Guilt-Free, Affordable Clothing for the Kids

Mom and dad shopping for kids clothesWhen I'm walking in the mall with my mom, she'll still do a U-turn and rush back to the windows of OshKosh B'Gosh to look at the tiny overalls and striped t-shirts. Mind you, this is 20 years past the time I'd actually be able to wear any of them.

It seems mothers never really grow out of sighing over bitty bloomers and teeny tiny shoes.

Yup, shopping for children's clothing is one of the most adorable activities out there--however, there are still a few questions you need to ask yourself before bringing a ruffled romper to the register:

  • "Is it worth the price I'm paying for it, especially if my child will only be wearing it for a few months?"
  • "Does my kid really need yet another ruffled romper?" and ...
  • "How absolutely adorable will she look in this??"


But as a modern mother, there might be a couple of other things you'd like to keep in mind for the perfect wardrobe for your little one:

  • What material is it made out of? If you're feeding your child organic and healthy food and steering clear of bottles with BPA, you probably also care about buying clothing that is free from synthetic or toxic materials. Most cotton is grown with the heavy use of pesticides, and clothing often has chemical finishes and dyes, especially formaldehyde, that take several washes to get rid of. You can usually tell because clothing treated with chemicals will have a "new clothing" smell.
  • How is it made? As a mother, the issue of child labor is probably close to your heart, so you probably want to steer clear of brands that use dubious labor practices. Of big concern to parents is cotton sourced from Uzbekistan, which forces children as young as six to help harvest cotton for menial wages in government-mandated programs that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. With Uzbekistan generating a third of the world's cotton, you can probably find some somewhere in your or your child's closet. Also look out for clothing made in India, which has a large child labor problem, especially in the textile industry.


If this all sounds scary, don't fret! Just like we did for your own, adult fashion, we've done a thorough assessment of the most popular kids' brands and how they weigh in on these two measures. We found our information by digging through websites, reading reports and sourcing from the hard work of SafBaby.com, a site whose writers contacted many of these companies directly to find out whether their wares contain chemicals.

We've color coded the chart so you can easily skim for especially impressive initiatives or alarming practices. Green means the brand has gone above and beyond basic measures, red means they have taken no steps or have been in the news for bad practices, and orange means it's a mixed bag. If something was left un-colored, that just means the company is merely keeping up with industry standards. For example, most clothing brands don't offer organic cotton t-shirts yet, but we don't think it's too much to ask to stop finishing clothing with formaldehyde.

Below this chart, we've also listed some affordable and conscious children's clothing options that will make your kid look super fashionable for a reasonable price, while still making you feel good about your purchase.

BrandMaterialsLabor
77 Kids by American EagleNo eco-friendly items. When we called, they said they were exiting the children's clothing business and would not answer questions about formaldehyde use on clothing. Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Made in India, Vietnam, China and Guatemala.
AdidasUses some organic cotton, but only in adult wear. Uses some formaldehyde.Was accused in 2000 of using child labor. Now prohibits child labor in its manufacturing, but was accused in April of forcing workers to lie during inspection.
American ApparelPlenty of organic clothing. Manufactures exclusively in U.S. Wouldn't return calls about use of Uzbek cotton. Ads banned in U.K. for being sexually exploitative and featuring girls who appeared to be under 16. 
Carter’sOsh Kosh B’GoshNo eco-friendly items. Doesn't use formaldehyde in clothing. Watch out for tagless labels from 2007, whose ink caused allergic reactions in some children. Reaffirmed prohibition against Uzbek cotton in 2011 in response to Change.org petition.*  Manufactured in Asia, 50% in China. 
The Children’s PlaceNo eco-friendly items. Uses formaldehyde to treat clothing.Reaffirmed prohibition of Uzbek cotton in 2011 in response to Change.org petition.* Mostly manufactured in China and Africa.
Gap/Old NavyNo eco-friendly items. Part of Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Uses some formaldehyde in treating clothing.Accused in 2007 of using child labor. Moved quickly to address. Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Manufactured in India.
GymboreeNo eco-friendly clothing. Won't say whether it uses formaldehyde to treat clothing.Manufactured in India, China, Guatemala. Prohibited cotton from Uzbekistan starting in 2011 in response to Change.org petition.*
H&MPioneered affordable sustainability with Conscious Collection but only for adults; #1 user of organic cotton worldwide; part of Sustainable Apparel Coalition.Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Manufactured in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Levi’sUses some organic cotton but no specifically eco-friendly products. Uses some formaldehyde.Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Mostly manufactured in China. Pioneered labor standards for clothing. New terms of engagement go beyond industry standards to align with Millennium Development goals.
NikeOne of top buyers of organic cotton, but no specifically eco-friendly items for children. Uses some formaldehyde.Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Manufactured in Africa, South America, Europe and Asia. After outrage over child labor over a decade ago, revamped labor standards. Freshly accused of bad labor practices last year.
TargetSome eco-friendly and organic baby items. No information on formaldehyde.Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.*
WalmartSome organic clothing items for children in Faded Glory line. Unclear whether uses formaldehyde.Prohibits use of Uzbek cotton.* Manufactured in China. Accused of using child labor in 2008, but not for clothing.

*While many brands explicitly prohibit use of Uzbek cotton, many caveat this by citing the difficulty of tracing their cotton to its source.

Where to Get Conscious Kids' Clothing for Your Budget

Eco-friendly doesn't have to mean luxury prices. We've rounded up some of the best places to get affordable, toxin-free and consciously made clothing.

babyearth has almost anything you could need for your baby, from socks to hoodies, and clothing tops out at $40.

Pure & Honest Kids sells organic clothing for girls and boys up to size six. Prices start around $20 for an outfit.

Sign up for EcoBaby Buys and you'll get an email every day featuring a deal on organic and eco-friendly clothing and other items for your baby, from 40-75% off.

Find organic and natural accessories for your baby at Aiden + Anais, including their signature swaddle clothes, burp cloths, crib sheets and more.

Green Edge Kids offers one of the widest ranges of organic clothing for kids, with everything from baby clothes up to size 14. Prices start at $20 for an outfit.

Green Babies offers organic onesies, t-shirts, pants and accessories at prices ranging from $12-30.

Not to be confused with Green Babies, Green Baby Bargains puts up one item every weekday at 9 a.m. CST on their website at a steep discount.

The Etsy shop Babee Crafts offers organic onesies, t-shirts, blankets and lots of inventive gifts for your next eco-friendly baby shower.

The Etsy shop Pineapple Pete's goes easy on the pink flowers, instead offering cool knit hats, bamboo t-shirts and onesies for the young punk in your life. (Canada lovers will find something for them, too!)

The Etsy shop ZenKids offers onesies, long and short sleeved t-shirts, and even pillowcases--all printed with whimsical designs and under $24.

You can take action today! Sign Safbaby's petition to ask President Barack Obama to restrict/label formaldehyde use in textiles.

Tell us--what are your favorite eco-friendly kid's clothing shops?

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