Green Your Back-To-School Shopping

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 10, 2013

Green Your Back-To-School Shopping

Back-to-school shopping can be a serious undertaking, as anyone who’s dragged a middle schooler through a department store knows. If everyone else in the class is going to be wearing [insert trend here], you don’t want your poor little fashionista ostracized for being sartorially lacking. But in addition to being a serious battle of wills between you and your child, back-to-school shopping can be expensive: Americans spent $8.5 billion at family clothing stores last August, according to the U.S. Census. Avoid the cost and make back-to-school shopping (slightly) more fun with these tips for greening your child’s new wardrobe.

Go thrifting. Hand-me-downs are only a bad thing if they come from an older sibling with questionable taste. “Vintage” is still a magic word for hipster teens, and younger kids with character might enjoy the treasure hunt presented by your local Goodwill. Come prepared with your child’s sizes memorized and the energy to hunt through the racks for hidden gems, and the ultimate find: clean, popular label, and with the tags still on!

Shop secondhand online. If sorting through the racks isn’t your thing, you can let someone else do the hunting for you. Websites like Schoola Stitch sell clean and well-preserved used children’s clothes for a fraction of their retail price.

“There is certainly a negative ecological impact bringing new merchandise to the marketplace to consider [when back-to-school shopping],” says Schoola Stitch CEO Stacey Boyd. “Chemicals used to grow or make cotton and synthetic materials as well as other resources that are depleted in the process leave a pollution footprint we can’t ignore.” 

The best part? Buying used online doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up on shopping to benefit a cause; Schoola Stitch donates a percentage of what they make on each item to the school of its original owner’s choice.

Sew it yourself. Call up your old home ec skills and alter old or pre-worn clothes to better fit those little troublemakers who insist on growing like weeds. Turn it into bonding time (or prepare to outsource this chore) by taking a parent-and-child sewing class, offered by a number of craft stores and specialty sewing shops throughout the U.S. 

Shop new, sustainably. Look for clothing made from sustainable materials like bamboo, organic cotton, or hemp. Many online retailers sell children’s clothing made from organic materials, though they can be pricey. Some larger retailers like Hanna Andersson sell organic options and have stores throughout the U.S., which cuts out the cost and environmental impact of shipping. Carefully choosing timeless pieces that won’t soon go out of style can also help you get your money’s worth. 

While a trip to the mall may sound easier, shopping green for children’s clothes is worth the effort: according to the Organic Trade Association, it can take almost 1/3 of a pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow the cotton needed to produce one T-shirt. 

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