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Make Getting Ready Easier With a Capsule Wardrobe for Kids 

click to enlarge The capsule wardrobe of Meredith's 3-year-old daughter
  • The capsule wardrobe of Meredith's 3-year-old daughter

Baby and kids' clothing may be fun to buy, but clothing manufacturing has a tremendous negative impact on the earth, especially "fast fashion" outlets that churn out millions of garments a year. The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. (It takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans!) Textile dyeing causes water pollution, as the dyes are often poured into rivers and ditches and seep into the groundwater at dumping sites. There is a human toll as well, since many garment workers are underpaid and unfairly treated. Large-scale change is certainly needed, but individuals can make a difference by buying used and buying fewer things.

One way to lessen your impact is to create a capsule wardrobe — a manageable number of clothing items that can be mixed and matched.

Your kids might be utilizing a capsule wardrobe without even realizing it. Telltale signs are that they have go-to items they wear multiple times a week or items that absolutely must be washed before packing for a weekend trip. Or you may notice that the same clothes are pushed aside over and over again in order to get to more well-liked pieces.

Instead of succumbing to overflowing drawers, lighten your mental and your laundry loads by taking these simple steps toward a fashionable and sustainable solution.

Step 1:

Begin by sorting and purging the garments in your kids' closets and drawers. Set items aside that are too small, damaged or rarely worn. Beware those items that you love, but your child simply doesn't wear. Pack those things away if you don't want to resell or donate them right away, but get them out of the main clothing area. Depending on a child's age and temperament, you may want them to take the lead on this decluttering step, or not be involved at all.

Step 2:

Find your perfect wardrobe formula by identifying a "uniform" first, and then factor in laundry frequency. One of my kids likes to wear tights, a dress and a cardigan nearly every day in the fall and winter. Sometimes we substitute a heavier-weight dress for the dress-sweater combo, or leggings and socks instead of tights. Overall, though, she has a clear style direction that is easy to replicate.

After I figure out the basic uniforms my children wear, I consider how often I do laundry to determine how many outfits we need. In my house, we aim for seven full outfits for each kid and then add three outfits to keep at school. We stash two more in the diaper bag (er, since none of my kids wears diapers anymore, can we still call it that?) for accidents of all kinds.

Step 3:

Once I purge what doesn't fit and what doesn't get worn, I sort the clothes we're keeping into complete outfits. This is the step that will tell you if you have lots of items that don't really go together, or if you need a few more pieces to complete outfits. This is also a good time to determine a color scheme. Color is a great way to simplify a kid's wardrobe. You can choose one bold color and fill the rest of the capsule with neutrals. Or you can pick three to four coordinating colors to stick with. If you love color and pattern, go for it! Just be aware of what you and your kid like, and make sure there are enough pieces to mix and match.

Step 4:

Fill in the gaps with specific items. Buying less, no matter what you're buying, is better for the planet. Take it a step further and buy secondhand if you can. We have some great local consignment shops, including Dirt Chic in Burlington, Boho Baby and Once Upon a Child in Williston and Relish Threads in Shelburne. Apps like Kidizen and thredUP are also great places to look for specific items. Or organize a clothing swap with friends and family. If you're buying new, look for natural fibers like cotton, linen and hemp that could potentially be composted at the end of their useful life. If you can afford the upfront cost, kids' clothing companies that use eco-friendly dyes and sustainable, ethical practices are becoming more readily available, though they tend to have a higher price tag.

When filling out a capsule wardrobe, make a clear list instead of just having a general idea in mind. Knowing that you're looking for a pair of black or navy leggings instead of "stuff my kid will like" limits unnecessary purchases. When shopping secondhand, make sure you consider sizing. Used items might be slightly smaller than the label suggests due to being washed many times. Buying bigger is likely better.

Step 5:

Switch out your capsule seasonally, or less frequently. In Vermont, our seasons don't tend to cooperate with a calendar. In May, we might still be bundling up, and in early October, we may still be using summer clothing. I like to get a handle on my kids' next clothing capsule a month or so before I anticipate a big change in temperature so I have time to scan consignment and thrift shops for what they may need.

Want more?

Check out these resources:

  • Watch the documentary The True Cost about the impact the fashion industry has on the environment and people around the world at
  • Follow Fashion Revolution (@fash_rev) and @ajabarber on Instagram.
  • Read Simple Happy Parenting: The Secret of Less for Calmer Parents and Happier Kids by Denaye Barahona.
For more low-waste-living tips, follow Bay-Tyack at @MeredithTested on Instagram.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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