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Organic Kids Clothes: What exactly ARE they?

confused about what organic clothing actually is?

‘Organic’ is a pretty over abused & confusing term. To clarify what it means when you see ‘organic kids clothes”, and cotton clothing specifically, here is the quick & dirty low down (with the long and clean bit at the end for those that like details).

(I did a post some time back explaining what certified fairtrade cotton means –  have a look at that too to get the full picture of environmental & ethical standards in relation to kids clothing).

To start with lets deal with the generic term ‘organic’ and what that means.

Well as Inigo Montoya says You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”…….

Essentially, if you see the term ‘organic’ on a garment with no certification mark, it means nothing at all (or conversely just about anything you might imagine). That is because there is no independently audited or agreed standard associated with the generic term ‘organic’, so don’t be hoodwinked into wasting your cash and good intentions on such products unless you are completely satisfied with what you are getting.

So moving on to ‘certified organic’ and what that means for clothing. The clothing production chain is a long one (here is a quick infographic on how it works). For cotton to be certified as organic there is a standard to be met at every point in that chain. Here is the quick overview of what that means…

 

the organic cotton production chain.

the organic cotton production chain.

 

So if you are satisfied at this point there is no more to see folks and feel free to click away. If you want more detail or have unanswered questions do read on….

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Sixteen Easy Steps to Insanity By ‘A Parent’

Buying the good way is sometimes the hard way

Let me introduce you to my own private hell – buying ethical clothes for my kids. It goes like this.I look one day at one of my children’s outfits. I notice that suddenly the ankles are nearer the knees, the cuffs nearer to elbows, there is a hole in the bum of the pants, and the child is walking like a small monkey because the top is so tight across the back. Cue hysteria. I will need to get new clothes. And the 16 easy steps to my insanity go like this…

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Top 18 Organic & Ethical Mens Clothing Brands

Men Care. Really.

Men Care. Really.

Being married to a bloke (partner in crime – mainly ones that embarrass the kids), having a brother (Uncle extraordinaire), a brother in law (supreme wrangler of twins ) and oh you know I talk to some man folk occasionally about thoughts and feelings and stuff too … I  get that they also care about ethics and the environment (shock horror) and give a rats about who make their clothes (Gasp). But weirdly often men go unconsidered when discussing sustainability, ethics and clothing. So I thought it was about time they felt the love and got their own guide on the top organic and ethical mens clothing brands.

I will admit that it is a little bit painful in our house when the man (yep he is the only one – given the cat is neutered) requires new underwear and t-shirts. Organic mens clothing is a stretch and ethical menswear is just a total faff to find. There is a lot of internet window shopping, deep sighs (from him), and hissed intakes of breath (me). Eventually I hop on line buy something on behalf and don’t you know it the undies go up your bum (or whatever the male equivalent to that is). Unsatisfactory to say the least.

So let not my pain be your pain and if you have a bloke or indeed are a bloke and you are looking for ethical mens clothing options let my (and my beloveds) research guide you  (and yes your ethical menswear and organic clothing will be able to be traded on our muka market place for preloved (and some new) ethical and organic clothing).

Note that the brands here are not ALL certified fair trade or organic menswear (there is just not all that many options out there at the gold standard) but all are in some way  making inroads to a more ethical mens fashion industry and indeed more sustainable clothing industry.*

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New Designs for Our Crowdfunding Stretch Goal

If you have not seen muka kids crowdfunding project by now do go check it out on spark my potential, simply to see how overwhelmingly positive people are about a business that has big goals to do things a DIFFERENT and better way for people & planet.

Our original target was to raise $5000 to document the ‘good’ journey of muka kids clothes and make our samples. We reached this goal in 24 hours of launching and are now at 170%!

Amazing.

So we have put in place a ‘stretch goal’.  A stretch goal is a reward we can give if we reach a level ABOVE our original target. Which is a pretty cool place to be for a small start-up.

So we set a stretch goal of $10,000 by the end of the project (September 7th) and if we reach that target then we can add two more of our lovely fair trade organic cotton kids designs to our sampling line up.  Regooders (our crowdfunding cheerleaders & backers) get to choose these designs at the close of the project. So without further ado here are the four designs (well actually 6 if you count the colour options!)  that Regooders will get to select from.

Do let us know what you think.

And if you are not yet a Regooder, but you want to have a vote, even a $5 pledge will get you in on the game!

Fossicking Trousers

140826 long sleeved top

rockpooling top

140826 Singlet dress

sundae singlet dress for all seasons!

140826 Cardigan

collecting cardy

Is organic clothing better for babies and kids? What the science says.

140826 is organic cotton better pinterest

I must to admit to feeling a sense of total panic before the birth of our first child when I could not find organic cot sheets that did not cost the earth. I was going to be responsible for some terrible calamity that might befall her in her sleep! (I admit pregnancy may have meant I had totally lost all sense of proportion).

In the end we made a set  from some organic jersey cotton I found, we still have them and currently use them for number 2. As time passed I did find myself considering what the evidence was for organic fabrics being better for kids or indeed non organic being harmful. So of course I was unable to help myself; I did some research.

 

cotton workers get a raw deal

 

Turns out there is a lot of very robust science to back up the negative health impacts of conventional cotton farming on farm workers, their children, cotton processing workers, garment makers and on the environment. From pesticide poisoning, inhalation during processing, through to large scale river pollution. The types of chemical involved include heavy metals like lead & nickle, cancer causing Azo dyes,  formaldehyde and phthalates. There is a good summary of this evidence here.

 

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The 3am Question. Can I Make Sustainable Business Happen?

One of things I continue to struggle with is this idea of how to best ‘fix’ the problems as I see them.

So here is the problem for me – a totally unsustainable system of production (notably in clothing), where both the environment and people are exploited for the purposes of business development, economic gain and so-called ‘individual consumer choice’.

It all sounds pretty radical when I put it like that, but basically for me it is about business and systems and politicians acting like dicks.

So, muka kids is my small (currently one woman, but I am always looking for others!) approach to addressing the problem. Make organic fair trade kids clothes, make them well, take them back & reward people for returning them (thereby both incentivizing supporting ‘good production’ and keeping clothing in use longer so reducing their footprint), use the resale of those second hand clothes to support women in poverty through microloans (therefore addressing one of the fundamental problems that allows business to exploit women garment workers – lack of choice).

is the solution to this?

is the solution to this…….

140708 Jess.svg

me?

 

BUT, here is the rub, the question that gets me at 3am in the dark. If the problem is a systems level one is the solution going to be an individual level one? The answer to this is probably a bit of yes & no.

Having spent most of my career in public health, I am trained to focus first on the high level solutions to problems. With helping to address the ‘obesity epidemic for example’ I think first about changing the physical environment, increasing public transport availability, reducing junk food outlets etc, as these are the things that the research tells us has much greater chance at success than expecting a whole lot of individuals to overcome massive personal barrier to behaviour change and eat differently.

So when it comes to sustainability and ethics in clothing, is expecting individuals to change their behaviour before any of the systems have changed the most effective approach? What I mean is, does creating a kids clothing business that does the ‘right thing’ have the impact required to change a system, through providing a single option for consumers to make the ‘good’ choice when buying kids clothes?

Well what population health approaches also note is that grass-root movements can have a lot of impact when combined with those larger systems changes. A noisy and engaged group of individuals can have an impact. A good public health example is when communities come together to fight the licensing of more alcohol outlets within their local area to reduce the harm from alcohol.

Also a small and successful project can have wider reaching implications for change. They can serve as an example of leadership and provide a talking point in the space where change is required. For me, Kowtow provided that model by showing that fairtrade organic clothes that were focussed on design could work. But it takes hard work and a lot of engagement, and it can depend on hard to replicate factors like personality, drive and just plain ‘good luck’.

So back to me at 3am. Well really being an analytical kind of person I don’t think the answer will ever be clear. All any of us as individuals can do is put our personal resources (be it skills, energy, passion) into where it seems to make sense at the time. The idea that the ‘right thing’ will be evident to you (or me!) is probably about as true as the idea that there is a single effective way to address the problems rife in the production of many items we buy and consume. The best we can do is try it out (accept the risks inherent in that) measure our impact, take stock and assess whether we are achieving what we set out to do, and then be flexible. Being flexible is a much more accurate term than failing I think. Flexibility tells us that a level of analysis has been applied to something we tried and we assessed a better way to achieve our goals.

So, is muka kids the solution? Well it may well be one solution for me and for you hopefully. There are others too (which I will talk about in another post). In the meantime I will turn off the light and hope that within 10 minutes of going back to sleep the children DO NOT attempt a swat team mission to get into our bed.

The Production of Cotton Clothing (A Lot of Ethical & Environmental Craziness): Part 2 of 3

Last week I posted an infographic outlining the basic process of cotton clothing production (Where Does your Cotton Tee Come From?). Understanding where our goods come from is interesting stuff just from a ‘how cool is that?” perspective, anyone seen how online supermarket stores operate? What understanding the production chain also does is lift the veil on HOW the stuff we buy is made, and so helps us decide how comfortable we are with what those processes mean for people and the environment.

So, further to the basics of the cotton clothes production process I want to draw attention to where things seem to have gone pretty pear shaped. I want to show (using additions to the original infographic) where in the process costs are cut and how. These are cuts that enable us to buy seriously cheap clothes (and lets face it some not so cheap because even high end fashion producers use the same process), and ensure some large textile & fashion businesses bring in handsome profits.

I have worked to verify all claims with valid evidence & reports , and for the interested reader there is a pretty extensive reference list (yeah yeah do an eye roll, I am a geek). If anyone sees any gaping holes, or has some evidence they think is more substantial or valid do swing it my way!

PS. I will follow this blog up with a final instalment on tangible solutions. So all is not lost, despair not people…..

 

Infographic: Environmental & Ethical Craziness in Cotton Clothing Production

Infographic: Environmental & Ethical Craziness in Cotton Clothing Production

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Where Does your Cotton Tee Come From? Part 1 of 3

Cotton clothing production is complex. Cotton clothing production involves many people. Cotton clothing production is resource intensive. There is room for improvement. Significant room.

In an earlier blog I discussed what buying certified fair trade cotton clothing actually means. In that blog I skipped over the complexities of the cotton production process for the purposes of brevity. Now I want to lay out exactly what the supply chain for cotton clothing in India (where muka kids clothes will be made) looks like. The purpose being to help highlight the complexity of the process, the huge numbers of workers involved and to lay the ground work for talking about where exactly in that chain ethical and environmental issues crop up and how they can best be countered. Right, no further words, just a picture (all be it with lots of words!).

 

Infographic. Cotton Production in India.

Infographic. Cotton Production in India.

What does ‘certified fairtrade’ mean when it comes to clothes?

It is a long supply chain, but we have it covered.

It is a long supply chain, but we have it covered.

While I have always been what you would call a ‘fairtrade motivated’ consumer, and I was pretty clear on what buying fairtrade certified food products like coffee, chocolate, bananas, sugar meant.  However, the picture was a little less clear when it came to clothing, and actually I hardly even considered it as an issue really.

When I started on the muka kids path I knew that fairtrade certification would be more complicated for clothing than the for the direct commodity products where the route from farmer to consumer is short. However, sorting out in my own mind what certified fairtrade clothing actually meant did require doing quite a bit of digging. I thought it would be useful to share what I found.

Figure 1 (I can’t help myself, it is the researcher in me coming out!) is a simplified but pretty accurate idea of the chain from the food commodity farmer to you (e.g. coffee, banana etc).

Fugure 1. Farmer to consumer chain for simple foods

Figure 1. Farmer to consumer chain for simple foods

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