Do you ever read the labels on your clothes to learn about fiber content and the country of origin? Since my son was born, I have been paying much more attention to it. Learning that fashion is the second largest polluter in the world also increased my yearning for information. Last week, the World Health Organization released a report in which it estimates at 7 millions the number of people who die every year from exposure to polluted air. 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. While helping my little boy get dressed in the morning, I hope that it will change before he is all grown.
A few days ago Tiffany and I attended the launch of Iconable’s Spring/Summer Collection in New York City (Iconable is an online store offering a curated selection of sustainable clothing). This event came in support of the Fashion Revolution Week that falls every year on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy that happened in 2013 in Bangladesh. The Fashion Revolution global movement encourages people all over the world to ask brands and manufacturers for greater transparency in their supply chain. Amongst all the pictures found on social media under the hashtag #whomademyclothes, coming across a kid wondering about the origins of her clothes gives me hope.
Those actions are certainly not useless and I strongly believe that sustainability is here to stay. Why? Because the generation who believes in it – the millennials – is reaching parenthood. They want to “buy less, buy better” not only for themselves but for the whole family. Children clothing brands have no other choice than to meet their shoppers’ expectations. And it all makes sense. There is no better target consumers for sustainable apparel than these kids wearing clothes today that respect the people and protect the planet they will still live on tomorrow.
However, even though parents are willing to purchase sustainable clothes to protect their little ones’ future and teach them good shopping habits, it seems in our society that raising a child and living a minimalist life are incompatible. Parents are well aware that children grow fast, they stain their clothes and rip them all. Therefore, buying sustainable products might go from being the best idea to breaking the bank! Fact is that conscious clothing comes at a higher – but fair – price. Those even tend to flirt with luxury prices. It is very tempting then for parents to turn to large retailers to buy $5 t-shirts that will last only one summer.
It seems that the Children’s fashion industry still has a lot to do to change parents’ shopping behaviors and convince them of the great benefits of sustainability for their kids. In the long run, it will surely be worth the effort.
As a start, educating both parents AND kids, being transparent (on the prices as well!), offering explanations and giving easy access to proof is key. As an illustration, I find interesting Swedish brand Mini Rodini’s online “Sustainable School” that offers lessons for all on Fashion sustainability.
Getting parents to spend more on sustainable apparel certainly comes at a price for kids clothing brands. Shoppers will demand higher quality and durability. The best customer experience as well as omnichannel retail are also two areas to cover.
In a highly competitive market, where brands tend to all have a similar style, I believe fashion companies should forget about the calendar and put all their effort into designing timeless yet fun products (at the end of the day, parents purchase the clothes and kids wear them). Gender-neutral and versatility (e.g. reversible, add-on, etc.) can help to get the most out of the pieces.
Lastly I would like to mention the recurring subject of recycling amongst parents. The past few years, we have been noticing a greater use of the sharing economy and the second hand market. For brands offering conscious clothing for kids, contemplating entering the second hand market can be the right idea. The French brand Cyrillus, for example, followed that business model and started Seconde Histoire by Cyrillus (i.e. Second Chance). This is a good way for sustainable fashion companies to enhance credibility, manage the future of theirs products, facilitate their customers’ life, and reach families who want to buy sustainable but cannot afford it first-hand. I believe all of the above will serve a better reputation too.
Working on changing now to help sustainability last is a major challenge for kids clothing brands. That should even be a mission they pursue because whether the product lives one or many lives, at the end of the day, that name on the label is still the brand’s name.