The parental instinct to create a sustainable and eco-healthy environment for babies and children is reshaping industries that have traditionally been driven by price and convenience.
Eco-friendly toys from Fisher-Price nabbed the 2019 Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year in the infant/preschool category. Actors and parents Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard recently announced the launch of Hello Bello, an affordable line of plant-based baby care products. And, in a report from Researchandmarkets.com, the organic baby food industry is expected to grow from $5.95 billion in 2018 to $11 billion by 2024.
With consumer awareness of the denim industry’s consumption of water, chemicals and energy growing, could children’s denim be the next category to clean up?
Starting children with sustainable jeans made sense for Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans, which famously uses 100 percent organic cotton across its collection. The brand also shares its production and auditing procedures with consumers on its website.
Nudie Jeans has a tight collection of jean jackets and comfort stretch bottoms for kids size 6 months to 10 years.
“Our primary focus isn’t children’s wear, but as a sustainable jeans company we want to make sure that no matter the age there’s an option for everyone,” said Erik Pettersson, Nudie Jeans web shop manager. “Our overall goal as a company is to make great clothes in a sustainable way and are confident that our customers appreciate both aspects no matter if it’s for themselves or their little ones.”
Nudie Jeans launched denim for kids about 10 years ago—back when eco-friendly children’s clothes typically began and ended with organic cotton one-pieces for infants in varying shades of oatmeal.
Children’s brands like Tea Collection, Zutano and Kickee Pants ushered in an era of organic cotton clothes in vivid colors and kid-friendly prints, but the realm of garments remained limited to cotton tees, leggings and dresses. And the 2008 Great Recession—and the slew of mom-and-pop store closures that came with it—didn’t do anything to help bolster the still young concept. The premium products required retail partners with knowledgeable staff and a boutique clientele that willing to spend above big box store pricing—a recipe that was increasingly difficult to find.
Enter Alex & Alexa, the U.K.-based luxury children’s apparel retailer that stocks labels like Acne Studios, MSGM and Moschino. Founded in 2007 by husband and wife duo, Alex Theophanous and Alexa Till, the company sought to bring the best in children’s apparel to discerning parents at the click of a button.
The 2011 launch of Alex & Alexa in the U.S. timed well with the buzz building around eco designer Stella McCartney’s then brand-new children’s line and sustainably-sourced Swedish brand Mini Rodini, which captured perfectly the ironic, hipster aesthetic favored by celebrity moms like Alicia Keys and Jessica Alba with its offbeat prints and color palette.
These brands also introduced (and continues to produce) denim made with sustainable components into their offering. This spring, Stella McCartney touts girls’ organic cotton pink acid wash skinny jeans made with organic cotton and cotton/Tencel chambray shorts. Meanwhile, Mini Rodini tugs at parents’ nostalgic heartstrings with ’80s style dropped shoulder jean jackets and mom jeans made with GOTS-certified organic cotton.
And more brands are discovering they can achieve the same novelties and fashion that drives the children’s wear business, albeit with a smaller footprint on the environment. “Many brands whether true denim brands or those that have a denim capsule as part of the collection are using certified organic cottons, natural dying techniques and recycled labelling to produce a more sustainable supply chain,” said Jenny Slingaard, Alex & Alexa senior PR manager.
“Scandinavian brands such as Acne Studios and Molo are really leading the way for sustainable kids’ denim,” she added. “In addition, we are seeing popular ethical brands such as Mini Rodini, Bobo Choses, The Animals Observatory and Stella McCartney Kids all introducing more denim to their main collections which is brilliant and our customers are really loving.”
Boutique boys’ and girls’ denim brand Blu & Blue takes pride in its 35-year heritage in manufacturing premium children’s clothing. “Our standards for creating a superior and safer product for children in sustainable ways is reflected in the way we make our clothes,” Jain said. The brand, which manufactures out of its New Delhi, India-based facility, keeps every step of the production from design to washing in-house so it can control (and guarantee) quality and best practices, including those concerning sustainability.
“Sustainable practices are a core part of Blu & Blue,” Jain said. “As a socially responsible company, we not only understand our role towards the society and the environment, but we have taken effective measures to reduce the potential impact our business can have on the environment by improving water, energy and chemical efficiency along with minimizing waste.”
More than 90 percent of waste water is recycled through Blu & Blue’s in-house water recycling plant. Additionally, the water is heated with the facility’s solar panels and the brand uses waterless ozone technology in its washing.
“We are proud of the sustainable practices that are behind the brand. We try to educate our customers [and] retailers about the efforts we put behind Blu & Blue’s sustainability,” Jain said. “It’s important for customers to have transparency on where the product they are buying is coming from, how it’s made and what goes behind it the brand.”
Sustainability is a strong selling point, but fashion still matters.
Blu & Blue, which starts at size 0-6 months and goes up to Juniors’ size 16, marries sophisticated trends like bohemian embroidery, rip and repair and novelty prints with premium fabrics like 100 percent cotton slub denim and 100 percent Tencel shirting.
The label has become a favorite of Jennifer Lopez’s tween daughter, Emme, who sported brand’s bohemian ‘Salma’ tassel dress in New York City last summer.
Sustainable, or not, Pettersson says children’s denim trends mimic the buying habits of their parents. For Nudie Jeans, the most popular styles for kids have been rinsed and black jeans. “The pattern is the same as for the grown-up styles. Black and drys are the most popular ones,” he said.
The brand is adding two washes—used and shimmering—for Spring ’19. Pettersson added that Nudie’s line of kids’ sweatshirts made with organic and fair trade cotton is also picking up momentum.
Nudie Jeans’ $88-$109 price tag for kids’ jeans may cause most parents to pause. The jeans, which kids will surely to outgrow, are a short-term investment. However, the brand offers free repairs of life, meaning they can be kept in good condition for your siblings or donations.
A 2018 report from the NPD Group found that almost one-third of consumers say they would be willing to pay more for a sustainable apparel item. Young adult consumers, ages 18 to 34, are most inclined to spend more on sustainable apparel. Sustainable brands and retailers are hoping that buying behavior follows them into parenthood.
Echoing Nudie Jeans, and brands like Everlane and Patagonia, which also urge shoppers to buy less, Alex and Alexa often uses the phrase “buy less but buy better” to describe its products. In terms of style, Slingaard said the retailer’s collections match those found on high street, but are “made of natural organic cottons with natural dyes that wash well, withstand the rough and tumble of an active child and can be passed onto the next sibling or a friend when they have outgrown.”
Durability and quality, Slingaard added, is becoming more important for consumers. “I don’t think it’s necessarily about paying a premium for sustainable apparel,” she said. “The brands are out there and very competitively priced but sometimes less easy to find, I hope that’s where we come in.”
Investing in sustainable technology is also good business. Jain says customers are realizing the impact of waste. “They want to be a part of something that allows them to make a difference,” Slingaard said. “At Blu & Blue, we do not over charge our customers for a sustainable product, it’s just something we believe in doing…We aim to make that difference each day [by] doing what is right.”