The manufacture of baby clothing

The organic baby food market has exploded in recent years as parents show concern for the food their children eat. What may not be so obvious is the way in which the manufacture of clothing can be harmful to both baby and the wider environment.

A baby’s skin is five times thinner than an adult’s, so it is easier for dangerous and harmful toxins to enter their bodies. Man-made fibres and dying processes can produce horrible by-products, but naturally-occurring cotton is the most pesticide sprayed crop in the world. According to the Organic Trade Association, 15% of the world’s insecticides are used on cotton, despite it taking up only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated space.

Based in Farnham, on the Surrey/Hants border, Purity describes itself as a fair-trade and organic boutique. Owner Paula Beaumont told me organic clothes are particularly good for babies and small children, saying, “It has to be better for young skin to have something next to it that contains no harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is a softer, nicer, fluffier fibre, too.”

The organic clothing market has grown massively in the three years Purity has been trading. Indeed, Paula said the number of suppliers available to her has doubled during this time. This means organic clothes have shrugged off an ill-deserved reputation for being bland and boring.

“People who come into our shop are very pleasantly surprised when we tell them our clothes are ethical and organic. They really enjoy what we have, love the colours and the fact it’s all natural fibres.”

Purity baby and children’s clothes are available online, and mums might be excited to hear they sell a full range of women’s clothes too.

Baby Bamboo was started in London five years ago, with the aim of producing baby and children clothes from this most sustainable of plants. Apparently, bamboo absorbs 35% more co2 than equivalent stands of trees, and as it is so quick-growing, it can replenish itself very soon after harvesting. Indeed, some varieties of bamboo can grow by a metre in just 24 hours!

Baby Bamboo uses organically fibres, whilst its factory in China is independently accredited for implementing ethical labour policies. Perhaps understandably, this comes at a price. The company is keen to describe its products as high-end luxuries, and its products may not suit every pocket.

Of course, newborn babies spend a lot of time asleep in cots. Based in London, Natural Mat sell a full range of organic mattresses manufactured in their own Devon factory.

Having been disappointed by the quality of mattresses available for his baby Luke, Mark Tremlett set about creating an organic design with co-founder Peter Tindall. Coincidentally, it took nine months for the designs to gestate and the result was the Coco Mat (priced at £125).

It is made from organic coir (coconut husk) and lambs’ wool.  The coconuts are fair-trade and the wool from farms local to the Natural Mat factory. There are two other designs available, using organic latex, mohair and horsehair.

I spoke with Marie Taylor, the firm’s marketing manager, who explained how her company’s mattresses promote positive sleeping patterns. She said, “Conventional materials aren’t breathable, whereas wool is a very breathable material. This stops babies from over-heating and perspiring, which causes them to waken. The wool can also ensure babies don’t feel damp when sleeping if their nappy leaks. And a better night’s sleep for baby means a better night’s sleep for parent.”

Natural Mat also sells organic cotton sheets and a range of bedding and furniture. All their products, which are also available online, adhere to the company’s core ethos of sustainability and minimal environmental impact.

According to Planet Organic, an organic supermarket in London, we absorb 60% of what we put onto our skin. This is one of the reasons they stock an impressive range of baby toiletries. There are a number of brands available, from such names as Earth Friendly, Green People and Tiddly Pom. All the shampoos, baby washes, nappy creams and lotions contain the gentlest ingredients, and without the presence of controversial chemical sodium laureth sulphate.

Planet Organic is found in Muswell Hill, although they also have an excellent website for mail order purchases. As might be expected, many of their suppliers are from areas of the country known for a slightly more alternative bent than our own region. For example, Green People are based near East Grinstead, the excellent Frugi in Cornwall and Beaming Baby in the hippy paradise of Totnes in Devon. I have included a selection of websites in the adjoining directory.

In Lymington, where the New Forest meets the sea, Willow Beauty’s high-end brand of luxury skin products are name-checked by celebrity mums like actress Emilia Fox. Having spent 15 years as an interior designer, founder Sue Stowell fell almost accidentally into the beauty trade when she was commissioned to design a Brockenhurst spa.

She said, “We wanted to go down the organic route, but there weren’t many products available at that time, and those we found were packaged in brown paper envelopes! I realised there was a market for organic beauty products which were kind to both the skin and the environment, and were beautifully packaged.

“That was six years ago, and we soon started making baby products too. We’ve found that parents don’t mind paying the little extra necessary to ensure their little ones aren’t exposed to harmful chemicals.”

Although Sue told me that more customers are buying Willow products for everyday use, they are also bought as gifts for the newborns of friends and family. They manufacture all their baby balms, shampoos, massage lotions and soaps themselves; all of which are Soil Association certified.

The organic market for babies and children continues to grow, even at a time when other parts of the organic sector are struggling to cope with the effects of the recession. As Marie Taylor said, “Parents are very interested in organic lifestyles at the moment, so we are doing very well.”