As a busy Mom, you’re likely bombarded with the word “organic.” You’re doing your best to shop on a budget and you wonder if organic products for baby and kids make a difference.
You don’t have to be convinced that organic foods are better for your baby, it makes sense. But have you ever thought about the fabrics your kids are wearing or sleeping on? Do you ever wonder the origin of the fabrics or how they were made or shipped? Do you ever wonder why some fabrics have a certain smell, or feel to the hand?
I’m sharing my insight into organic textiles, why it matters, and brands you might want to try that have certifications in place that safeguard the consumer, factory worker and environment. You don’t have to go 100% organic to make a difference; small changes with a little bit of insider knowledge can make a big impact!
Natural Fibers vs. Synthetic
How often do you look at fabric content labels? I focus on fabric content for my work in textiles, but, as a Mom to my newborn son I started to think twice about the fabrics that were close to his skin.
I started opting for organic options for swaddles, sheets, and apparel basics (like bodysuits) as I started to learn more about the benefits of choosing organic.
Natural fabrics are easy to find: look for the word cotton, linen, silk, wool or hemp. These fibers allow the body to breathe and regulate body temperature. Also, natural fibers are biodegradable and can be composted. These fabrics last a long time. You will notice a difference in the way natural fabrics feel, there is a tactile quality.
Synthetic fabrics are made from petrochemicals. (chemicals derived from petroleum.) Examples are nylon, polyester, acrylic, and spandex. These fabrics interfere with our natural ability to release toxins from our skin. What’s more, the production of synthetics uses harsh dyes and chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and waterway systems.
There is an ongoing debate about how much residue from these toxic chemicals gets absorbed into the skin, long after the finished product has left the factory. Scary thought!
Tip: Want an alternative to synthetic? Look for Tencel. This fabric mimics what we love about synthetic, but is eco-friendly and derived from eucalyptus. The eucalyptus is broken down using a non-toxic solvent, then manufactured using sustainable production. What’s better, Tencel can actually keep skin cool and dry.
What is Organic Fabric?
When you buy certified organic fabric, you are purchasing fabric that has gone through rigorous testing. You can be sure there is no use of pesticides or other harmful chemicals in the growing and production process.
Additionally, organic fabrics use low-impact dyes (meaning less water is required). The entire process of organic farming (avoiding genetically modified seeds and heavy pesticides) is less damaging to land, waterways, workers’ health and the overall environment than conventional farming. It makes sense!
Tip: Buy certified organic cotton basics and bedding for your newborn, it is the best option for your baby’s sensitive skin and contains no irritants. Many brands have shifted to using organically grown cotton. Look at the fabric content label!
Conventional Cotton Production
Conventional cotton relies on genetically modified seeds and is sprayed heavily with insecticides. To make matters worse, chemicals used in conventional cotton production are getting into waterways and residue can remain in clothing and bedding. To read more on the science, I like this Q&A with Marci Zaroff, internationally recognized expert in sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion and textiles.
So many chemicals are used in conventional production, printing, dyeing and finishing. Marci explains the commonly used factory chemicals like chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals), and ammonia. Dyeing and printing contains heavy metals, PVC and resins.
Insider secret: Cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of insecticides.
That “New” Clothing and Bedding Smell
Did you know it’s a common practice for overseas manufacturers to use formaldehyde formula as a mildew and pest repellant for goods packed on a container ship? 90 percent of garments are transported by container ship each year. This formaldehyde formula prevents mildew, wrinkling and parasites during shipping.
To read more on this, check out this article from The Spruce that describes the many reasons to wash clothing before wearing, not least of which, is the presence of chemicals from shipping itself; chemicals used to prevent mildew during travel exist inside a hot, humid container!
Tip: Always wash fabrics before use, even twice if you detect a smell. If you opt for gently- used baby and kids clothing and sheets (hand-me-downs from family and friends) remember that used clothing is second best to organic; chemical finishes fade with multiple washings.
Avoid Flame-retardant and Specialized Finishes
There are toxic chemicals behind certain finishes that we’re all familiar with. Red-flag words to look for are: wrinkle or shrinkage-free, flame-resistant, waterproof, stain-resistant or cling-free. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens, or capable of reproductive, nervous, and endocrine system disruption. Some are allergenic or irritating. Whatever the case, you don’t want these fabrics against your baby’s skin!
Tip: When buying pj’s for baby or kids, choose snugly fit. Check the fabric content and make sure it is not chemically treated with flame retardant. Common chemically treated sleepwear items include nylon and acetate fabrics. Avoid these!
This fabric has been tested and certified by world-wide recognized standards that ensure organic status from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labeling.
OEKO-TEX (especially if your baby suffers from eczema!)
This fabric has been tested and certified to be free from harmful levels of more than 100 substances known to be harmful to human health.
The majority of clothing and bedding is manufactured overseas. Fair Trade ensures that workers in a company’s supply chain are being treated and paid fairly.
Target Leads the Way
Time to applaud Target! Target is not only publicly disclosing chemicals they use in production, but, sharing progress and actively working to reduce and dispose responsibly of toxic chemicals used.
Target released this chemical-reduction policy with the goal of full ingredient transparency; By 2020 they intend to remove perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) and flame retardants across textile products.
Three More U.S. Brands that Disclose Chemical Usage
Published in July 2019, a report from nonprofit Green America reports on companies that identify and restrict chemicals used in manufacturing. These chemicals are found in the final consumer product.
Target is not the only company leading the way. The North Face, Nike, and Gap Inc. are companies that offer detailed policies about their chemical management and actively share their progress. (Target’s press release linked above) These companies are aware of their environmental impact and are working to identify and dispose of their toxic chemicals.
Little Planet, Carter’s Organic Line
We all know and love Carter’s (parent brand of OshKosh B’gosh, Skip Hop). They are the leading retailer of baby and children’s clothes in the U.S. However they have no publicly-available policy about their use of toxic chemicals. You can join the petition to ask Carter’s to disclose what chemicals are being used in their supply chain.
This petition urges for transparency into corporate policy on chemical management, factory safety, water management and alternative resources or waste/recycling.
Tip: If you do buy Carter’s, look for the Little Planet Organic line!
Organic Clothing Brands for Baby and Kids: My Top 4
To navigate the world of organic clothing and bedding for baby and kids, simple changes to your shopping routine can be beneficial.
Consider certified organic or gently-used for your newborn specifically. It is the safest option to avoid skin irritants and exposure to residual toxins.
If your baby or child has eczema (or any skin condition), make the switch to certified organic and OEKO-TEX product to decrease skin irritation.
Choose snugly fit pj’s for your little one. Avoid flame retardant.
Read fabric content labels and consider organic cotton over conventional cotton.
Support companies that opt for certifying their product with standards like GOTS, OEKO-TEX or Fair Trade. These companies are going the extra mile to provide safer products for the consumer, the factory worker and the environment!
What is your experience with organic fabrics for your little one? Do you think it’s worth it?
See you out there, Northern Nevada Moms!
Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.