Check Your Labels: Common Fabric Used in Baby Clothes
Labels: We read them closely at the grocery store and during the latest iPhone launch, but are we looking at baby clothes the same way? Considering its short shelf life, especially compared to the amount of wear ours get, the answer is probably no. As it turns out though, that’s what makes paying attention to common fabric used in baby clothes so important. Between fast growth rates and frequent stains, the volume of clothes dedicated to our children is great. And if we don’t do our research and take action, they’ll continue to pollute the earth forever.
On the surface, this common fabric used in baby clothes seems really great. To use a few buzzwords, it’s super soft, breathable, thermoregulating, and moisture-wicking. A few more? Anti-bacterial, UV protection, mold resistant, and anti-wrinkle. It’s also very sustainable to grow. Since bamboo is self-regenerating from the roots, it can thrive in the most shallow soil without any pesticides or fertilizers. It also grows to its maximum height within just one growing season.
Although it’s considered very sustainable to grow, here’s the catch: Its ability to grow quickly in poor conditions is also what makes it an invasive species. And turning it into fabric is definitely not sustainable—in order to turn the wood pulp into something soft enough for fabric, it has to be chemically treated, and even organic bamboo is usually blended with spandex. What this means is that bamboo fabric pollutes the water ecosystems where it’s made and never biodegrades. Plus, the chemicals can irritate your baby’s delicate skin (especially if they have eczema), which make the shrinkage and slow drying time of this common fabric used in baby clothes even less appealing.
The perks of linen are seemingly endless. All linen is made from flax, a fast-growing plant that requires minimum water, energy, or pesticides to grow (and even helps preserve ecological diversity!). Plus, creating the common fabric used in baby clothes is actually zero waste, as the entire flax plant can be spun into linen. Moisture absorbing, thermoregulating, hypoallergenic, and anti-bacterial, this tough, do-it-all textile becomes softer with every wash. And since it’s made from flax, linen is also biodegradable and can start the process in just two weeks, but only when untreated or naturally dyed.
Like we just alluded to, linen is no longer biodegradable once it’s bleached, chemically dyed, or chemically treated. (Although we just said flax doesn’t require pesticides, sometimes they’re still used to speed up the growing process.) Linen also has low elasticity, which is the cause of its immediate wrinkles and potential breakage.
Let’s clear something up now: Merino wool, a natural, renewable fiber grown by merino sheep, is not the same thing as regular wool. Its fibers are thinner (aka softer) and longer (aka stronger). Many consider it magic because it’s odor- and moisture-absorbing, as well as anti-wrinkle and -static (the latter of which keeps lint and dirt away). All of these explain what makes it a common fabric used in baby clothes, but the most important perk is the wool’s ability to thermoregulate on their behalf. From a sustainability standpoint, here’s the good news: All-natural merino wool decomposes within 6-12 months. However, that timeline doesn’t apply to blends.
Some more cons to be aware of with this common fabric used in baby clothes? While merino wool may be durable, it’s not flexible, which makes it prone to breaking. And because it’s so moisture-absorbing, it takes a while to fully dry. Merino wool, for one reason or another, is almost always unethically sourced. Standard practices for large flock sizes like castration and tail docking are allowed by law to occur without pain relief, and once sheep stop producing quality wool, they’re typically slaughtered. There’s also many standard breeding practices that cause millions of lamb deaths each year (more here). Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there: Compared to cotton, wool is significant in its greenhouse gas emission production and cleared land maintenance.
Cotton is, without a doubt, the most common fabric used in baby clothes. Natural and remarkably versatile, it’s able to be worn in all seasons, whether as a basic white onesie or durable denim. Cotton is also hypoallergenic, which means even the most sensitive skin can handle it. More perks: It’s breathable, moisture absorbing, and of course, super soft. And, as it turns out, not all cotton is created equally. All cotton fibers are naturally derived from the cotton plant, which makes cotton products biodegradable even in landfills, but the methods of farming organic versus conventional cotton produce different environmental outcomes. Organic cotton uses 91% less water, contributes 46% less greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 61% less energy than its conventional counterpart. It’s also made using organically-derived chemicals throughout the entire process, ensuring safety for the workers and the environment.
If it’s not 100% GOTS certified organic cotton—what we use here at Cubbiekit—you can still do better. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) has the highest and most stringent certification standards out there. It ensures end to end environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing processes, from the farming and harvesting of cotton to the production of our garments.
In addition to being made with 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, our garments are also 100% recyclable—from the cotton (duh) to the snap buttons sourced from a sustainability focused fastener manufacturer to the elastic bands used in our bottoms to ensure clothing stays on.
None of this is to say we should drape ourselves exclusively in 100% GOTS certified organic cotton for the rest of our lives. (Don’t worry, no one’s coming for the spandex in your jeans -- at least we're not) There’s room for practicality in sustainability, which is exactly why we need to think critically about the common fabric used in baby clothes. Life may be short, but it’s also way too long to let baby clothes, used for mere months to sleep and eat in, outlive us and the generations to come.