buy second hand you are avoiding introducing a whole lot more chemicals into our local ecosystem. I say buy ‘quality’ because there is nothing more frustrating than being landed with rubbish used clothes that don’t fit or last. You can be tempted to just send to the landfill where they release methane. If you do find yourself wanting to throw out clothes too awful to donate, turn them into rags, stuff them in poufs, door stoppers or toys.

Did you know that ‘Extending the average life of clothes (2.2 years) by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints’!

3) Buy kids clothes that are built to cope with many wears (to reduce the carbon footprint of each piece of clothing).

Look for clothes clearly designed to last longer. Here are 10 things to look out for when buying kids clothing for longevity.

4) ‘Pimp’ the unworn clothes
Got nice clothes the kids will just not wear? Try a bit of inventive glamorizing with colourful appliqué, bows, ribbons and bibbons, etc (get your kids to choose and they become especially motivated then to wear them). Here is one of my daughter’s dresses, given the kiss of death as ‘too boring’ it lives again with a velvet bow.


5) Mend and maintain
Get creative with mending (heart shapes darns anyone?). Put fun patches on knees, elbows etc. I have found iron on patches can be successful if sewing isn’t your thing. Make friends with your local repair and alternation person (and support a local industry too).

6) Repurpose
Jean shorts anyone? Much more appealing on children frankly. Cut off leggings with holes too big for repair. Long to short sleeve, vests from jackets. If you know your way around a machine there are heaps of good ideas around for new clothes from old or even toys.

So there is a lot we can all do to reduce the chemical and environmental impact of our kids clothing. I would love to hear some of your ideas for avoiding the chemicals and reducing the environmental footprint of your or your kids’ clothes.



Jess Berentson-Shaw lives on a windswept Wellington hill. Jess has two kids, is a part time scientist, and runs (and blogs about) her social enterprise muka kids. Muka kids is her plan to revolutionize the way kids clothes are made and used. She has also been known to hide under the bed from her kids during ‘nutty hour’.



Wow thanks so much for a thought provoking post Jess. I’m all for saving money and living as eco as possible. I love second hand clothes and  even more so after reading this. I’d love for you guys to share your ideas too.  


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