Once more into the breeches

He’s happy with hand-me-downs, so why do some parents feel the need to buy new? (Credit: iStockphoto)

THE GROUND MIGHT BE WET. Even muddy, or dirty. But our son absolutely revels in his adventures roaming about the backyard, in his yellow, water-resistant one piece suit.

In all of his two and half years it’s been one of the few articles of clothing we’ve actually bought him that’s been brand new. Aside from the occasional pair of shoes, he has explored his new world in hand-me-downs mostly from friends and family. Onesies, booties, T-shirts, jumpers, fleece jackets, hoodies, overalls, socks, pyjamas, jeans, and now as he transitions away from nappies, even his undies are secondhand garments.

Piled up in the garage are boxes of yet more pre-loved clothes to clad him during the next few years. All donated by friends, whose growing children have shed them like a butterfly does a cocoon. It seems like our son is pretty much set for clobber, at least until his school years.

Which begs the question, why, if one child can spend four or five years wearing apparel already tough-tested by his forebears, is there such a burgeoning industry in new kid clothes? (Or for that matter adult apparel?)

In 2011, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we purchased almost $19 billion worth of clothing, of which it is calculated infant and children’s wear accounts for between 12 and 19 per cent. Let’s split the difference, and say around $2.5 billion. That’s a big bucketload money we needn’t have spent.

Our child has already passed on his baby clothes to other munchkins. And in most cases one or two rugrats had already dragged those garments around the carpet before he got his little toosh inside them. Not only have we avoided significant expense, but the re-use of these threads has helped look after the planet too.

Peer at the label of most any fresh-off-the-hanger kids garment and it’s likely country of origin is China. Not surprising, when it’s estimated that 65 per cent of the world’s apparel is now produced there. Consequently, up to 20 per cent of China’s water pollution results from textile dyeing and treatments.

Globally cotton growers use more than 10 per cent of the world’s pesticides and nearly one quarter of all insecticides. A Polish university study found that hazardous pesticides applied during cotton production can also be detected in cotton clothing (pdf). Patagonia, a progressive apparel company, has noted that it takes 2,270 litres of water just to grow, weave and dye the cotton fabric for a single shirt. Water that could otherwise provide the drinking needs of 630 people.

Every time a child wriggles into a set of hand-me-down clothes they negate these sort of environmental impacts. Indeed pre-loved apparel is even greener and more socially responsible than, say, fresh organic cotton or hemp. Concerns about pollution, waste and fair labour are effectively halved each time a different child wears a hand-me-down.

What then are the hurdles to more of us embracing a chest of drawers of pre-worn attire? The pushback is not coming from the kids. At this age they rarely fret over their appearance, or stress about orange being the season’s in-colour. They’d run around half naked if we let them.

Might it be some misguided sense of status? That we are more worthy parents if we demonstrate that we can afford to open our wallet or purse wide, to buy crisp new (resource-intensive) clothes for little Johnny or Janice, even if they only wear them for a few months or years.

If so, it’s a thought process, which itself, seems a bit old hat. Last year, one of Australia’s most revered secondhand shops celebrated 125 years in the hand-me-down business. Not that the Salvos are resting on their distinguished laurels—they’ve gone digital, with online stores.

Parents don’t have to rely only on friends, family or Op Shops for a treasure trove of ‘green’ clothes, they can haunt school fetes, pre-school and playgroup swap days. Like the Salvos, mums and dads can also make use of the the internet to either find great garments, or pass along their young’un’s togs to another generation. The web is awash with kids clothes swapping sites, like shopandswap4baby.com.au, etc, where, for little or no money, junior’s clobber can find an appreciative new wearer.

Kids grow out of stuff so rapidly, that well made garments and toys barely have a chance to wear out before they’re ready to be washed and sent into the breech once more, to accompany yet more kids during their tea party and bug catching exploits.

We’ve bequeathed our children a world of diminishing wonders and growing woes. Pre-loved clothing and toys help reduce the mess they’ll be left to clean up.

Warren McLaren is an ecodesign consultant, who writes for the international sustainability solutions blog, TreeHugger.com

Author: Warren McLaren
Source: ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Original: http://bit.ly/HfQnVJ



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