What Makes a Difference in Choosing Children’s Clothing?

Thrift store clothing

Those of us trying to green our families and homes often, understandably, start in the kitchen. As our awareness of issues spreads, we start to see more changes we can make to create and model sustainability for our families. Questions that we’ve heard from a few customers are:

  • What makes a difference in choosing children’s clothing?
  • What makes one choice more environmentally or socially sustainable than another?

I have gathered a few of the issues that I consider when I clothe my children.

Some choices are good for us personally, while other choices are good for us collectively. Sometimes, you need to choose between them.


Organic Children’s Clothing: Good for the Planet (mostly)

If all other things were equal, and I had a choice between organic and non-organic for my children, of course I would choose organic. Organic isn’t necessarily healthier for the child, since pesticide residue isn’t an issue like it is with food. Most natural fibers have been so processed by the time they are made into clothing that there is no trace of field-use residue left. To the extent that toxic chemicals used in processing may still be present, though, organic clothing would be better for your child.

Organic is (mostly) better for the field, but conventional fibers aren’t necessarily going to have a direct effect on your child’s health. Indirectly and in the big picture for us all, real organic is better.

Why do I say mostly? Because I’ve seen the erosion of organic standards with corporate organic. I think we are back to a situation before national organic standards when we need to look at each source separately, when the certification isn’t the only story to tell. Not everything allowed under organic certification fits the hardcore view of what organic should mean. I prefer to avoid synthetic materials, sludge, and GMOs. Sometimes there are small producers who don’t have certification even though they use no synthetic additives in growing or processing their fibers. Personally, I would (and do) go with the small producers over the corporate organic producers. I’m torn. I care about organic, but I think my skepticism helps me make better overall choices rather than relying too heavily on someone else’s twisted view of sustainability.

That’s just one example of how one’s own values need to shape choices about what constitutes true sustainability. Yours will vary from mine, of course.


Natural Fiber Clothing: Good for Your Child’s Health

Natural fibers breathe and absorb. Technical fibers created to replicate those functions have serious negative effects through the production process. Technical fibers are certainly better for the bottom line of the companies that develop them, but are they better for your child? Looking at the big picture of the industrial infrastructure needed to create them versus that needed to produce the simple functionality of natural (especially real organic) fibers, no. They aren’t better. Yes, there is debate, but I will win this one!

Cotton absorbs and breathes in diapers, in underwear, in T-shirts, in pajamas, and in other clothing. Sweaty children cool off better in cotton than in petrochemical fibers that trap moisture against the skin. Wool absorbs, breathes, and insulates. Natural fibers work! There is no need to waste our global resources attempting to duplicate natural fibers with petrochemicals.


Pajamas: An Important Choice for Your Child’s Health and Safety

Speaking of pajamas, this is one item of children’s clothing that I was particularly careful about when my kids were babies. There is a line in one of my favorite books, Snow Crash, that says children’s pajamas can be fireproof or non-carcinogenic, but not both. I found wool sleep suits for my children, but I couldn’t get cotton sleep suits in the U.S. that weren’t chemically treated. In the end, I bought all of my children’s 100% untreated cotton pajamas in the UK, where they didn’t have such an obsession about flammable pajamas.

Babies spend at least half of their time in pajamas. They pee on them. They sweat on them. They suck on them. Pajamas do heavy duty. If you choose pajamas that wick moisture away from a sleeping body, you are helping to improve sleep. If you choose pajamas that hold moisture in like a sealed plastic bag, you will deal with more broken sleep. Whether you choose treated fabrics or not seems like one of those personal choices, but do consider what kind of fibers you want to put next to your child for such a long period of time.


Toxic Dyes: Important for Your Child’s Health

Not all dyes react with the fibers to change molecular structure. Some dyes sit on the surface of the fibers. Chemical dyes and fixatives can remain trapped in fibers. If toxic chemicals are released in moist situations, when our pores are most open, we can absorb those toxins, and they can bioaccumulate.

I love bright, bold colors. I also think hard about what kind of dyes are used before I choose clothing. As always, it’s about balancing your priorities.


Fair Labor: An Essential Ingredient in Real Sustainability

Clothing costs so much that it is easy to default to the cheapest store and the cheapest item on the rack. Have you ever wondered who makes that super cheap clothing? How old they are? Even for domestically produced clothing, there are often shortcuts taken that make lives miserable for workers in apparel manufacturing. Fair wages for workers is an issue of global sustainability as much as organic agriculture. Don’t overlook who made the clothing you buy for your children and how well that work allows them to take care of their own children—if they aren’t children themselves.


Cost of Children’s Clothing

Most of us don’t have a lot of cash to throw around these days. Cost makes a big difference for our families. It is important to be willing to pay for quality, for organic, and for fair labor. When the costs of sustainability are internalized in the clothing, it seems very expensive. We still pay those costs when we buy cheap clothing, but we don’t see those payments nearly so directly.

But, willingness to pay the real costs of sustainability is only an issue if there is money at all. Sometimes brand new, quality children’s clothing is out of reach. Fortunately, there are other options.


Lifespan of Children’s Clothing Matters

Our first steps toward sustainability should be to reduce and reuse. Every child does not need a wardrobe full of new, expensive clothing, and clothing doesn’t have to last just the 6 months or a year that a child fits it. When we choose clothing that lasts, we share the costs of quality.

If you have a close group of friends, you can expand your child’s wardrobe far beyond what they ever even have time to wear. So many of my children’s clothes are in circulation among a group of my friends, that I often see at random times on different babies the clothes I made or bought long ago. I love that community clothing. Friends just keep boxing up the out-grown clothes and passing them along. That works if you have a close group of friends whose children are staggered in age.

Even if you don’t have a tribe to share community clothing, a consignment store or thrift store can help you put together an inexpensive wardrobe. If you keep feeding outgrown clothes back into a consignment store, that helps fund the next size.


Whether your greatest concern is cost, health, environmental sustainability, social sustainability, or other issues
, taking a clear view of your own priorities will help you decide what difference you can make when choosing clothing for your children.

Image © Peter Kim | Dreamstime.com

Stainless Steel Dishes for Children

Stainless Steel Dishes for Children

In our quest for the safest products for children, we’ve worked hard to avoid plastic, melamine, and other products that can leach dangerous chemicals or dangerous levels of naturally-occurring substances. One material that we really like for children’s mealtimes and lunch boxes is stainless steel.

High-grade stainless steel is considered food-grade or medical-grade. All of the stainless steel dishes and utensils at bynature.ca are made from high-grade stainless steel.


Stable Materials

One problem with plastics in direct contact with our food and our skin is its potential instability. Plastics can leach chemicals into food and into our bodies. Plastics are made with a huge variety of additives to mimic rubber, glass, and other stable materials. But, these additives are not all stable, especially when heated.

So, we look for stable materials for serving and storing food. Stainless steel is one of those stable materials.


Should I Be Cautious?

Stainless steel dishes and cookware can add iron and chromium to your food. Since our bodies need these, this isn’t a problem. Dishes don’t give off toxic amounts even if used every day for every meal.

They might also give off nickel, which isn’t toxic for most of us, but can be a problem for the approximately 10% of the population who are sensitive to nickel. If you or your child are sensitive to nickel, just don’t use stainless steel for cooking or eating.


How Long Will Stainless Steel Dishes Last?

Though stainless steel will last for a long time, it will show wear. You will probably see scratches from utensils, for example. These micro-scratches aren’t particularly unsightly. When you finally decide you are done with stainless steel dishes (maybe a generation from now!), they are 100% recyclable.

Baby Steps to Waste-free School Lunch Products

Child with Dabbawalla Monkey Lunch Bag

Every year we circle back around to reducing waste as our children go back to school. Waste from school lunch is visible and preventable, so we keep coming back to improve and come closer to that ideal of waste-free school lunch.

This year, look at your child’s school lunch bag to ask if anything is being thrown away. If it is, what reusable alternative can you find?

Take one step. You don’t need to look for perfection. Just look for this year’s baby step.


The Lunch Bag or Box

A single-use paper or plastic bag guarantees that your child will have a 100% NON-reusable school lunch. If you haven’t decided on a reusable lunch bag or box yet, start there.

Which lunch bag or box to choose depends on a child’s age. We have some adorable lunch bags that might be too cute for cautious older children, but we also have a variety of plain containers that won’t give anything away.

Dabbawalla Lunch Bags
Dabbawalla Lunch Bag Inside

Younger children will love Dabbawalla Lunch Bags because of the cute and bright designs, such as animal faces. These bags are insulated to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Best of all, they are fully machine washable. You will still need to pack the food in containers inside the bag, though.

Goodbyn Lunch Boxes
Goodbyn Lunch Box with food

With Goodbyn Lunch Boxes, the lunch box is also the food container. There is no need to have separate small container to include just enough of each food—and you won’t find yourself asking, “Where is your sandwich bag?” or “What happened to the glass container with the apples?” Your child won’t accidentally throw away your new, reusable containers. This lunch box simplifies lunch.

GreenSmart Lunch Bags
Green Smart Sifaka lunch bag

For an older child, the GreenSmart lunch bag is plain enough, but still stylish and easy to carry. The neoprene (or neogreene) material is insulating and machine washable. Just zip food containers into the two separate compartments.


The Food Containers

If you already have the lunch bag or box, work on food containers as your next step. Zippered sandwich bags are very easy to use.

An important step to reducing lunch waste is reducing portion size. Only include just enough fruit or crackers. Having small containers, each with a surprise snack can make lunch fun for kids. I like the Kinderville Little Bites Jars for small (3.5oz) portions.


The Lunch Accessories

Once you have the reusable food containers taken care of, make sure that utensils and napkins are reusable as well. At lot of lunches are just finger foods that don’t require utensils, but this can change as our children get older. We have stainless steel children’s cutlery and bamboo utensils (including chopsticks) in their own travel pack. We also have children’s napkins, but you might be just as happy including utensils and napkins from your family set—or from a secondary family set. Make sure to sit down and discuss what needs to come back in the lunch box, though, so your family set doesn’t shrink over time.

This year, just evaluate your child’s lunch and decide one step you can take to reduce waste.

How Does Waste-free Lunch Add Up?

Young girl eating from a luch box

Back to school again, and many parents are considering what to do about lunch. If you need a reason to make this the year that you switch to reusable lunch boxes, reduction of solid waste should be reason enough.


Reduce Solid Waste from School Lunch

If every elementary age child in Canada were to use reusable lunch boxes, we could prevent 185.6 million pounds* of waste. That’s about 67lbs per child per school year, which is about the weight of the average child in grade 3. If it’s difficult to wrap your mind around what 92,795 tons means, think of it as 7,000-24,000 African elephants, depending on their size. It’s a lot of waste, and it goes into landfill unnecessarily.

That waste includes both packaging waste and food waste.

  • To reduce packaging waste, don’t buy prepared foods. Prepare your own foods in reusable containers. Provide reusable napkins and utensils.
  • To reduce food waste, pack smaller portions of foods your child likes, and vary the food so it doesn’t get boring.

There is another very important change that schools can make to reduce food waste. Put recess before lunch. School plate waste studies show a dramatic reduction in food and drink waste when children play before they eat.

*185,590,000 = 67lbs per child per year x 2.77 million elementary age children in Canada.

Image © Anke Van Wyk | Dreamstime.com

Non-toxic Laundry Products

Soap nuts

As part of our Safe Family Promise, we set high standards for Non-toxic products, including non-toxic laundry products. We seek out the safest products to get the job done well and naturally.

To get your clothes and cloth diapers clean as naturally as possible, the most important factor to control is the detergent or soap that you use. We offer some of our favorite laundry detergents and other laundry aids.


Powdered Laundry Detergent

Rockin’ Green
Rockin Green non-toxic laundry detergent

Smart, smart, smart. The best way to clean depends on the chemistry of each cleaning situation, and that includes your water. The hardness or softness of your water, the mineral content, can make a big difference in how clean your laundry gets. Rockin’ Green Cloth Diaper Detergent comes in Soft Rock, Classic Rock, and Hard Rock formulated to match your water.

Nellie’s All-natural Laundry Soda
Nellies Natural Laundry Soad
Nellie’s is a very simple powdered cleaner. The only ingredients are Sodium Silicate and Coconut oil based surfactants. To whiten and brighten your clothes, you can also add Nellie’s All-natural Oxygen Brightener.


Liquid Laundry Detergent

Allen’s Naturally Detergent
Allen's Naturally Laundry Detergent
Over 30 years ago, Allen’s Naturally Detergent was developed for people with multiple chemical sensitivities. They avoided scents and common allergy-inducing ingredients and stuck with the basics. This detergent is very popular for washing cloth diapers.


Soap Berries

Soap Nuts
Bag of Soap Nuts
Liquid laundry soap derived from soap berries or soap nuts, the fruit of the rittha or soapberry tree. They grow in India and Nepal. The sun-dried shell of the fruit has a waxy coating, saponin, that acts as a surfactant, freeing dirt and oils from clothing naturally.

Berry Plus
Soap Berry laundry liquid
Berry Plus extracts and concentrates the saponin from soap berries and mixes it with water for a natural liquid laundry soap.


Natural Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners are one of the most toxic inputs in conventional laundry. If you want soft clothes, you don’t need to coat the fibers with chemicals. Softening doesn’t have to be a chemical process at all. Softness is a physical attribute, and you can use physical means to soften your laundry.

Nellie’s Dryer Balls
Nellies PVC-free dryer balls
Nellie’s Dryer Balls roll around in your dryer poking, agitating, and softening clothes as they dry. If you like to add a scent to your laundry, Nellie’s Fragrance Sticks fit right inside the Dryer Balls.

Wool Dryer Balls
Wool Dryer Balls Canada
An all-natural solution for softening your clothes and cloth diapers as they dry are wool dryer balls. Do you ever add a towel to your dryer? Add these instead. They can reduce drying time up to 40%, and you can add essential oils if you want scented laudry.

Do you have favorite non-toxic laundry products? Let us know. We are always looking for new products that you love.