Why are ethical kids clothes so expensive?

Why are most kids clothes that you buy so costly and especially ethical kids clothes?

Well a lot of it is to do with the way they are made. Lets start with standard kids clothing. There are A LOT of stages in the long journey from a cotton seed to garment (most kids clothing is made of cotton or cotton mix) and for every step in that journey there is a cost. Here is a pictogram neatly summarizing all the steps in how cotton clothing gets made. Needless to say it is long, with lots of people involved and lots of processing. It is kind of interesting in a ‘how stuff works’ way.

Anyway, what exactly are all these costs and at what points in the chain do they apply? The following infographic sums up the costs nicely….


 non ethical kids clothes are costly is many ways

costly huh?

So, at every step there are some serious costs in production. Costs borne mainly by women, by children and by the environment.

So I know you get that I am being ironic to make a point, and that I am kind of beating you over the head with my lack of subtlety. I cannot disagree. But for all my lack of subtlety the point is, I think, an important one. We often talk about the cost of kids clothes (standard AND ethical kids clothes), only in relation to our immediate cash flow, what is in our bank account at the time we are needing to re-dress whatever particular child has worn a hole, grown 2cm, or beaten a piece of clothing into submission.

There are two things I like to consider when I think and talk this way (which I admit I do – no stones being chucked around in glass houses here people!). One big thing and one small thing. The first is the small thing – my corporate conspiracy theory (tinfoil hats anyone?). I ask myself am I being hoodwinked into spending more than what we need to overall just to get the clothing items that are actually usable and functional because the clothing industry likes it that way. As a consequence of course we complain about the cost because we see no real ‘value’ in clothes made within such a system.  And the big thing? Well that is about the real expense to all of us being the way that clothes are currently made. The current system takes advantage of us all and is costly to us all, we need a system (or systems – why stop at just one way to skin a cat?) where clothes cost us ALL less in a ‘life, the universe and everything’ kind of way. Where making and buying ethical kids clothes (in the broadest meaning of being good to people good to the environment) is entrenched in the system and is seen to offer great value.

So what do clothes that cost us all less look like, what are ethical kids clothes? Well they have a ‘shared value’.  Here is another infographic of how muka kids clothes are made (love these things!) and you can see how the value is shared.

ethical kids clothes. not so costly really

Oh that is a bit more comfortable

So, if we think differently (the buyers of clothes), if we change up the system, innovate and develop a new model (the makers of clothes), if the clothes have a life beyond our own kids, we will perhaps start to see the real value in kids clothes that are made good, and the concept of ‘affordable’ will shift.

So how do we think & act differently as consumers?

As I said above, one way is to think less about cost per garment  and more about overall cost of  kids clothing over a year, or even two. Look at the sheer volume of clothes you have and consider how many of those get worn and are useful (here is my own photo blog of my kids and all their clothes! I am not immune!). Most clothes we buy are not well designed to last, so look for design features that extend the life of a garment, and then there are lots of things we can do once we own a garment to get more life (ie. more value) from it. So spending more per item may go up, but spending overall may stay the same, especially when those clothes last more than one child.

BUT It  is not all a parent’s/consumer’s responsibility though to fix what is broken

The expectation should not be all on us (the parents, the consumers) to change our thinking and shopping behaviour, and save the world without support and incentives (as I have noted in earlier posts, this the way to madness be when trying to obtain ethical children’s clothes).

Change needs to come from within the system itself. How do we innovate and change the system? Fairtrade and organic cotton production is one way, pimp that a bit and you get muka kids unique plan. There will be other plans too.

To paraphrase Rochelle Harrison (chocolate guru and Wellington Chocolate Factory owner)

Making & buying ethically & sustainability isn’t a product or a brand, it’s a story about who we are and what the future holds

Don’t give up. Support Innovation where you see it.

So in sum, all ways that you look at it at the moment, kids clothes come with a heavy price. Being part of a positive solution to change that story – now that is all power to the little people.


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