We’ve all seen them. The big yellow or green donation boxes of used clothes and shoes by the gas station, at the shopping center, almost anywhere. They are ubiquitous in the US and here in the Netherlands they abound, too. But what happens to the clothes shoved in those boxes? Do they go to help local families in need? Is this the “responsible” way to get rid of clothes your kid has outgrown?
Depending on where you are and the box you find, many of them are operated by for-profit companies that ship the clothes abroad to the developing world. “Well, at least they are going to people in need!” you say. Not so fast.
About fifteen years ago, I spent a summer living and working in Rwanda. There, in the market places, you'll find giant stalls of clothes and shoes from Europe and the US. Think of this flood of cheap clothes as the Walmart that runs the mom-and-pop stores out of business. Throughout Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, there are tailors, dressmakers, and small-scale manufacturers struggling to compete with the cheap prices of imported second-hand clothes. This has become such a problem, that countries in East Africa were beginning to consider banning the sale of secondhand clothes. Unsurprisingly, the US wasn’t thrilled with this idea and under the threat of sanctions, most of these countries backed down. But let’s be real, if they were passionate enough about this issue to stand up to the US, maybe we should listen to them, and do our best to keep our secondhand clothes close to home.
So what can you do to avoid sending your kids clothes abroad?
Buy less, buy better, and repair more. Repeat after me: Resist the sales! The biggest driver of this overwhelmed system is our desire for more and more items for ourselves and our kids. Just because it is a bargain, doesn’t mean your kids need it. Think before you buy another item. If family members want to buy clothes for your kids, help them fill in the gaps with quality items the kids actually need, and that will last. And, of course, get all the hand-me-downs and secondhand gems you can, and repair to make them last.
Focus on local charities. The big well-known charities are often so overwhelmed with clothes that they sell a lot of them at auction. And guess where they end up? (HINT: see above.) Smaller organizations may need the kids clothes you’ve got. Ask around for refugee resettlement agencies, domestic violence shelters, and other organizations that support families in need or in times of crisis. They may be thrilled with a collection of clean and well sorted kids clothes.
Organize a clothing swap. This is a great way to get rid of the clothes you no longer need and maybe pick up a few items you do. (PS- clothing swaps for parents over a wine or a whiskey is also a great thing to do!) I’ve seen parents organize school-wide clothing swaps as a fundraiser for the school. Pay a small entry fee at the door and get all of the clothes (or toys!) you need.
Be real about what’s unusable. Some things just can’t be salvaged and aren’t worth passing on. You can cut these up into your own household rags, or take them to a textile recycler. Our old neighborhood in Philly used to bring a textile recycler to a big neighborhood event. It was genius! Folks were already coming out to join in a fun event, and they could just bring their unusable items along to be made into rags and insulation.
Encourage the Next Generation of Donation Boxes. I’ve recently come across this interesting company, Helpsy, that is doing donation boxes differently. In addition to the usual local second-hand market and rags/insulation sales, they are partnering with fashion designers to upcycle the clothes they collect. Now they do sell some of their clothes globally, but as a B-corp (that is an independently certified company that benefits the social and environmental good) they might just hear the pleas to stop sending clothes abroad.
So I’d love to hear from you: what are you doing to reduce the social and ecological impact of your kids’ clothes? Have you found creative ways to buy less, buy better, repair or pass along? What works for you? Shoot me an email or comment below!
If you are anything like me, your social media feeds (and maybe inboxes) were overwhelmed this weekend with praise for mothers and mother-figures all in celebration of Mother's Day. Mothers are a force, not just on Mother's Day but every day, all around the world. It is impossible to deny the global impact that mothers do and can have. That's why I'm proud to be featured by the Global Moms Challenge highlighting the work that mothers do to make the world a better place. Check out their blog post, featuring many impressive moms!
For those of you who celebrated Mother's Day this past weekend I hope you had a great day. It's not an easy holiday for many people (me included). If you're struggling to become a mother (or have another child), if you've experienced pregnancy loss, loss of a child, loss of your own mother, or have a challenging relationship with your mother, the holiday can be a challenge. If that's your situation, I see you and hope you find healing.
There are many great things about your own kids being your business inspiration. You get a great sense of the problem--the giant pile of torn pants showed me quite clearly where there are issues with kids' clothes. And as we moved into product development, it became clear that one of the best benefits of having my kids be the inspiration was product testing.
I have the benefit of an in-house product tester who truly puts each article to the test. He climbs, hikes, plays soccer, and occasionally trips and falls in his Jackalo™️ pants. Each activity (and accident) helps me see where our products are passing the test, and where things need to be changed. With this latest set of samples, I'm loving seeing each pair find a spot in his wardrobe.
After three days (yes, three) in our jersey cotton-lined Ash pants, Elias said he liked them as much as his "other" pants (that is, sweatpants from name-brand companies), he was sheepish and embarrassed. He added, "Is that a bad thing?" Not at all! It's a great thing. I've been very successful finding pants that meet his comfort standards. What's impossible is finding pants that meet that standard and mine: pants that last, look good, and are produced ethically and sustainably. Now, we've got pants that meet both his standards and mine. And I can't wait for your kiddos to put them to the test.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the nice weather and hit the woods and the streets to capture a couple of kids at play in Jackalo. The photographer, Maria Dawlat, was amazing and captured such beautiful moments of play (where the kids actually did put the pants to the test!) My pictures hardly do it justice, but soon enough I'll have some of Maria's great images to share with you.
So here's a quick behind the scenes teaser of the shoot. I hope you enjoy and I can't wait to share the professional shots with you all!
Finding the right fabrics for the first season of Jackalo has been a bit of a journey. I’ve settled on a premium, highly traceable organic cotton, but it took a while for me to get there. Here’s why…
When I began thinking about the first pair of pants I’d develop, I was stuck on technical fabrics. These are the fabrics used in mountaineering, climbing and the like. I even went to the biggest fashion trade show in Europe and focused exclusively on the technical fabrics section. I was, admittedly, wowed by the performance capabilities.
I noticed however, that a lot of the technical fabric manufacturers rely on synthetic fibers. More often than not, these fibers are sourced from non-renewable resources. For example, polyester is a petroleum product. And all of these synthetics shed very small particles when you wash them—often referred to as microplastics—that end up in our food systems (and ps- I’m doubting they are tested for food safety!)
As you may have read in one of the past posts, there’s so much innovation happening in the world of fabrics right now. There are creative means of recycling fibers and plastics into new fabrics and high-tech production of highly sustainable materials. I’m a firm believer that all of this creative thinking is critical to bringing fashion into a new era that is more conscious of the impact it has on the environment.
But for now, I have concerns about these microplastics in our oceans. I ultimately felt like I needed to see more progress on solutions to that problem before I could use a polyester (even a recycled one) in our products. One day I hope that technology for keeping these plastics out of our waterways improves to that I might incorporate these recycle fibers in our clothes. But for now, I felt like I need to start elsewhere.
I thought a lot about a conversation I’d had with my brother. We talked about old-fashioned work clothes—the denim coverall that every farmer wore—and how those provided great durability but, initially, not-so-great comfort. I began to think that with the right woven cotton I could achieve both durability and comfort, without having to rely on synthetic materials.
With my focus narrowed to natural fibers, I found that the next challenge was traceability. Where does the fabric come from? Who made it? How were they treated in the production? Even if you get an organic fabric, employment standards are different everywhere and it can be hard to determine if the workers were treated fairly. So for me, that meant that not all organic or sustainable options are created equal and I couldn’t just pick any organic product off the shelf. I had to find one with the highest certification level and a commitment to transparency.
In months of searching, I was lucky enough to come across a textile manufacturer in Germany that produces only high-quality, fully traceable, cotton with the highest level of organic certification (IVN Best) and Fair for Life fair trade certification. So for me, this is the proverbial fabric jackpot. In the samples, the fabrics look great, feel super strong, wash wonderfully, and are soft enough for kiddos.
Last I wrote on the process, I was anticipating my trip to Portugal to meet with my manufacturers and see the samples. I was seriously nervous about a hundred different things in this trip. Would the samples look good? Would they fit well? Would the factory conditions be good? Would I feel confident about the people I was working with? And under each of these big questions, were lots of little related questions.
Amazingly (and luckily!) the trip was a success across the board. The people helping to get this brand off the ground are lovely. They are family businesses, working together to make an honest living and to create quality employment in their communities. The factory was safe, clean, and well organized. The women and men with decades of experience in clothing manufacturing demonstrated great care in how the products are made, and are constantly innovating. As I brought up my focus on environmental sustainability, I was pleased to see how much they were already doing and that they were totally supportive of my unusual requests (like saving and setting aside any larger scraps or imperfect fabric.)
Then the samples--each one was beautifully constructed and the fabrics looked great. Since I wasn’t about to take my son out of school for three days to come with me (maybe next time), I hired a fit model to try on all of the samples. Eight-year-old Pedro looked great in the samples, and handled my detail-oriented questions with grace. Were they easy to put on? How do the pockets feel? Are they comfortable when you sit down? Which style do you like the best? And the look of glee on his face as dove into the Dutch stroopkoekjes I brought was priceless. (BTW, in the pic at the top he is wearing the Jackalo coverall.)
With all of the travel time, I was only able to have one day to do all of the things I needed to do. It was packed, but wonderful. I returned home, with a huge to do list, and a pile of samples to measure and test. I’ve spent the last few days huddled over the samples measuring each and every detail and preparing lists of changes (which I’m look minor at this point) and planning out the next steps for launch. Lots to do!
Thank you all so much for your support and willingness to spread the word. I so appreciate every email you’ve sent to friends and share on Instagram.
Happy Spring! Across the interwebs this month mending experts are showing off their skills and inspiring others to fix their clothes using the hashtag #mendmarch. Just as we get excited for new plant growth in the Spring, now's the perfect time to put some new life in your worn out clothes (or help your kids pants make it the last few weeks or months to shorts weather!) At special request from one of my followers on Instagram, I'm putting together a quick list of some great resources for those new to mending. And a little word to the wise, the old adage "a stitch in time saves nine" is actually quite true! It is much easier to repair something that is threadbare or has a tiny hole, than to repair a large gash! So get that mending pile started and dig in.
Sashiko and boro are the traditional Japanese arts of visible mending. This form of embroidery uses a thicker floss than Western embroidery thread and is extremely durable. Designs can range from the simple to the complex. It's a perfect way to mend your kids ripped jeans or other woven clothes by hand. It'll take a little longer than machine mending, but with a basic design it can be the perfect simple task for while you watch a movie. Here are some great resources for learning sashiko:
The mother-son team of Keiko and Atsushi Futatsuya share a ton of their knowledge on their website Upcycled Stitches and on their YouTube channel. Here's just one of their many videos highlighting sashiko techniques. They offer workshops and custom embroidery in New York and do live tutorials on Instagram. (And they’ve got their first English language livestream of sashiko technique happening Wednesday March 28, that’s tomorrow, at 1 pm ET on their Instagram and a whole video workshop coming soon!)
The Far Woods--a lovely social justice arts residence outside Portland, has a mending tutorial on Skillshare. These two sisters will take you through the basics of how to visibly mend a pair of pants. I've shared about their mending zine before, and it is perfect for beginners and can be purchased printed or as a PDF from their Etsy site . Follow #sashiko on Instagram. This hashtag features sashiko artists around the world, for design inspiration and live tutorials.
If you've got a sewing machine, one of the fastest ways to mend thread-bear clothes is with a technique called machine darning. Here you are essentially just using back and forth stitches on your machine to reinforce the fabric. Usually, you'd place a patch under the weak area. You can chose to use a thread in the same color as the fabric, or a contrasting one for more of a visible mend. To make it even stronger, you can rotate the fabric creating a star-burst shape with the new stitches. Here's an example of multiple repairs (machine darning and sashiko) I did to a favorite pair of shorts.
Outsourcing the work
Most tailors will do machine repairs for a minimal fee, and lots of dry cleaners have tailors in-house. Often for less than $10 they will greatly extend the life of your clothing (for kids clothes you may be looking at as little as $5). So if you've got no time or can't sew (yet!), find a good tailor and get their help extending the life of your, or your kid's, garment. If you are thinking of handing the clothes down to the next kid, a quality repair will really help it last. (Ps- both the Far Woods and sashi.co do custom repairs or embroidery if you want something a little fancier. )
What items do your kids tear through? Are there other mending guides that would help you? I've recently gotten into sock darning which feels wonderfully old-timey and has allowed me to hold on to my favorite socks a little longer. Want to know how to do that, too?
Every week, I’m shocked at the size of our pile of plastics to be recycled. Mountains of milk cartons, pasta containers, and cheese wrappers. As a family of four with varying tastes, we produce a lot of waste. Here in the Netherlands, so much can be recycled. But that doesn’t make our mountain of waste any less disturbing. I find I often use convenience and our kids as an excuse to be wasteful--if we weren’t running after a toddler and a big kid we’d do things differently, if we weren’t two working parents we’d have more time to make more and buy less.
Inspired by the movie River Blue, which details the catastrophic impact fashion has on the environment and my sister-in-law’s own efforts to reduce her family’s waste, I convinced my husband and older son to go plastic-free for the month of February (the little guy just got taken along for the ride.) We knew we couldn’t be perfect--we excused the cartons of milk (dairy and non) and the critical coffee (no paper-bag coffee around here!) and accepted that our scheduled weekend of travel wouldn’t be perfect. From there, we proceeded to dive into a month of plastic-free living as an experiment in habit-development and a means of assessing where we could reduce in the long term. We definitely faced a lot of challenges along the way and found some ways we could make lasting changes. Here’s what we found:
Location. Our part of the Netherlands doesn't have lovely bulk foods areas in super markets that we were used to in the States or the emerging Zero Waste aisles that are becoming popular elsewhere. So all of the dry staples we rely on (beans, rice, nuts, and dried fruit) are cased in plastic, even at eco markets.
Super markets coat almost all produce in plastic. I understand that they want the food to last longer (à la Trader Joe’s in the states) but I really, really missed lettuce (which is impossible to find without a plastic bag in the winter.)
Food delivery is a huge culprit. Grocery delivery is a major sources of plastic waste in our house. We found that giving up grocery delivery meant we were able to make more conscious choices with our food purchases.
Convenience foods are another culprit for waste. Our kids do love a veggie nugget and tofu crumble and we all love the “night off” we get from the occasional take-out order, but most convenience foods come in plastic (minus pizza. Thank GOD for pizza). So we said goodbye to them for the month and got ok with a little bit of additional cooking. Homemade tortillas were a ton of fun to do as a family but also more work than it is worth doing on a regular basis. Granola on the other hand, is so damn easy that it seems insane to buy the stuff. That said, as the primary cook in our house and a staunch feminist, I felt really burdened by the added work of avoiding the convenience foods. Yeah, I do love cooking, but I want it to be on my terms.
Outcomes we can maintain
This effort prompted me to look into a delivery service that could accommodate no/low-plastic (especially on produce where it really isn't necessary if you are buying fresh.) I’m excited to move from supporting a big grocery store chain to a small entrepreneur who works directly with local farmers. Back in the US, I always subscribed to Community Supported Agriculture programs, and this is the equivalent--it positively impacts local farmers and reduces waste dramatically. Win-win.
Discovering all of the farmers markets and farm stores. Our city only operates farmers markets during the week so discovering the "far" farmers market in Liege that is open on the Sundays was a huge win. Yes, it is a bit farther, but it is beautiful and has all of the produce and cheeses you could want.
Milk taps! While my husband and I don’t drink cows milk regularly, our kids do and our family loves yogurt. With a little searching, I found out that lots of farms across the Netherlands have “milk taps”--self-serve, cold milk vending machines where you can buy by the liter, using your own containers. This milk is very cheap (comparable to conventional milk at the supermarket) and organic, unpasteurized, and unhomoginized. For the little guys, I’d scald the milk to kill any potential bacteria or make it into fresh yogurt. Next time, I’ll make it into ricotta or even try my hand at mozzarella-making.
Bread is super easy to do zero waste. With your own bag you can get fresh bread from bakers or the bakery section of the grocery store. But if you want to take it to the next level, making your own bread is really easy and sooo much better than store-bought. I’m a big fan of the Artisan Bread in 5-minutes a Day approach that my mom introduced me to years ago. By keeping a huge bin of dough in your fridge, you can just pull off a chunk and cook it every day. It really does take about 5 minutes a day to do this, and it feels so nice in the winter to have the smells of fresh-baked bread swirling through your home.
Bringing our own produce/bread bags to the store. This is the easiest win. We avoid a lot of plastic by just bringing our own small bags for produce and bread. Apples, pears, bananas, and citrus are almost always available without plastic wrapping. For berries, we’ll just have to wait until they are in season at the farmers market and bring our own containers or buy frozen which are generally available in recyclable paper boxes here. Seasonal is better, anyways!
We will keep talking about waste and making conscious choices. This is a huge outcome for us. This effort got our eight-year-old thinking so much more about the waste he produces. He turns off the lights more and takes pride in thinking of the ways he can consume less. He understands more clearly that a little effort can have a big impact.
So, while we aren’t going to be as stringent as we were for the month of February, I’d say the experiment was worth-while. Yesterday I noticed that the groceries my husband picked up that evening after work were pretty solidly plastic-free. Our 28 days seems to have created a bit of a new habit--thinking more carefully about the choices we make when it comes to plastic. And to me, that’s a really important outcome. What do you think? Could your family commit to being plastic-free for a month? Where could you make lasting changes to reduce your plastic waste?
Favorite recipes from our plastic-free experiment:
I just wanted to share a quick update on where things are with Jackalo™. As I’m sure you know, starting a clothing line is a serious challenge, even for someone with years of experience in the fashion industry. But I’m 100% an outsider. So what’s that like for someone like me? Hard. But luckily, I’m a super nerd. 🤓 I love to learn about every detail of design, production and why the fashion industry has oh-so-many problems. The more I learn, the more I hone my vision for how Jackalo™ will be a different company: a company that cares about the impact our clothes have and makes it easier for parents to clothe their kids without guilt.
So, a lot of what has been happening is research and learning from peers. Research on materials, suppliers, and working conditions. Research to understand who is doing fashion well, and how I can learn lessons from them. I’ve been connecting with others who are starting fashion lines, people who have been there before, and experts who can point me in the right direction.
But alongside this research and connecting has been a ton of creation. Over the summer I had two styles in development and samples made of both of them. Our tester-in-chief, my eight-year-old Elias, has been wearing his Jackalo™ pants frequently and putting them to the test on the playground and on the road (see above pic of him sporting them during our travels this past December in Thailand.) So far the results are good. I’ve tweaked the original styles and now have five more styles that are in the works. Patterns and samples are being made. And I’m getting seriously excited to see how they look, what’s working and what needs to change.
I also *think* I’ve nailed down my fabric. (Don’t want to speak too soon. Fingers crossed it looks great and wears well in the samples!) The process of picking a fabric was its own long story, which I’ll save for another day.