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What I Refuse to Buy For My Kids

Photograph by Getty Images

What are you wearing right now? This is not a come on, but an honest question. Add to that, what are your kids wearing? Where did you buy it, and how much did it cost you? Have you ever thought about who made it? Have you ever considered how and why clothing can be so cheap these days?

When my oldest was born, I got offers for a lot of hand-me-down clothing. Older friends who were further along in their parenting days trying to help me out while unloading stuff they no longer needed. But that was not for me or my precious newborn. She was new! And just born! Only the best for her would do, thank you very much.

Oftentimes, that meant $4 onesies from Old Navy or $7 dresses from H&M. These options were cheap and cute, and, I'll admit, kind of addictive. I had a good time dressing my daughter up and absolutely enjoyed the compliments received about how sweet she always looked.

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Soon enough, though, I realized that my daughter was changing so fast that she was literally outgrowing her outfits before she was even able to wear them. She had too much. It turns out, $5 here and $10 there really adds up. It took a little while, but I finally discovered secondhand shops for children. I found a new kind of addiction—the kind involving finding a pristine Hanna Andersson dress for $8 or super cool indie-label clothing that every other child in America was not wearing.

I was hooked. And I haven't ever really returned to buying exclusively new clothing for any of my three children since. Sure, a new piece here or there. But, generally, those new pieces supplement a wardrobe built on hand-me-downs and finds from children's secondhand shops.

There is no shame in recycling clothing that kids wear an average of a few months before growing out of them.

It wasn't until recently that I learned the greater significance of all of this cheap clothing available to us here in America. A few weeks ago, I went to a screening of a new documentary called "True Cost." What an eye-opener. Filmmaker Andrew Morgan sheds a blinding light inside the fashion industry, including the crumbling sweatshops where all of that fast fashion we've been wearing over the past decade or so (and putting our kids in, too) has been manufactured.

There is a cost to the growth of fast fashion that far exceeds the few dollars a new outfit runs us.

These sweatshops are staffed with people making just dollars a day for hard work in deplorable conditions, some of them young mothers who have left their children in the care of others so they could move into a city in the hopes of a better life. Some of them are older children themselves, surrounded by chemical— all so we can wear the newest trend from Forever 21 for under 20 bucks.

Modern life can be relentlessly guilt inducing, but as Andrew Morgan says in an interview catalogued on his web site, the clothing we buy has become a moral choice. For that reason alone, I am grateful to continue buying much of my children's clothing secondhand.

That's gotten even easier, as we can now do it online. Moxie Jean is a growing online site of secondhand clothing geared towards children from infancy to size 14. Prices are very affordable and styles range from casual to dressy with everything in between, including a newly added maternity section. You can start your new little one out on secondhand wear in utero.

Another solid option is the growth of locally based virtual yard sales that are popping up all over Facebook these days. A few months ago, knowing that my Dad was on hospice care and close to death, I put out an S.O.S to the other moms on the local page I am registered with that I was in the market for a boy's suit, size 6. Within just a few minute,s I had found one for $15. Done and done. My Dad, a king among penny-pinchers, would have been thrilled.

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The thing is, recycling clothing is just as easy and important as recycling our trash. There is a cost to the growth of fast fashion that far exceeds the few dollars a new outfit runs us. If we start our kids from an early age learning to appreciate that there is no shame to the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, we are helping so many more people than just ourselves. And that's a great lesson for our little ones.

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