Children grow so fast that you can find yourself spending money on kids clothes almost every month. Plus active children are tough on clothes. A few days running around the playground can leave shirts shredded. But two mothers in Singapore want to make it much easier – and more affordable – to get sustainable children’s clothing in Singapore. The reason? It’s better for the environment, and better for your kids in the long run.
Sarah Garner is the founder of Retykle, an online resale store for second-hand designer children’s clothes. Her company started out in Hong Kong and she’s now set up in Singapore. She offers pre-loved designer fashion for children at 50 to 90 percent off retail prices.
Rachel Teo is the Singaporean founder of Harper and Wolfie, a local children’s clothing brand created with the help of Starhub’s Small Business Day initiative. All her designs are made from 100% linen, 100% cotton or a cotton and linen blend; with no man-made fibres like polyester.
She believes in paying attention to details that only mother’s notice – for example clothing labels are sewn onto the hems of clothes rather than inside the necks, to prevent itchy scratchy necks.
She is continuously looking at ways to improve production. As well as looking at how to replace all buttons and zippers with eco-friendly versions, she’s working towards eco-friendly packaging. One day she hopes to have no plastic wrapping all the way from production to customer.
Here, the two mumpreneurs share how they make their businesses more sustainable – and why it’s worth investing in sustainable children’s clothing for your kids.
Why buy sustainable children's clothes for your kids?
Sarah Garner started Retykle because children grow out of clothes so fast. She says, “Children will speed through seven sizes of clothes in their first two years of life. The average child outgrows over 1500 articles of clothing before they are fully grown.”
She founded her company to provide pre-loved designer fashion for kids. This reduces waste – and also reduces costs for parents, with prices 50 to 90 percent less than normal retail prices. The platform also gives parents the chance to clean out clutter – and earn money. Retykle accepts clothes for newborns to 14-year-olds and will pick up the clothes from your home. You can see their accepted brands list here.
Rachel Teo points out the holistic benefits of sustainable clothing. “We mothers want our children to be able to grow and flourish on a green planet where they can still experience nature. If we continue our ways of consumerism, the future will be very different for our younger generation.”
What exactly is sustainable kids clothing anyway?
When it comes to sustainable children’s clothes, both mothers are firm fans of natural fibres. Rachel Teo believes cheap clothes are a false economy, because they fade and tear too fast.
“Children’s clothes made out of natural fibres are more durable. In Singapore, you have to wash clothing after every wear due to the perspiration. But natural fibres will still hold their structure, and last longer than some other fabrics made of synthetic materials that easily fade and tear.”
She also deliberately produces designs in small batches to avoid overproduction and the waste that’s common with many so called “fast-fashion” companies.
Sarah Garner also makes sure all the clothes she sources for Retykle are made from natural fibres. “Synthetics like polyester are cheap to produce because they’re made from fossil fuels like oil. Plus polyester fabric is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled, so it is often tossed into landfill.
“Natural fibres are biodegradable, built to last and are much kinder on the skin, as well as our planet.”
Why is sustainable fashion for children more expensive?
Both mumpreneurs understand that it’s tempting to opt for so called “fast-fashion” brands – but they prefer to see the bigger picture. Says Sarah Garner, “If you buy a top for $10 and it falls apart only after a few wears, the item will end up in the bin. Plus it has been produced in a way that damages the environment, and by a worker who did not earn a living wage. So that cheap top has a significant human and environmental cost.
“However, let’s say you buy a $50 shirt that was made in a sustainable manner. The top can be passed on, again and again. It will still look great. You get both environmental and ethical gain.”
Harper and Wolfie produce designs in small batches. This does increase the price of each individual item, but it significantly cuts down on waste and the considerable water pollution caused by fabric production.
How do they practice sustainability with their own children?
Sarah Garner no longer buys brand-new clothes for her children, or for herself. “There are are more than enough clothes in the world to clothe every child many times over”, she says. “Consumerism starts at a young age and I think lessons in living sustainably will serve children well over time.”
She adds, “I started Retykle to find solutions to the mounting environmental crisis caused by the fashion industry. To do something that can create a better tomorrow for my kids. Seeing them grow into individuals who are conscious about how their small acts can affect the environment fills me with hope and pride.”
Rachel Teo agrees that no actions are too small when it comes to being sustainable. She advocates starting where you can – whether it’s avoiding plastic bags, recycling or using eco-friendly washing powders. She explains, “Even simple changes in your day-to-day life can make a difference. I don’t downplay any effort that helps make our planet a better place.”
What's the greatest sustainability lesson they've learnt in business?
Sarah admits she didn’t understand how many SKUs (stock keeping units) or products she would need to run an online business. Online businesses often carry many copies of each item, so they can service clients all over the world.
But Sarah’s business relies on her sourcing pre-loved or end of line outfits. This means there may be only one or two pieces available. “This means it’s not as easy to handle an e-commerce business.”
Rachel Teo believes it’s important to keep an open mind about what can add value to your business. As well as children’s fashion, she’s added handmade wooden toys, decor items and children’s books to her e-commerce platform, “Because books grow with children.”
What's their best advice to mumpreneurs who want to start a sustainable business?
Says Sarah, “To become a truly sustainable fashion brand is very challenging. Typically the biggest environmental impact happens at the production stage and requires the deepest consideration.”
She explains, “It’s very important to set sustainability goals and standards for yourself. Be transparent with consumers and accountable to certifications.” For example her business is now certified as a carbon neutral operation.
As a guide, cotton is a very thirsty crop. Each cotton plant needs around 45 litres of water to maximise its yield. This is around 20-30 inches of water, so fields often have to be artificially irrigated. Cotton also needs a lot of water to process and dye – production contributes to between 0.3% and 1% of total global carbon emission in the world
Rachel Teo says, “Take baby steps towards your goal. It can be hard to find your way, but it will be worthwhile in the end.”
This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly.