Tuesday, September 19, 2023
September is back-to-school month. For families in Spain, this means a return to the normal routine, but this also comes at a high cost. By some estimates, such as the financial portal Banqmi's calculation, this will be the most expensive return to classes in history, with average spending of 411 euros per child. Meanwhile, the latest Cetelem Observatory analysis indicates that people in Spain expect to spend, on average, about 265 euros on their purchases, a slightly lower figure than what they were willing to spend last year. But whatever the amount, clothing will take up a significant portion of those amounts.
Thirty-five percent of Spaniards say they will buy clothing: it is the product with highest level of purchasing intention, behind only school supplies (42%) and books (39%). In addition to this, we must add the extra 14% from purchasing uniforms. This high purchase intention is important for families who will have to stop by the stores and open up their wallets, but it is also important for the planet.
It is worth noting that the fashion industry is one of the industries with the largest environmental footprint and that the most popular formats for fashion choices—and the ones that act as a safe choice when you need to buy a lot of things for your children because of their price—such as fast fashion, have a high environmental cost. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. Fashion cycles have become shorter and shorter and there is a considerable impact of this avalanche of textile production on the environment and society in producing countries.
However, doing things differently is possible. We can meet the back-to-school closet needs of schoolchildren and do it much more sustainably. To achieve this, we just need to adjust the process and, perhaps, learn from how it was done a few years ago.
First, you can choose to buy clothing produced sustainably, both by respecting environmental resources and providing fair working conditions for the workers. Searching for sustainable children's fashion brands is not, however, so simple. On the other end of the phone, Nadège Seguin, the head of Fashion Revolution Spain—a movement for more responsible fashion—explains that "there are some options, but it is very difficult," as "it is very hard for small producers."
Children's clothing requires a much greater variety of sizes and, consequently, of patterns than adult clothing requires. This means that a much wider range of pieces must be created and, if there is no clear demand, it is very difficult for these brands to survive financially. Are we even more price-conscious in children's clothing than we are in adult clothing? Yes, says Seguin, who reminds us that "the cost of living when you have children is very high."
Even so, changing the mindset is possible. "Always, the first thing to do is find out if this expense is really necessary," Seguin notes. In other words, we must think well about what we need and avoid buying too much. "See what the practical needs are for the school year," the expert summarizes. With this list in hand it is easier to adjust purchases and not add unnecessary items to the pile of fashion that we waste every year, as well as reducing the impact on your own wallet.
Then, there is bringing back habits that we used to do by default a few decades ago. Buying clothes just a bit off, with room to 'grow into them' (e.g., by hemming them while they are still large enough to be taken out later) helps to give them a longer life span. This means paying a little more attention to the quality of the products, so that the garments are strong enough to withstand it.
Hand-me-downs and trades
And, of course, you can also opt for the circular economy route. There is the second hand, a market that has grown enormously in recent years and has managed to shake off the negative perceptions it had in the past. "In adult clothing it had more of a stigma," Seguin points out. It was more acceptable to buy for children—perhaps because it was going to have a more short-term use—than for adult clothing.
In general, the economic crises of recent years and increased environmental awareness have given us a different outlook. Reusing clothing now looks more and more efficient. In fact, the purchase intention data from the Cetelem Observatory analysis also points in this direction. About 28% of Spaniards admit that they will opt for second-hand purchases this back-to-school season and 50% for reusing materials and products from other years. In general, we talk about school consumption, but clothing is also included in this category.
Reusing—another pillar of the circular economy—also includes giving used clothing to third parties. In other words, what the children of the 1980s and early 1990s—and their parents and siblings before them—still lived through: getting hand-me-down clothing that siblings, cousins and even neighbors no longer wore because they had outgrown them. This behavior disappeared from common practice, possibly because social perceptions changed. As Seguin points out, the stigma appeared. He notes that the idea was along the lines of how you were giving someone clothes because you thought they were poor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"By normalizing second-hand and returning to exchanging clothes," Seguin concedes, the back-to-school clothing footprint can be reduced. Some people even see in these processes opportunities to do more. Seguin notes that there are now groups of mothers who already have 'swap parties' where swapping clothes is a chance to socialize.
Getting schoolchildren involved
Similarly, involving those who are going to wear these pieces can help to achieve a longer useful lifespan for the clothing. Seguin recommends getting them involved in the purchasing process from the age of 10. "You teach them to be more responsible and, if they are the ones who choose, they feel happier and are going to take better care of their clothes, because they took part," she notes.
It is also important to understand how the children's fashion market works, so that you can at least be able to handle it. What they want and why is shaped by trends that are sometimes outside adults' view. "They have different desires compared to adults," says the expert, because they are driven by the pull of products—for example, wanting the box set or T-shirt of the latest movie or series in fashion—and they do so in very fast cycles. What everyone wants today will not be what they want next month.
¿Te ha parecido interesante?