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As a green parent you'll experience many challenges: how to get everyone to recycle, how to serve organic food on a budget, how to sort out which sunscreen is safe and more. None of these challenges are insurmountable however. What IS impossible, if you happen to be a green advocate with a son, is finding eco clothing for boys. In fact, of all the eco-peeves I have, the utter lack of sustainable clothing for boys is probably number 1 on my list. Consider this: as a long-time eco-blogger and environmental advocate, I've got dozens of green-minded clothing stores bookmarked on my laptop. Guess how many carry a lot of sustainable clothing that might, emphasis on MIGHT fit my 12 year- old son Cedar and appeal to him design-wise? About 8... maybe. As a new parent, clothing is easy because a dizzying array of stores carry wonderful sustainable baby clothes for boys and girls. However, by the time your son is size 6 or 8 you're lucky to find a few decent sustainable clothing shops catering to boys. Once your son hits 10 or older, you're seriously out of luck. You're not going to find even ONE full collection of sustainable clothing for boys age 10 through the teen years. This makes normal stuff, like back-to-school eco-shopping really tough. As a parent trying to help other parents of boys, I've got a few suggestions about how to handle this, so keep reading.
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Don’t you have better things to complain about?
If you’re an adult with tons of options or a parent of a baby or toddler, finding sustainable clothing is no big deal because stores cater to your needs. Finding eco-clothing IS a huge deal to me though because I have a 12 year old son and we have almost zero options. My son and I work hard to buy green products, use reusable water bottles, eat organic and recycle, so why shouldn’t my son get the same green clothing options as everyone else? Doesn’t it seem odd to encourage your kid to be green when he can’t even dress green? Plus, clearly sustainable clothing is better if your family’s goal is to live green. Every eco-clothing company website out there spits out pages of information about why you should wear organic, hemp, bamboo or another eco-material vs. conventional. Eco-clothing companies boast about their commitment to environmentally sound production, Fair Trade, safe water-based inks and so much more that your head will spin. None of their claims are false either. Eco-friendly clothing is better for people, the planet and the workplace environment.
Yet, if eco-friendly clothing is so awesome, why aren’t eco-companies committed to offering clothing for kids past the toddler age? It’s like sustainable clothing companies think boys deserve clothing until about age 8 then should run around naked until they hit adulthood, unless they want to wear clothing that’s swimming in chemicals and made with zero ethics. I have no idea where sustainable clothing companies got the brilliant idea to offer clothing to just three age groups – baby, toddler and adults, I just know that they do and it’s extremely frustrating to know that kids 10 to teen matter so little to the eco-clothing companies of the world.
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Is there anything parents of boys can do?
I’ve been complaining about this on and off for years, and no one listens to little old me. However, if parents band together, sometimes amazing things happen – like pink slime gets banned from schools. Send sustainable clothing companies letters, call or email and tell them you have a son age 8 to 18 who would like sustainable clothing. You can also blog about it, or post complaints on companies Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Be sure to be specific when complaining to clothing companies. When I’ve been lucky enough to come across organic tees for boys aged 10+ they usually have big cartoonish animal designs or silly logos plastered across them or come in little kid pastel colors. I’ve got two tweens and one teen living at my house, all of them with many friends, and I know for a fact that older kids and teens do not want pastel toddler clothing in bigger sizes, they want clothes that are cool and match their age. My son, for instance, understands the benefits of eco-clothing, and he’s willing to go green, but his rational doesn’t expand to the point where he’s willing to wear a pastel shirt with a friendly smiling elephant on it. He wants the kinds of tees they have at “cool” shops, like Threadless or Exit Real World.
Also point out to companies that you’d like affordable sustainable clothing. Eco-clothing should cost a little more than conventional, for many good reasons. However, when I’ve come across clothing for older kids, it’s always insanely expensive, and not by a sensible amount, but seriously hopped up to beyond affordable unless you’re a millionaire. On the next few pages I’ve listed some of your better options when it comes to outfitting your elementary to teenage son in sustainable attire.
All clothing shown above from Soul Flower
Eco-friendly clothing for boys
If your son is between the ages of 7 and 12, or if he’s very short or slender, he’s going to be extremely hard to shop for if you’re going green. Even a small adult tee will be too big for your kid. Now, if your son is a tall 11-year-old, or he’s 12 or older, your best bet is to start looking at sustainable tees, shirts and other clothing in small adult sizes. I usually look for the smallest size possible or sometimes I’ll wash and then dry the shirt with the hopes it’ll shrink (I usually hang dry). Below are some clothing companies that make shirts and other clothing that may work for your son from ages 12 to teen.
- Soul Flower: Noted for being a “hippie” shop, but don’t let that freak you out. This shop offers a wide range of very un-hippie items that tweens and teens will like. From tees to cargo shorts to pants to really decent shirts and much more, you’ll find a good amount of clothing here and it’s all made Fair Trade and/or with organic or other sustainable materials.
- Rapanui: This shop is across the pond if you live in the USA, but if you’re in the UK or don’t mind paying shipping, they have an outstanding collection of eco-clothing for men, and most in very youth-friendly designs.
- earth creations: A decent selection of tees in subtle colors and designs. Both long and short sleeves available.
- LOOMSTATE: The SRF + CTY collection for men offers soft reversible hoodies, fun graphic tees, summer tanks and even boardshorts made with 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled plastic. Cool designs that kids and teens will like too. The downside – they run on the more expensive side, but not as expensive as many eco-clothing companies.
- Revenge Is: Very small collection of mens tees, but my son thinks their styles are ok, plus their smalls run nice and small and their clothing is made from recycled bottles and printed with water-based inks.
- No Enemy: Offers so little boys clothing, that they’re almost not worth mentioning. BUT once in a while they have really cool, organic, inexpensive hoodies in stock.
- Patagonia: Has a fairly decent selection of organic pants and tees. While the designs are nothing to write home about, some boys will find clothing they like here. In not so good news, Patagonia doesn’t divide their organics from other clothes, so you’ll have to just type “organic” into their search form and see what pops up.
- Green Label: A semi decent collection of tees, long sleeves and most importantly, thermals! Decent designs, as well as solids, all in 100% certified organic and printed without the use of PVCs or other harsh chemicals.
- Natural Clothing Company: Various plain colored organic tees, plus some really nice organic hoodies.
- Adayak: Good collection of organic hoodies and shirts for guys. Though you won’t find super eye-popping designs, you’ll find some decent basics.
- Cottonique: Allergen-free organic under-clothing for boys such as underwear, undershirts and sleep items, and they go up to size 14.
- Element EcoWear: This site has quite a bit of eco-clothing for guys, but this is also one of the hardest websites to navigate you’ll ever see, so be prepared for some confusion when shopping here. If you can handle the mess of a website, prices are reasonable and selection is good though.
- Polarn O. Pyret: Has a small selection of eco-clothing for kids up to age 12, made from recycled bottles or organic cotton. Some harder to find items like kid boxers are included.
- Revival Ink: This store is art-based, carrying many unique eco friendly tees and hoodies. Selection changes as artists get inspired.
- moreTrees: Polos, hoodies, and button downs all made with hemp, organic cotton, and or recycled PET. Refreshingly hip designs too.
- Fair Indigo: Carries a small selection of guys clothing, mostly tees.
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What about pants for boys?
Some of the clothing shops on the previous page carry pants, so you can start your search there. However, finding eco-pants is much harder than finding sustainable shirts. While you can find small shirts that will fit a younger boy, it’s very tough to find pants that fit a kid, even if you look at the smallest adult sizes. Basically, you don’t have many options for jeans or other pants, beyond the minimal selection at the stores on the previous page, but here are a few ideas.
Levi: Levi is really frustrating, because they recently introduced Waste<Less jeans made from recycled bottles and Water<Less jeans made with less water resources, but only for adults. For some tweens and teens these collections will work, but not for younger boys. I’d contact Levi and let them know that you’d like to see eco-jeans for kids.
Check out thrift stores: Buying used clothing is a very eco-friendly option, but your choices are often limited, especially if you live in an area where thrift stores are wildly popular (like PDX). Most of the good stuff goes quick. Still, my son and I have had some luck finding shorts, jeans and cargo pants at thrift stores, garage sales and consignment shops. Tees go quick, but pants are often easier to find used, because kids outgrow them so quickly.
Recycle!: If you look and look and can’t find sustainable jeans or pants for your son, one really good option is to go conventional (because you have no choice) then recycle your son’s pants when he outgrows them. You can pass jeans and cargos on to a younger friend, donate them to a youth shelter or mail your denim to The Cotton From Blue to Green program. Blue to Green turns used denim into building insulation. Earth 911 has a lot of good info about recycling clothing too.
Shoes above via Autonomie Project
Eco-friendly shoes for boys
- Autonomie Project: offers a few organic tees for guys, but their real selling point is shoes. They offer cool shoes made ethically in sizes that will fit a range of ages. Sneakers, flip flops and rain boots available.
- Toms: Ethical materials and when you buy a pair, Toms gives a pair to a child in need.
- Planet Shoes: An eco-conscious company that carries tons of sustainable shoes. They’re partnered with an insane amount of do-good organizations and they even offer a carbon-free shipping option.
- Keep: Offers shoes that are all vegan and cruelty-free.
- Alternative Outfitters: This shop only carries vegan and ethical / green goods. They’ve got plenty of shoes and great prices too.
- MooShoes: A vegan-owned business selling a wide assortment of cruelty-free footwear. Prices can get a little steep and there’s no dedicated kids sizes (small adults though) but you can find good deals here.
- Sanuk: Many sustainable shoe options. I don’t personally think their designs are super youth-friendly, and neither does my son, but I know parents and kids who do like their designs, so it’s worth a look.
- Draven: Draven’s website is somewhat of a nightmare. Links break, the online shopping is crazy confusing and navigation is nearly impossible, but all that aside, there’s no doubt that these guys make shoes that most boys will love. All shoes are vegan friendly – free of animal ingredients and animal testing and their designs are seriously cool.
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Other options for sustainable clothing for boys
When all else fails, or your kid is too small for the smallest adult-sized clothing I posted above, you do have a few other limited options that can help keep your son’s closet green.
Go Online: If you expect to simply walk into a brick and mortar store and outfit your son in green clothing you’re sadly mistaken. Your best bet is to piecemeal together a sustainable wardrobe online. An organic tee here, a hemp hoodie there, some recycled content shoes elsewhere. Expect to spend a lot of time online, looking for the clothing pieces you need among many online shops.
Go Conventional: I’ve had some luck combing conventional clothing stores for organics. Usually for shirts, not pants or shoes. Most stores do carry a wee bit of organic, hemp or sustainable clothing, but it’ll take some detective work and label reading on your part.
Go Local: Another option is to look at local head (hippie-minded) shops, outdoor art markets and eco-shops in your town. Some of these places will carry sustainable clothing for older kids, but it’s a hard hunt.
Go Used: As noted in the pants section, secondhand clothing is always a good choice if you’re trying to cut back on your product footprint.
Go Custom: If you’re sewing savvy, you can make some of your own sustainable clothing. If you’re less sewing savvy you can buy custom made tees, sweatshirts and more with various designs in organic cotton at places like CreateMyTee, Zazzle or Cafe Press.
Do you have an older son? Do you try to buy sustainable clothing or have you given up? Let us know in the comments.