A new school year is about to begin and that typically means a mad dash to the store for new school clothes and supplies. This year, why not save yourself some money and “green” your kids’ back-to-school clothes? It’s easy to do and the planet will thank you for it. Your wallet will too!
Do Your Homework
Your kids are ready to head off to school, but you, too, can do some homework — homework about the fashion industry, that is.
The overall environmental impact of our clothing purchases is significant. Part of the problem is that most of us aren’t aware of what happens before and after we buy a piece of clothing. When you take a closer look at the resources employed in and pollution (notably, water and plastic ocean) from making a piece of clothing, you’d be shocked.
Then there’s the waste from the disposal of clothing. Most unwanted clothing is incinerated or landfilled and only 15% is recycled. This is from an industry that has encouraged and promoted excessive consumption, most notably through the emergence of fast fashion brands.
All this excessive waste and pollution takes a toll on the planet. The fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions with a carbon impact that’s greater than the airline industry!
For more resources and background information, see Green That Life’s articles on clothes recycling and the environmental impacts of the clothing industry. In addition, there are a number of excellent books listed on Green That Life’s Best Environmental Books page related to sustainable fashion and our consumer culture.
Shop Your Kids’ (and Sibling’s) Closets
Now that you understand why it’s important to build an eco-friendly back-to-school wardrobe, let’s look at how to acquire school clothes that will satisfy your child and the planet.
One simple way to do this is to take a peek at what your child already owns. Does she really need an extra pair of red shoes or another striped t-shirt? Could her older sister, who has five striped t-shirts sitting in her closet, spare one? (The answer, based on my experience with older siblings, is probably, “No!”)
Taking inventory of what you have before you start shopping will save you money and reduce unnecessary waste. It’ll also minimize the carbon footprint of your clothing. By some estimates, continuing to wear a piece of clothing for an additional nine months can reduce its environmental impacts by 20% – 30%.
If there’s a need to look outside your home for new school clothes, consider purchasing pre-loved or second-hand clothing. Gone are the days when second-hand meant enduring musty thrift shops with frayed, dowdy clothing. There are tons of trendy thrift, vintage, and second-hand stores to choose from, along with a wide choice of online resale companies.
Popular online sites that cater to children’s clothing are Kidizen, Shop Tomorrows, My Little Outfit, and Everlasting Wardrobe.
For high-end clothing, visit Retykle, a luxury resale enabling parents to buy designer children’s clothing at a fraction of their retail price.
Don’t forget to check what’s offered on social media platforms, including Facebook sale groups.
For older children and teens, visit the established preloved clothing sites for adults. See Green That Life’s guide to online pre-loved sites.
There are even sites to acquire second-hand school uniforms, such as Schooly.
More choices for shoppers are to come in the future. The second-hand clothing industry is booming, projected to reach $64 billion in the next few years. This is good for consumers and the planet — though, of course, the most environmentally friendly option is to buy less.
Buying New? Be an Informed Shopper
If you’re buying new school clothes, buy items that are made of good quality materials from sustainably responsible brands. Just because a clothing brand makes claims that it’s eco-friendly, doesn’t make it so. All too often, these claims are not justified and simply greenwashing ploys to boost sales.
One way to confirm a company’s sustainability credentials is to check whether it is accredited by one or more reputable accreditation agencies. You can also visit these agencies’ sites and search their databases of accredited brands.
Some of the most trusted certification agencies are listed below. In addition, see Green That Life’s Greenwashing Guide that includes a full list of reputable agencies and additional resources.
- B Corp
- Carbon Trust Standard
- Fair Trade Certified Seal
- Better Cotton Initiative
- Global Organic Textile Standard
Choose Good Quality Clothing
Whether you’re buying new or second-hand, look for good quality clothing that’s made from durable materials. These clothes may cost more, but they’ll last longer than cheaply made alternatives.
Also, add some timeless pieces to your child’s school clothes shopping list. Investing in a few, well-made clothing items that withstand fleeting trends will ultimately pay off. These pieces can become part of your child’s adult wardrobe, be handed down to a sibling, or resold at a higher price than trendy, flimsily made clothes. The winter coat I wore as a child was a classic wool piece that my mother had worn when she was young. Now that’s a good investment!
Care for and Repair School Clothes
One simple way to save money on school clothes is to take care of them! With the proper care, clothing will last for years: Wash only when needed, use the cold cycle as much as possible, and use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Is your child’s shirt ripped or torn? Don’t toss it! Repair it — either do it yourself or bring it to a tailor. Another option is to find a Repair Cafe in your area. These meetings bring people together with experts who teach attendees how to fix a variety of household items.
Dispose of Unwanted Clothing Responsibly
Now that your child’s back-to-school wardrobe is set, gather up all the unwanted clothing and dispose of it responsibly. Gently used clothes in good condition can be donated, swapped or sold.
For children’s clothes that are past their prime, don’t chuck them in the trash! Unwanted, soiled and damaged items can be repurposed by upcycling, recycling, or even composting them.