As parents, we give a lot of thought to the food we feed our
children. We make regular trips to the pediatrician to monitor
their growth and well-being. We fret over BPA-free bottles and buy
lead-free toys. But do we ever think about whether our children's
clothes are healthy for them?
As more information becomes available about the health and
environmental effects of conventionally grown and processed cotton,
many parents are taking a closer look at the adorable onesies and
cozy pajamas they put on their kids. As a result, organic
children's clothing is becoming a more popular choice for many
The numbers reflect this trend. According to the Organic Trade
Association's 2009 Industry Survey, non-food organic sales of items
such as organic fibers grew by 39.4 percent in 2008. Organic cotton
grown by farmers worldwide increased 152 percent during the
2007-2008 crop year, according to the 2008 Organic Cotton Farm and
Fiber Report conducted by Organic Exchange.
Why buy organic?
Many parents might be wondering what it means for clothing to be
organic and, more importantly, why they should care. Most of us are
under the impression that cotton is a safe, natural fiber. But over
time, cotton has become one of the most environmentally damaging
crops in the world.
Convent-ionally grown cotton takes up only 3 percent of the
world's farmland, but uses 25 percent of the world's chemical
insecticides and pesticides. These chemicals are known to have
damaging effects, including illness among agricultural workers,
water pollution and damage to wildlife.
After conventionally grown cotton leaves the farm, processing
piles on more chemicals. Turning cotton into a textile requires
chemicals to bleach, size, dye, straighten and shrink. And then
there are the chemicals used to make clothing stain- and
odor-resistant, fireproof, moth-proof, static and wrinkle-free.
More specifically, perfluorinated chemicals make our garments
wrinkle-free. Formaldehyde prevents shrinkage. Petrochemical dyes
are used to add color. Some of these chemicals are applied with
heat, bonding them to the cotton fibers. Although the process
includes several washings, chemical residue remains on the final
product (we sometimes think of this as new clothes smell).
It takes about one pound of chemicals to grow three pounds of
conventional cotton while organic cotton is grown chemical-free. In
order to be certified as organic, a field must be pesticide-free
for at least three years. Organic clothing is also processed and
finished without many of the chemicals used in the conventional
Are organics good for kids?
Some parents are choosing to buy organic clothing for their
children despite the fact that there is currently little hard
science to tell us exactly how the chemicals in our clothing impact
We do know that chemically treated clothing traps heat and
prevents the skin from absorbing adequate moisture, which can be
problematic for people with eczema or sensitive skin. Regardless of
special skin conditions, many worry about the residual toxins that
linger on the fibers.
Deree Kobets, the owner of the Wicker Park children's boutique
says she opened her store because she had a hard time finding well
made and stylish organic clothing and other nontoxic items for her
children. "I wanted to educate consumers about the health
implications of the chemicals in everyday household items and offer
a safer, modern alternative," says Kobets.
She believes that choosing organic clothes is important for our
health. "We don't want to have clothing that has been covered in
chemicals right up against our skin. It just doesn't make sense to
take that kind of risk."
A growing number of new parents are seeking out healthier
clothing options for their babies. When Nora Gainer of Chicago was
pregnant with her now 9-month-old daughter, she realized that
having a baby meant she needed to make lots of choices.
"I try to dress my daughter in hand-me-downs. But when I do have
to buy something new, I look for organic brands, particularly for
the items that are right next to her skin, like sleepwear."
More organic choices available
Organic clothing is more widely available now than it was even
just a few years ago. When Kobets first opened her store in 2006,
she had very few clothing vendors to choose from. "The increased
demand for organic clothing has really changed the industry."
Even big box chains like Target have seen increased demand for
organic clothing. Target spokesperson Jana O'Leary says organic
onesies and diapers are especially popular.
But one of the biggest issues with most organic clothing is the
Melanie Myatt, a Chicago mom of three, says she likes to buy
organic clothing but only "if it is at a price that I can
afford-and I am rarely able to find that."
Kobets, who hasn't seen a drop in organic clothing sales due to
the recession, says her organic onesies cost $20, compared to the
Gap's conventional product selling for $16.50. "I tell parents that
it is worth it to spend the small amount of additional money to
invest in a healthy, quality product that can be passed down to
other children in good condition."
Parents also have the option of second-hand organic clothes. Amy
Helgrin, the owner of Second Child resale shop in Lincoln Park,
says the market for gently used organic clothing continues to
Kobets says, "People are learning more about how their food is
being processed and starting to make different choices as a result.
I think that people would make different choices if they knew how
their clothing was made."
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