Maternity Clothes Can Be a Sustainability Nightmare, But They Don't Have to Be
During your pregnancy, have your found yourself worrying about the future of the planet your baby will soon call home? Are you hesitant to buy a whole new maternity wardrobe that you'll only wear for a short period, then discard? Do you cringe when you read one maternity dress label after another emblazoned with "100% polyester," especially when those maternity dresses each arrived wrapped in several plastic bags?
I have good news. Maternity fashion doesn't have to be inherently unsustainable, and it actually can be quite the opposite. A few thoughtful steps can make your maternity wardrobe both eco-friendly and a good investment.
Sustainable Maternity Fashion Tip 1: Buy Only What You Really Need
You don't have to buy a ton of maternity clothes to have a great maternity wardrobe. Why? Because lots of things already in your closet will serve you well during pregnancy, like that open-front blazer, flowy peasant top, and empire waist maxi dress. Pack up all your tight, stiff, waist-cinching clothes in a box, and put these front and center in your closet. There are a few maternity essentials you really need when you're expecting, such as over belly maternity pants (trust me, under belly just isn't comfortable after a certain point). While there are a few maternity must-haves you can't avoid, you can build a gorgeous pregnancy wardrobe while buying surprisingly few actual maternity clothes.
Wear Everywhere Eco Maternity Leggings w/Phone Pocket by MARION.
Sustainable Maternity Fashion Tip 2: Buy From Companies That Prioritize Sustainable Materials & Practices
Eco-conscious maternity brands often label maternity garments with words like sustainable or eco-friendly on their websites if they want to communicate a concern about their impact. Dig a little deeper than that initial label, though. If they are serious, they should have a clear listing by each style describing the materials used in the garment. MARION, Pact, and Warp+Weft are all maternity brands to shop for sustainable fabrics and practices. Some materials and certifications to look for:
- Fabrics: TENCEL (made from sustainable Eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop system), Lyocell bamboo (rather than traditional bamboo rayon), recycled cotton, recycled nylon, recycled polyester, organic hemp or organic linen.
- Certifications: Oeko Tex (tests for harmful substances at all processing stages), BCI (Better Cotton Initiative), GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), and GRS (Global Recycled Standard).
Sustainable Maternity Fashion Tip 3: Look For Maternity Clothes You'll Actually Want to Wear After Pregnancy
Even the best maternity clothes have traditionally been so unflattering and poorly made, who could blame women for celebrating the day they get to ditch them for good? This makes the lifespan of many maternity clothes as short as the worst of fast fashion.
It doesn't have to be this way! It is possible to buy breastfeeding tops that don't cut glaringly across the bottom of your bustline, screaming "I'm a nursing top!". Stretchy fabric technology and clever design mean you never have to buy scrunch-waist maternity shirts that you'll promptly discard. Look for maternity dresses with empire waists, pleated maternity to breastfeeding tops that will lie flat once your baby bump has shrunk, and high-waisted maternity leggings stretchy enough to hug your curves nicely post-baby.
Sarah TENCEL Empire Maternity & Nursing Dress by MARION, as worn by model postpartum.
Sustainable Maternity Fashion Tip 4: Let Your Maternity Clothes Be Re-Used
Even if many of your pieces are for "pregnancy, nursing, and beyond," there are a few things you are unlikely to wear after you're past the baby stage. Key wardrobe items like over-bump maternity dress pants and skin-to-skin breastfeeding tops are truly limited use. Extend the lives of these items by donating them to someone who will really use them, listing them on sites like Facebook's Buy Nothing Project, or selling them on websites like ThreadUp or Poshmark for a tidy return.
Sustainable Maternity Fashion Tip 5: Recycle or Compost As a Last Resort
The truth is that garment recycling isn't as easy or accessible as it should be - yet. A few stores offer decent solutions. H&M provides customers a discount if they bring in a bag of clothes for recycling, and Madewell will give anyone $20 toward their next purchase in exchange for an unwanted pair of jeans. Websites like Earth911 and Recycle Now offer searches by zip code.
Believe it or not, maternity clothes and other textiles can make great material for composting IF they are made with 100% natural or compostable fibers. Items made of pure wool, cotton, silk, or linen that are too old or damaged to donate can be cut up into small pieces and placed in your composting system (remove buttons, zippers, and other notions first, obviously). Turn your old maternity pants into tomatoes? That maternity skirt into cabbage? Beats the landfill every time!
Clothing made for pregnancy and breastfeeding does present some unique challenges in sustainability. Limiting your purchases to what you really need, choosing items you will wear beyond maternity, and purchasing from companies that share your values are the most powerful ways you can keep your pregnancy green. Donating, selling secondhand, recycling, and composting are also excellent tools to ensure that your items have a planet-healthy life after they leave you for good.