Sustainable Fashion for Kids

Beetle wings, banana skins and long shifts in the factory: Anya Hart Dyke explains why - and how - to teach children to wear their values...

Last week the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee delivered a shaky verdict on the fashion industry’s commitment to lessening its environmental impact and protecting its workers. If we’re serious about turning things around, we need to look at how the next generation is being raised to consume.

Existing educational resources about the clothing industry target school-age children, but parents can and should be engaging children on the perils of fast fashion from as young as two. They need to form good habits before coming under the influence of brands, celebrities and their peers. 

Clothing is one way that young people begin to define themselves. My daughter has chosen what she wears from the age of two and it has resulted in some wonderfully peculiar combinations. Allowing your child to experiment with different colours, textures, fabrics and styles teaches them that clothes are like ice-cream flavours; there’s no right or wrong choice and it’s all a matter of taste. Steel your child to resist fashion trends by encouraging them to find their own style early on.


I have a professional background in sustainability but I’m no educator so I wasn’t sure where to start when talking to my four-year-old about the impacts of the fashion industry. I gathered together some rags and a trowel and we headed out to the garden.

To get my daughter thinking about what happens to our clothes at the end of their short lives, we buried a sample of cotton, wool and polyester so she could see what the worms would and wouldn’t eat; what does and doesn’t ‘go away’. We planted little flags with dates on to remind us of where we hid them and dug everything up again after about six weeks. It’s amazing to see how quickly the soil’s microorganisms get to work.

Natural materials of course aren’t unequivocally fabulous. The V&A’s ‘Fashioned from Nature’ exhibition vividly showed you that. A feast for the eyes but a veritable onslaught for the conscience. Fur and feathers aside, there was a dress covered in iridescent jewel beetle wing cases and a pair of red-legged honeycreeper bird head earrings. Yes, their actual heads! My daughter was riveted.

So I blindfolded my four-year-old and played a guessing game. I gave her a piece of cotton, polyester, wool and… a banana skin. Why? Because one guy in America is turning food waste into clothing. This teaches the importance of innovation – of always thinking of how to improve on how we do things.


Talking to your child about who made your clothes is as important as questioning what they are made from. We have a fairly-traded basket in the house with a label on it depicting the individual who crafted it. Unprompted, my daughter asked if that was who made the basket. I’ve left the tag on.

Clothes labels don’t have such visual indicators of their origins. Get your child to pick out a favourite outfit and look at the label to tell them where it was made. Explain to them that children, as well as adults, often work very long hours to make our clothes and they get very hot, tired and hungry. Ask your child to write or dictate a letter to one of these children – does your child think they might find the work hard? Would they rather be playing or going to school? What would they like about your child’s home or school?

Anya Hart Dyke is a mum of two living in Fife, Scotland. She is currently crowdfunding for her first book, Our throwaway culture – raising children to consume wisely. Click here to find out more.

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05 Feb 2019