Tips for Buying More Sustainable Children’s Clothing

Submitted by ctate on

After the launch of our Toxic Textiles campaign, you may be wondering how I can make sure children in my family or social network are not being exposed to harmful chemicals? Unfortunately, this is a difficult task.

For example, in our recent Toxic Textile’s report, we found that Carter’s had some of the worst environmental and social practices out of all the US apparel companies examined, while also dominating the children’s clothing market. Most importantly, Carter’s lacks public policies to prohibit toxic chemicals in its factories and in the clothing it sells. As a customer, you don’t know what toxins are in your clothes. And, Carter’s owns other brands as well like: OshKosh B’gosh, Skip Hop, Simple Joys (sold exclusively on Amazon), Just One You (sold in Target), Genuine Kids (sold in Target), Child of Mine (sold in Walmart), and Precious Firsts (sold in Target). Carter’s is a leading children’s clothing brand and boasts of selling “more than 10 products for every child born in the US.”  

And, it’s not like there are great mainstream alternatives to Carter’s. Our report found that there is little transparency in the US apparel industry about what chemicals are being used; what the effects of those chemicals are on consumers, workers and communities; and what steps (if any) corporations are taking to ensure chemicals in their supply chains are handled appropriately.

With such little information being shared with consumers, it can feel overwhelming to find clothes that don’t expose children to chemicals that may have lasting, negative health implications. But, there are things you can do!

Attend or organize a clothing swap

Clothing swaps are a great way to bring communities and friends together. This is a particularly good option for children’s clothing! Kids are constantly growing out of clothing and establishing a network to exchange clothes, rather than buying new, is a great alternative for the planet, workers, and your children. Used clothing that has been washed several times is a good way to avoid contact with residual chemicals that can be found on new clothing.

Here are some tips to organize your own clothing swap.

Bonus: clothing swaps are also a great, sustainable way for adults to get ‘new’ clothing, without the added harm of buying brand new clothes.

Shop secondhand

When you shop secondhand, not only are you potentially saving money on new (to you!) clothes, secondhand clothes help keep clothes out of landfills longer and, again, are a good way to avoid contact with residual chemicals that can be found on new clothing. The apparel industry is a HUGE polluter – clothing manufacturing accounts for 20% of industrial water pollution! Buying second hand lowers the demand for new clothing and if enough people opt for used clothing, together we can start to lessen the negative impacts of the apparel industry.

Thred Up, Poshmark, and The Real Real all sell secondhand children’s clothing.

You can also check out this resource to see thrift stores near you!

Bonus: You can also sell your old clothing on these sites so someone else can get more use out of them, rather than having to buy new!

Buying new? Look for this

Sometimes, you just don’t have time to comb through the secondhand market to find what you need. Sometimes, there are things you would just prefer to buy new. We get it! If you can, try to shop at a green businesses.

Green America’s Green Business Network is a great place to start. By supporting green businesses, you are voting with your dollar for practices that are more sustainable, and showing conventional businesses that consumers care about how their clothes were made. Green Business Network members Maple Grace, daisyeye, Cat & Dogma, Hae Now, and Faerie’s Dance all have great options.

Sustainability certifications can also be a helpful guide to learn more about how your clothes were made.  Bluesign, Oeko-tex 100, and GOTS are all good certifications to look for on clothing to ensure that harmful chemicals aren’t present. There is also fair trade certified clothing, which helps to improve the working conditions either at the factory level (Fair Trade USA) or all their way down the supply chain to the cotton (Fairtrade America).

You can find Fairtrade America brands here.


You can find Fair Trade USA brands here.

Remember: Research the big-name brands

Sometimes you’ll just need to buy something at the mall. Our scorecard can be a helpful resource to see what major apparel companies are doing and what questions you should be asking those companies not on covered by the scorecard.

Additionally, take a look at what sustainability initiatives that your favorite children’s brands have. But beware, companies are smooth talkers – look for clear, quantified impacts and metrics; often brands have one sustainable line of products rather than improving their entire supply chains – and know this is not enough; and compare policies with leaders in the field.


This holiday season, we encourage you to reexamine what gifts you are giving and consider if it needs to be new or if it can be new to the recipient. At Green America, we will be looking to give gifts that have a positive impact on our planet and the people – and we invite you to join us in that effort! If enough of us change our spending habits, we can reform not just the apparel industry, but how all businesses operate.

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