Last spring my husband announced, “Our son needs some new trousers!” and off they went shopping. The resulting haul included light-coloured dinosaur-print chinos, beige skinny jeans that looked more like a second-skin costume and a blue linen-look pair with a weave so loose you could see my son’s pants through it. Moreover none of the trousers had an adjustable waist – a bit of a problem for my skinny boy. Every pair soon ended up on my mending pile…
I love upcycling and being creative with clothing, but even I have to buy trousers for my son every two months on average, mainly because of shredded knees. When I set out to create my own children’s clothing brand, I did a little survey and discovered that almost 80% of my respondents buy children’s trousers every few months or more often.
This all adds up. According to Greenpeace, the EU alone generates 1.5-2 million tonnes of used clothing every year, much of it unsellable due to poor quality. What a waste of time, money and resources (both parents’ and the planet’s)!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to single handedly rid the world of clothing waste. Instead I will share some simple ways to make clothing last a bit longer.
I always look for a few specific features that help me identify longer-lasting trousers or leggings (for my daughter).
Firstly, avoid skinny-fit. Not only is it not comfortable for children, it creates extra tension at the knees which makes the fabric rip quicker.
Secondly, check fabric quality. If the weave is loose – look for gaps between individual threads – then most likely the trousers won’t last long. This can happen in any price category. Fabric quality is generally on the decline and sadly there is not much we can do about it.
Which brings us to the third tip: look for styles with reinforced knees or reinforce the knees yourself(outside or inside) while the trousers are new. Glue-on patches tend to come unstuck quickly, so it’s a good idea to stitch them on as well. You can buy ready-made knee patches, or cut your own – just always reinforce with a product such as that offered by Vlieseline® on the back of the fabric. Reinforcements inside the trousers can be done with any piece of fabric you have handy and some double-sided Vlieseline® type product.
Also, don’t forget to rotate what they wear (trousers last longer when they have a day off occasionally) and wash inside-out – this preserves the brightness of the colors and protects the fibers from additional rubbing.
These are just a few basics. With a little creativity and upcycling, it’s possible to prolong trouser and clothing life even further. For example:
- Replace the narrow waistband in jersey trousers with a wide one cut out of an old T-shirt. This works especially well with pyjamas, giving them up to a year of extra life. You can also insert a light elastic band inside if needed.
- If sweatpants rip at the knees, cut the leg off just above the tear and sew in sleeves from an adult’s hoody or sweatshirt. This works a treat – it can give the trousers two extra sizes in length. You’ll then have a nice pair of trousers for literally just two seams around the legs.
- Outgrown, misshaped children’s vests or t-shirts can be combined with a “skirt” made out of an old adult t-shirt to create an easy, carefree summer dress. This is one where you can let your creativity run wild and reuse trims or decorations from your old t-shirt on the “new” dress.
- If a knitted jumper or cardigan gets too short, crochet or knit a few extra centimeters onto the sleeves and around the bottom edge – or just sew on cuffs from an old jumper.
Maybe this all sounds time-consuming, but actually, none of these ideas takes much more time than shopping for something new.
Small changes like these can have a big impact. According to Greenpeace, doubling the useful life of clothing from one to two years could , saving large quantities of freshwater and significantly cutting the release of hazardous chemicals.
So next time you come to throw away yet another pair of trousers, give it a go – you’ll see how easy it can be to make clothes last longer. Plus, upcycled clothes will save some money, and you have the satisfaction of creating something (almost) new. Your children will thank you!
Elena is the founder of Babbily, a clothing brand that creates trousers, dresses and tops that grow along with a child. She has been upcycling and sewing for more than 15 years. Trained as a teacher, Elena has a natural fascination with children’s development and their physical and emotional needs at every stage. When her son was born, she combined these interests to start a brand of children’s wear that is durable, comfortable and gentle on the skin and also sustainably produced.
Babbily is holding a prize draw to celebrate the launch of its first collection. Simply subscribe to the newsletter on the Babbily website (https://babbily.eu/) with the code “VFN” by January 31, 2021 to enter!
Find Babbily on Instagram also: @Babbily_clothing