And I don't mean the physical act of putting their arms in the sleeves and all that (although sometimes in the mornings that might be more efficient than waiting for them to manage it themselves...).
I guess it's two questions really: Are there any clothes out there for teenagers? And will they care if they're ethical?
Do ethical clothes for teenagers even exist?
I could give a pretty short answer to this one:
I assumed for a long time that there must be ethical (fair trade/ organic/ fair wear certified/ sustainably made...) clothes for older children around somewhere, I just hadn't spotted them. I started up a pinterest page to gather them together for reference, so I could share with others... and a year or so on there's still hardly anything on it! I'll be really grateful if anyone wants to correct me on this, but even directories on some of the great ethical parenting or fashion blogs seem to peter out around 8 years. It seems there really isn't much out there at all beyond then until you're ready for adults sizes.
This is why I've deliberately carried on having older kids' ranges in Lost Shapes, even though from a financial point of view I can see why other ethical companies decide to stop. Interestingly, it's the parents of the 10-13 year olds that I get the most enthusiastic feedback from:
'My boys don't worry much about what they wear but when we chose and ordered the Glitchy and Pop! T-shirts they were really taken with them - the designs and the soft feel of the organic cotton.'
'13yo LOVES the *glitchy* T.'
'My son called last night and is completely thrilled with his pigeon sweatshirt!'
And new to Lost Shapes is the teenagers section, where I've gathered products from the adults' range that offer smaller sizes, or have fits or styles that are particularly teenager friendly. I'm especially excited about these new 100% organic cotton baseball tees, that start as small as xxs and have a brilliant retro youthful vibe.
But this is bigger than Lost Shapes. I'm committed to ethical fashion beyond the remits of this business, and in particular to trying to dress my family ethically. I say trying - we're not all 'if you can't buy it organic then sew it out of sack cloth', and there's certainly a whole lot of un-sustainable fibres in my husband's collection of nasty cycling lycra! But as part of this attempt, I've developed a vague clothes-buying flow chart, and this is how it shapes up for teenagers:
So you need some new clothes?
Mend/ adapt/ upcycle/ pass on
Cut off jeans to shorts. Develop a culture of passing down clothes amongst kids in your community.
Buy second hand from a charity shop
It reuses what’s already made, gives money to charity, gives you new things for cheap – win win win
Buy second hand from ebay (or similar) or a vintage clothes shop
I find it hard to get fashionable teenage stuff at charity shops, but it's great when you do! For when you need something specific and don’t have the time for charity shops, specific search terms on ebay really help - not having ever found an ethical jeans option for mine, this has kept the boys in skinny jeans for the last few years. If they're label conscious this is probably your answer too.
Buy new from ethical brands
As well as the ethics in the making of the product, money spent tends to go to actual people rather than big corporations, and helps keep these businesses going - let me know if you find more that work for teenagers - we tend to Lost Shapes for tops!
Buy the fairtrade/ organic/ recycled range from high street shops
The companies aren’t faultless, but it’s a move in the right direction, and it demonstrates demand. When we've exhausted the options above, we favour H+M's organic basics, or M+S sometimes have fairtrade polo shirts for school.
Buy from high street shops that have better ethical policies
The ‘least worst’ option. See ethical consumer for guides – some papers (ie Guardian) or websites like Moral Fibres summarise these from time to time.
But will they actually care?
Surely teenagers are so introspectively focused on their own instagram filter or trying to ape mindless celebrities that they're not going to care about who made their clothes and how? They're struggling with important issues like not getting up in the morning and despairing of their parents - how can I possibly think a worthy cause like ethical fashion will ever engage them?
So I'm biased - I really quite like teenagers, and have even chosen to work with them (paid and voluntary) for the last 10 years. But I'm optimistic. Teenagers tend to get, more than other ages, that there's a story behind what you wear. The story might be 'I'm trying to fit in so I'm wearing the same as everyone else', 'I'm showing you how dark I feel sometimes', or 'this is the tribe I identify with'. I remember when I was in 6th form my main aim when I dressed in the morning was to make sure no one else could possibly be wearing the same as me. Look at clothing brands on instagram - it's all about story, much of it false, and teenagers know instinctively that they are buying into more than just a garment when they choose what to wear.
Teenagers also have a wonderful tendency to see things with a clear and passionate morality. If it's wrong, it's wrong. When we get older many of us avoid these strong beliefs by over-thinking ourselves into inactivity, or excusing ourselves from taking small steps because the big picture is too demanding. This is pretty frustrating for teenagers, who can often see through this and become strong and successful campaigners. And in a world where your biggest power is what you consume and the money you spend, clothing is probably one of the few chances they have to exercise this power.
So how can we engage our kids/ friends/ relatives/ pupils/ youth club?
First stop, get them to watch 'The True Cost' movie - obviously if you're a parent and want them to feel strongly about it there's no way this suggestion can come from you - download/ buy the movie, talk in hushed tones about how it would be way too graphic and upsetting for them to watch, them accidentally leave it around. Or watch it really late in that time period where they're fascinated by anything you do and really want to just chat because you recently told them to go to bed.
Moving beyond that, Elizabeth Stilwell in The Notepasser blog has some fantastic advice on talking to teenagers about ethical fashion - there's absolutely loads in this post.
For inspiration from teenagers themselves, start with 16 year old fashion blogger Tolly Dolly Posh, who describes herself as 'Attempting to become more ethical and sustainable every day!' in her bio. Bright and confident, she mixes outfit posts, ethical fashion book reviews and her own designs.
And finally, get them thinking early. For age 10+, Threads by Sophia Bennett weaves real life issues of refugees and child labour into a fantastic fashion fairytale.
Irregular musings and pretty pictures from the heart of LOST SHAPES.