Increasing the lifespan of clothes has a whole HEAP of benefits. At muka kids we know keeping kids clothes in longer use will help save the planet and is (of course) better for family budgets. Improving the sustainability of clothing is part of the reason why we have a marketplace to buy and sell previously loved organic and ethical kids clothing. In this, the first of a two part feature on making kids clothes last, I want to focus on the ten design features that make kids clothes last longer. The second feature covers 10 ways that you can care for kids clothes that will help them last longer (based on science- I love science!)
The carbon, water and waste footprint of clothes is surprisingly large (the average family’s annual clothes requirements produce carbon the equivalent of driving 10,000 km, uses 889 baths worth of water and creates the waste equivalent to throwing out 80 pairs or so of jeans). So, it is a resource intensive process making new clothes, using them (and then not using them). The longer we can make clothes last and the greater number of kids that wear an item, the less environmental damage that particular piece of clothing is responsible for (and all the better for budgets too).
What are the Ten Design Features That Help Clothes Last Longer?
1. Durable Fabrics
There are clearly some types of fabric that are more durable than others, denim & corduroy for example was woven to be a very sturdy cloth that would survive hard use.
Today however the weights and weave of a fabric will probably tell you more about its ability to last than the simple type. Generally speaking heavier thicker more tightly woven fabrics, whether they be denim or a knitted cotton (what many kids clothes are made of) will have a longer life. If you cannot feel the fabric in person, a retailer should be able to give you a sensible answer about the weight of a fabric and density.
Mixed fabrics tend to pill easily and not feel so great after a bit of wear. Polyester for example can get a bit prickly.
For kids clothing, fabrics with a component of ‘elastic’, for example lycra, can be beneficial for retaining shape and longevity of clothes. Wool is naturally elastic and if treated with care will retain its ‘bounce’.
2. Thoughtful Use of Fabric by a Designers
Is it clear whether the maker or designer of the clothes has thought about the durability of the fabric in relation to the purpose of the piece of clothing? Have they tested it in production, or with wearers? Can they answer your questions about this in a way that makes sense and seems authentic?
3. Consider Organic Fabrics
Does buying a certified organic cotton or wool fabric mean a better, high quality longer lasting fabric?
Quick answer yes. Studies have shown that organically grown cotton for example has longer and stronger fibres than conventionally grown cotton, and that generally the yarns made from organic cotton are better quality.
In addition, after picking cotton is put through a number of treatments to process it. Non organic cotton is chemically cleaned, treated and dyed. Many of these chemical treatments are petroleum or acid based and have the effect of breaking down the fibres at a molecular level.
Many of the clothes we buy today, including cotton & merino have a Teflon, polymer or formaldehyde based coating to reduce creasing & shrinkage and give a smooth feel; again certain chemicals applied to a fibre can serve to weaken it.
While I have yet to find a single quality study that has done a comparative strength test on organically and conventional cotton, needless to say the fundamental science indicates that the more chemical processes a fabric like cotton or wool is put through the more the fibre is weakened.
So if it is an option for your family then certified organic clothing is likely to be better quality product and will last longer.
4. Fit as the Kids Grow
Consider if the clothes will fit for more than the next 3 months, are there cuffs on arms and legs that can be turned up and then down as kids grow, elastic waist bands that will stretch, drawstrings that will pull in, hem allowances that will allow for length and width growth?
5. Big Heads (or rather big neck openings)
Kids have big heads, is that neck on the top looking suspiciously small for the growing head that contains your child’s constantly extending neural development?
6. Go the Patches
Are weak points reinforced? Patches on knees, elbows? Crotch reinforcing?
7. Look it’s a Dress, now it is a Tunic, now a T-shirt etc etc
Multifunctional garments help you better realise the value from a garment. As an example reversible coats or pyjamas tops that are also daytime tops (this happens a lot in our house I must say and only we are the wiser!).
8. Ping…nuts that was the sound of another falling button!
One irritation with kids clothes in general that muka kids fans have talked about is buttons not being sewn on well. So look for well constructed garments. Past experience with a brand can often be a good indicator of current quality, so if you find a brand that clearly does construction well, stick to it.
9. Zips are a Pain
Getting a zip fixed is harder than sewing on a button, so zips tend not be the best choice for the longevity of a garment. Having said that a good dry cleaner or repairer can replace a zip no problem (see part 2 for more exciting tips on extending the life of kids clothes through repair!)
10. Classic Styling & Unisex Designs
Look for styles and colours that are appealing over the long term and can be worn by boys and girls, as these will see out the test of time much better, be able to be worn by more children and have a great resale value too. Consider light colours will stain easily, especially at the neck and chest (or the food target areas as I call it) and go instead of darker colours, or even better a pattern that will better disguise that nasty stain.
What do you look for when buying your kids clothes to make sure you get a longer lasting garment? Do you have any tips to share?
Jess Berentson-Shaw founded the social enterprise Muka kids’ to connect consumers, designers and garment workers across the world, and empower them to make the clothing industry a sustainable one. Muka kids has a marketplace to trade preloved organic, ethical & sustainable clothing. Through its partnerships with accredited brands it also helps make new sustainable clothing more affordable. Sales on the marketplace fund a micro finance scheme for women cotton farmers in India trying to pull themselves out of poverty.