Kids clothing: The low down

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Own rather than consume (Wildly Co.). 

This statement is subtle, but as I think about it, it nearly perfectly describes our outlook toward the clothing we purchase for our children (and for ourselves, for that matter). We have been moving in this direction for several years, but only early this year did I finally express to Cody my increasingly strong conviction that we simply cannot continue to buy clothing or other items from sources that are not transparent about their production processes. It was a scary thing for to me to admit. I wasn’t sure how we would cover the up front cost of the things we would need this year, especially being pregnant and seemingly having constant clothing needs. Cody, ever conscious of our spending, surprised me a little with his enthusiasm for this decision. I think he understood that my conviction went deeper than my usual desire to buy well-made, beautiful things, and understood it was a very real way in which we could love people whom we’ve never met. I also think it was evidence that it was the right timing for us. We are under no illusion that this decision will change the way child labor and horrific factory conditions are perpetuated all over the world, but we feel morally convicted that when we must purchase something, we should do our best to know where it’s coming from. We will muddle through at times, but keep pressing forward toward our goals.

“We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world. Advocating for boring stuff like complaint mechanisms and formalized labor contracts is nowhere near as satisfying as buying a pair of Fair Trade sandals or whatever. But that’s how the hard work of development actually gets done: Not by imploring people to buy better, but by giving them no other option (Huffington Post).”

We're of the opinion that by being intentional about our purchases, we are increasing the demand for ethically sourced products. And though maybe a small thing, we're joining our voices with others who hope for something better.

Let me put it in terms most of us can understand: my opinion is that there is no acceptable presidential candidate for us in the upcoming election, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote according to our moral convictions. Even if we cannot change a single thing about the outcome, our decision, our statement and our choice, still matters.

And so, with little naivety (I’m sure there’s still a bit lurking somewhere), we’re embarking down this road. The cost of many of these items will be more at the check out, but we are also seeking to live with less, which means consuming less, and putting less of a demand on any type of factory. This decision is also a way that we can support hard-working small business owners who are seeking to add to the lives of those whom they work with and who respect the lives of those they employ. So I guess it wasn’t so surprising that Cody didn’t even blink an eye when this decision required that we spend a hefty amount to replace his lost swim trunks. I fully expect him to be wearing this particular pair for the next 20+ years, so I’m thinking we’ll make out all right with this sort of investment.

So how are we making it work?

Principle of one / We don’t do multiples where it can be avoided. The exception obviously being tees and shorts, underwear, socks, etc. But when it comes to shoes, swimwear, jackets, hats, and things of this nature, we work with one. Our boys have multiple pair of shoes, of course, but only one of each style they need. One pair of sandals (which they also wear to church in the summer), “church boots” for the colder months, rain boots (which are great, but we only have them because my mom gifted us some), and play sneakers. It’s nice to have a pair of play sneakers and a pair of nicer ones, but their nice ones were also gifted. Those spiffy ones are simply a total treat for the boys. Seb also has a pair of Birkenstocks that I picked up at a consignment sale two years ago in Germany, so they’re an extra as well.

I want to focus in a minute specifically on sandals. Our choice for the boys over the years has been Keens. We have a few reasons for this. They are what I feel at this point is sufficiently transparent about their manufacturing process and code of conduct. We know they last, and that many other sandals do not. They are sturdy and appropriate for hikes and park play, but also look nice enough to wear to church or weddings with their good clothes. I picked up our first pair of Keens at a consignment sale for Seb when we lived in North Carolina. He wore them, Bruno wore them, and they are in our stored clothing for the baby to wear eventually. Honestly, they look nearly the same as they did when I bought them for Seb, a fact which is nothing short of shocking if you’ve ever seen the way kids wear shoes! Even if I had paid full-price for these sandals, they would have been worth every penny by this point. If we had stopped having kids after two, I would have been able to pass those sandals on to a friend who could use them after us. Currently, Seb is wearing a hand-me-down pair from his friend Stella. They are light pink, but my confident, color-loving boy has no qualms about wearing pink, and I love him for it. Even if this baby had been a girl, she would have worn our first pair of red ones, then the navy ones, then the light pink ones, just like the boys.

Your shoe choice for your kids might not be Keens, but something else, and that’s fine. We’re just huge proponents of quality, adaptable footwear that actually lasts.

We also definitely keep this principle of one in mind when it comes to dress clothes. Unless gifted something, our boys each have one button-down shirt and chino bottoms for the warmer and colder seasons. That’s it! This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wearing the exact same outfit every Sunday, but we’ll pair some of their nicer tees with their chinos, or their “church shirt” with jeans, etc. They have a surprising variety of outfits for Sunday considering the number of dress-specific clothing. For Easter, we freshened up their church clothes with new bowties I made with fabric from my stash.

Keep it simple / This is my way of saying “gender-neutral.” It’s not that I don’t want my boys to look like boys, or your girls to look like girls, but quite frankly I find the specifically “boy” and “girl” things to be mostly obnoxious and confining. Colors are beautiful and varied and rich. Let’s use more of them and leave off impressing upon our kids that certain colors are only for boys and certain ones are only for girls. Color aside, simple solids and stripes are great for our boys and girls. Their bodies are much the same at a young age, which means a considerable amount of their clothing can be swapped between them. It doesn’t mean that your girl should never have ruffles, but if we ever have a girl, we will primarily view those things as extras. I’m sure she’ll have a base of simple tees and and shorts just like her brothers (if for no other reason than we’ll be using hand-me-downs!), and we’ll add some simple things like tights and basic dresses. If you’re a mom of girls and rolling your eyes at this mom of boys, you may continue. I’m speaking hypothetically here, so there you have it.

Pay attention to the source if you want lasting clothes / The number one reason the girls are all wearing hot pink with “princess” written on the front are because that is what companies known for cheap clothing are making. The problem with many is that their production ethics or the ethics of the sub-sub-sub contracted companies are questionable. Their items simply don't last, either. There are exceptions of course. Our kids clothing has been drawn heavily from the H&M tee and pant collection. We love these clothes, and I would say that they hold up decently well. The tees, though gathering stains with each kid who wears them, are still in great condition, and we will continue to rotate them into storage for the next baby. I'll be sad to stop shopping those tees, because I really do love them, but I can happily say that I've found that most companies who place a heavy focus on their ethics are also making simple items in beautiful colors and high quality fabrics (Wildy Co., Everlane). These are items that last and can be handed down. Personally, I've realized that I'm much more willing to keep a shirt with a little stain if it is beautiful and timeless, and not a throw-away, pilled, $3 item. Additionally, many of these companies are making tees in longer lengths so that our kids don't outgrow them quite so fast.

Adjusting your standards and making do / My kids wear things with stains and holes. Not all the time, but for play they most certainly do. I have no idea if this is normal, but it at least seems to be one key to consuming less and making our things last. We know we need a new tee or pants when everything has stains and holes. I like to have a minimum of 2 stain-free shirts, 1 pair of hole-free jeans and shorts each. The boys only wear these when we're going to a party or church or some other gathering that demands dressing a little nicer. Additionally, our pajama situation is a little odd. Many of you have likely noticed in my Instagram pictures that the boys typically wear old tees to bed. These are mostly ones Cody and I had from college. They also wear the occasionally gifted pajama set, and (confession time) any of their superhero themed tees. It's a win-win because they wear solids and stripes during the day, which I prefer, and still get to frequently wear any themed tees they may have. It makes no difference to them whether they're wearing them during the day or at night, and on the rare occasion that they ask to wear one during the day, I let them (I'm not a monster!). During the winter months, we pair these tees with leggings or tights, and if it's extremely cold, we'll throw a long sleeve tee under or over their pajama shirt. It's not at all a Baby Gap scenario, but it works well for us, and saves us considerable amounts of money and keeps those old college tees out of the landfill. One of the shirts in their pajama drawer belonged to my Grandpa, and I, along with all of my cousins, used to wear it as a child if we slept over at Grandma's house and forgot our pajamas. It's basically see-through by now, but the boys still wear it, and I love to see it still being used.

Colors / As intense as I am about my own color palette, I am pretty relaxed about what colors my kids wear. They have their own opinions, and we try to get things in the colors they enjoy. For some reason both of my boys have completely rejected yellow? I'm not sure why, but they are particularly into blues and greens. We have a couple red items, but really just a couple. Seb specifically loves anything in the bright blue to aqua range. We have a lot of aqua-colored items, as well as some lime green. They are their papa's children and love bright colors. I do like to make sure they have a few subtle nice tees like a simple navy, gray or a blue stripe, but I've noticed that with kids clothing, most things mix and match if they are solids and stripes of any color. Sometimes, however, my kids don't match, or commit some other fashion faux pas like socks with sandals, gasp. They dress themselves most days, and we're all pretty okay with that.

Is there anything I missed that you're curious about? Anything that stumps you as you plan your kids wardrobe? Ask me in the comments below and I'd love to continue the conversation.

Here is a small list of companies that we plan to look to when a need arises. If you have any recommendations, or tips of your own, I would love to hear about them!

Boden / Swim (these trunks are now on sale), as well as clothing for babies, kids, and teens.

Childhoods / Infant and toddler basics

Candy Kirby Designs / Infant basics like gowns and footed pants (my favorite cold-weather item for babies!) in  a wide variety of solids and stripes.

Pact Apparel / Baby basics in fun patterns

Tiny Cottons / Artsy pattern and muted color apparel for kids

Wildly Co / Kids basics (tees up to size 8), unisex jeans, sweatpants, play shorts, capsule collections

Everlane / Tees, sweaters, sweatshirts

Photo by Citrus Holly