It’s a busy Saturday morning at the local farmers’ market. My toddler and I move slowly through a bustling crowd, the pram basket filled with carrots, cheese and freshly picked daffodils. As we veer our way past little dogs and kids on scooters, we find ourselves at the stall of a lovely gentleman named Michael, selling all sorts of even lovelier meats. ‘Mummy, Mummy!’, my daughter says. ‘Moo!’ She points to a tray of homemade burgers. Perhaps not the best that my 20-month-old knows what a burger is (after one-too-many highchair meltdowns, burgers have become somewhat of a crutch – what can you do!) or that her knowledge of cows is slightly macabre, I am pleased she understands where the meat in front of her comes from, in a very basic Old Macdonald sort of way. I don’t want to always put meals on her plate with no explanation of how they got there or where the ingredients come from. Most people don’t.
I think we’re starting to approach shopping for our children’s goods like this. For far too long our kids have been wearing and using items they have had no thought or input in. Their awareness for the new outfit they wore last weekend probably stopped at the boredom meltdown they had in the changing room. There’s no wondering what the fabric is, who made it or where it’s from. And why is that? Why do we encourage learning in some areas of our children’s lives and totally ignore interesting elements in others? Their items are taken for granted; they’re just there. They can also be disposed of without much afterthought. If they don’t know where their jumper came from or how much it cost, why would they care what happens to it? If they’re living in a world of fast fashion, there are no consequences because the quicker something is thrown away, the quicker it can be replaced.
I think there’s a great way to avoid this apathy and that’s shopping the second hand marketplace with them. Can you imagine your 10-year-old folding up their clothes at the end of the day because they appreciate them; because they chose them, sourced the items and asked the seller questions? If they’ve been shopping like this with you since they were small this, my friend, could be a realistic goal.
Kids today are not built like we were. They want to be more involved with the world and they’re super tuned in to what’s going on. According to UK tribes, 79% of young people claim to be concerned about environmental issues. They want to have more impact but feel limited to what they can do (compost bins, reusable shopping bags and paper straws are just not enough). I think children are craving more responsibility. And I’m not talking washing Dad’s car for £5 pocket money on the weekend. I’m talking about a genuine need to make an impact in their communities and the world. In one day in March 2019, 1.6 million students in 300 countries marched in protest over environmental issues. That’s a lot of kids walking down the street! We can take this kind of energy and use it to make real, long-lasting habits and lifestyles.
I know life is busy. It can be so easy to click a button and have a well-known company fast-track things to your door. I totally get that. But perhaps taking time to shop with your bubba could be a two-for-one deal – quality time spent with them, plus getting the items you need. How cool would it be to spark their interest and search for their favourite make of toy with them? You can hunt stuff down and help them write a seller a question. Then when they reply, imagine how excited they’ll be when you tell them ‘Oh, Sarah got back to us, shall we see what she said?’ This is a great way to build initiative in kids, as well as confidence and communication skills. By shopping like this, they can learn the value of money too. If one jumper is being sold for £10 by Jenny, but Clare is selling it for £8 with free postage, they can work out which one is the better deal. Retail therapy isn’t cutting it anymore – let’s make it educational too! Plus, there’s the selling side. If there are clothes you want to sell, get them involved. Discuss pricing and let them help you pack it. If you can face it, even bring them to the post office with you. Then show them who’s buying it, where they live and ask what you should do with the money you’ve both earned. What will they do with their half? You’d literally be teaching them how to run a small business and they’ll feel very proud and independent.
According to a 2019 BBC report one in five teens buy second hand through apps, finding it financially sensible and 25% think it’s the more sustainable option. The interest is there, and it’ll only grow, becoming the norm for a lot of young people. I don’t think there’s been a better time to teach our little ones that shopping like this is not just ok, but cool and responsible. The shine of something brand new doesn’t last long and children don’t have to be embarrassed that their H&M jumper hasn’t come straight from a shopping centre anymore. The new spin on second hand is you’re considerate, savvy and potentially wearing something fabulous that other kids will ask their parents for (judging by how many mums ask me where I get my daughter’s clothes – one woman at playgroup said she is always the best dressed!).
We now know what we can do to be sustainable and children are never too young to start learning. Something fun like shopping preloved with them could become, at worst, a fun phase or hobby or, at best, a lifelong lifestyle. I think those are pretty good odds.