How can children's clothing become more sustainable?  - Storyteller

How can children’s clothing become more sustainable? – Storyteller

There are 183 million items of oversized baby clothing hidden away in homes across the UK, according to a study by Mothercare and environmental charity Hubbub, which estimates that a typical British family spends £11,000 every year in children’s clothing.

Historically, the children’s apparel category has “acquired longevity, durability, and continued reuse in the form of second-hand clothing, both within families and between groups of friends depending on the ‘economy, convenience and needs’.

So says Dr Anne Peirson-Smith, Senior Lecturer, Head of Nottingham Trent University’s Masters in International Fashion Management course and Co-Head of its Clothing Sustainability Research Group. She observes that “the sharing trend seems to have jumped up recently and taken on a new lease of life. In the cost of living crisis, this will only get worse.

Despite this, Hubbub’s research also indicates that a third of UK parents have thrown away clothes their children no longer need, simply because they don’t know what else to do with the oversized clothes.

Open the cabinet

The Little Loop is a children’s clothing rental service created by BBC entry Charlotte Morley The dragon’s lair in January 2022 and convinced investors Deborah Meaden and Steven Bartlett to invest £140,000 in his business. For a monthly subscription, users can choose clothes from a “shared wardrobe” of more than 10,000 items, then exchange those pieces for new ones whenever they want.

“The key to reducing the environmental impact of clothing is to increase the amount of clothing worn. Doubling the number of times a garment is worn will reduce its impact by 40%,” Morley says. “Every garment has the potential to be carried by several children – four to five on average. Yet the informal system of transmission increasingly fails beyond the early years of a child’s life, as parents become more busy with their careers and less often connected to their network of other relatives.

If consumers can be informed that there is an easily accessible market for second-hand clothing, it can change their attitudes and increase their likelihood of continuing what she calls sharing behavior, whereby parents and even children “take better care of their clothes as a result”. , further increasing their lifespan.

Rental service providers such as The Little Loop help “remove the inconvenience of having to sell used items at a huge discount. Parents simply swap one item for another when the time comes,” which makes the idea of ​​sharing rather than buying much more appealing, according to Morley.

Designer Solutions

Petit Pli, a wearable technology producer founded in 2017 by aeronautical engineer Ryan Mario Yasin, develops new materials technologies aimed at creating clothes that will grow with a child. The company’s chief operating officer, Arabell Turek, notes that the growing acceptance of the sharing economy means that “one of the benefits of designing children’s clothing that is not destined for obsolescence is that design can be shared between siblings while entering the all-important inheritance economy”. .

Petit Pli’s clothes are designed to grow with the child through seven sizes, avoiding much of the waste that would normally occur when the baby becomes a toddler and even a preschooler. The company wants its work to benefit the entire industry, says Turek, adding, “Extending the useful life of garments is the best way for the apparel industry to meet its emissions targets. here 2030.”

Pursuing the opposite of fast fashion also means giving Petit Pli the time and space to offer ever more creative solutions.

“By creating a more durable product, we can offer users a competitively priced item throughout its lifespan, while pushing more innovative manufacturing capabilities,” Turek says. “We can also ensure that our supply chain meets the highest ethical standards, from the materials to the treatment of the people who make the garments. For example, our manufacturing partner in Portugal draws certified 100% green power for their facility. »

Peirson-Smith agrees that “making children’s clothing more sustainable requires collaborative understanding, design education and community engagement across the value chain. There is also a need to raise consumer awareness of their role in providing post-purchase solutions, from ethical purchasing to garment tracking.

Obstacles to circularity

But she acknowledges that, as long as standard high street offerings remain reasonably priced, not all parents will be eager to change their behavior for the good of the planet.

Peirson-Smith notes that “the largest sector for sales of children’s clothing is supermarket brands” such as Next (which held 8.7% of the UK market last year, according to Euromonitor), Primark (5, 7%) and Marks & Spencer (4.7%).

“These all offer good quality and design at a low price, as well as being very practical,” she says. “This means small-scale, circular business models compete with the convenience and low prices available from traditional children’s clothing retailers, who also claim to source more sustainably and ethically.”

Turek argues that the rental and resale of children’s clothing poses its own challenges at both ends of the value chain.

“There are huge operational costs and energy requirements in inventory management, as each garment is produced as a single piece rather than made in batches,” she says. “The cleaning of each item will have an impact on the environment. It is also important to note the costs and emissions generated by customer returns.

She concedes there are downsides to Petit Pli’s hardware innovation model, agreeing that “upfront costs are usually higher than with renting or reselling – and lead times are long.”

Invention cannot be rushed, especially when its effects on industry, the public and the environment must all be carefully weighed. The key, however, is to get consumers to embrace new ways to buy, use and dispose of children’s clothing that will have minimal impact on the planet.

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