New mother Rosanna Falconer considers the conversations she will have with her daughter as she grows up in a very different world to that of previous generations.
My daughter India arrived into the world at 6.20am on February 3rd 2020. It was already an extraordinary year: the Australian bush fires brought devastation and the climate crisis into consistent headline prominence. The pandemic has brought the crisis into even sharper relief. There are positives: from wildlife like sea turtles in India coming ashore to lay 60 million eggs for the first time in years, to reduced CO2 (experts predict lockdown may lead to the biggest fall in emissions since World War II). These uplifting stories provide brief respite from Covid-19, but really only serve to highlight how far the planet had been brought into peril by our lifestyles, now halted so abruptly. It has also served to emphasise the wrongs of the industry in which I work, and have done all my career, with the livelihoods of workers at risk yet again, seven years after the Rana Plaza disaster.
For now, her face is one of blissful ignorance that provides me with unadulterated joy at every smile, yawn and gurgle. But as she grows up, how should I approach the topic of sustainability with her? How should I instil values into her at this troubled time?
There is no doubt that the act of even having a child is questioned by millennials now. Take the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, declaring they would only have two children in their candid interview with renowned ethologist Dame Jane Goodall. Or the BirthStrike movement, where women have pledged not to procreate in protest against ‘climate breakdown and civilisation collapse’. Bringing an additional human into an overpopulated world is without doubt a selfish act, something my husband and I stopped to consider, albeit only momentarily. Unlike my parents, the baby boomers, I can’t imagine my daughter having many friends where being one of three (like me) or more is the norm, unlike my generation. So now with this newborn in my arms, how best to take it from here?
Like any new mother, the noise of advice is deafening, from sleep routines to the gadget recommendations. But not once have I been advised on the sustainability side of things. In fact, from the moment I announced my pregnancy, most advice had a commercial tone.
“Oh, you won’t believe how much you need to buy!” (It turns out, not that much thanks to lends from generous friends).
“You still haven’t been to buy clothes for her?” (No, I’m only 12 weeks pregnant).
I posted a story on Instagram in the early weeks thrilled that I was able to multitask rocking the cradle with my foot while working. Immediately my DMs were flooded telling me I must buy the latest gadget that does the rocking for me; that’s motherhood in 2020, a gadget and a purchase for every conundrum. Don’t get me wrong, the craft of a good pram to power walk through the park compared to the spindly alternatives of yore is fantastic. But the commercialism surrounding it all is astounding. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who not only collated a list of the essentials but lent or gave me most of them now that her daughter has outgrown them.
On a larger scale, this circular economy is beginning to boom in the childrenswear space. Take Bundlee, where you can ‘rent baby grows as your baby grows’ with a selection of 15 pieces (expertly cleaned and sanitised) delivered to parents’ doors. It makes sense when babies burst out of new clothes within weeks (as I’m witnessing). Or for older children, there’s the newly launched The Little Loop. Furthermore, like in womenswear, pre-loved is gathering momentum. Fara Charity Shop has long-been a favourite haunt of savvy mums, and taking that up a gear in luxury retail, Kidswear Collective has launched a pop-up in Selfridges. Joining them in the designer space (where childrenswear is only worn on average 5 times!), Cheeky Cherub launches online this year for mothers looking to sell their treasured but out-grown designer childrenswear and Littlest Luxuries has a beautifully curated selection too. For day-to-day items, Loopster is the perfect place to find everything from from bedwear to bodysuits – always second hand, of course.
I have no doubt that my biggest influence in life is my own mother. She brought me up to see hand-me-downs and vintage as normal, not a trend. A rummage through our dressing up trunk was far more exciting than a trip to the shops. Forget second-hand, my clothes were fourth or fifth hand from cousins (who I so looked up to, so I treasured all the more). This is the attitude I wish to give my own daughter. My mother is already doing so: each week, she seems to find another of my smock dresses in the attic (just like the one pictured above!) and posts them to London. India left hospital in a woollen bonnet knitted by my parents’ neighbours for me back in 1985. It gives me so much joy to see her in my old clothes, and really, they seem no different to some of the most beautiful French and Spanish designs I have seen (good design never dates as any proponent of #30Wears knows).
Just as my mother influenced my approach to fashion, she instilled in me an ability to sew, avoid waste and cook from scratch. Long shall I remember her explaining the mechanics of the compost heap and the technique of sewing buttons. None of this was a laboured, painstaking lesson and that’s why it was so effective. Never once was she didactic. It was a natural, insightful way of teaching me. This power of teaching by example is the best way I can hope to teach my daughter about sustainability, certainly when it comes to day-to-day lifestyle.
At this newborn stage, conversation has its limits, but I know she enjoys and benefits from hearing my voice. Our horizons do not reach beyond our neighbourhood in lockdown, but I still try to show her the nature around us, telling her about its colours, origins and delicate balance. Equally, I hope to instil in her the ability and wisdom to make her own choices. I am vegetarian but my husband eats a small amount of meat and fish. When she wishes to try this, which I’m sure she will, I shall encourage her inquisitive nature, and ensure she knows its origins, just as she will the provenance of vegetables and fruit.
My generation has been blessed with affordable travel. We have discovered far away cultures and seen rare flora and fauna, perhaps soon to be extinct, in the wild. But such privilege is tainted: it has caused this crisis. For this reason, I doubt my daughter will travel as much, or indeed wish to. The activists of Generation Z are testimony to that. What shall I tell her about our travels? I shall paint them in my brightest colour palette with stories from my journals and photos from our albums. But I shall endeavour to show her that the greatest joys and happiness can be found at home, as I’m now discovering on lockdown.
When I interviewed Arizona Muse for FashMash Pioneers last year, her key advice when talking to her children about the environmental crisis was to explain every detail. They are fascinated, naturally, and it’s this interest that will make them committed citizens eager to help their community and the planet for years to come.
I look at her as I type these words, and my conclusion is clear: this is a letter to my daughter with knowledge passed down from my mother. Just as she is wearing my cotton bonnet today, I hope that I can pass on wisdom from generation to generation. If her strong legs and determined expression are anything to go by, she is going to be a fighter, and I have no doubt she will protect and preserve the planet much better than I could ever hope.
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