Baby and children’s textiles: sustainability becomes standard
Sustainable and circular textiles are becoming the standard, and fast fashion is ‘out’. There will be a lot of changes for the Textile product group next year. As a result of the EU Green Deal, textile producers will be responsible for the collection, recycling and waste disposal and therefore have to pay a waste disposal fee.
New directive: Extended Producers Responsibility for Textiles
In this article, we not only look at material choice and designs but also at the new ‘Uitgebreide Producenten Verantwoordelijkheid Textiel’ (UPV) [Extended Producers Responsibility for Textiles] that will become legally compulsory as of 1 January 2023 and the collective interpretation for its implementation, the so-called Producers Organisation (PRO). Complicated matters, therefore, require further explanation because we hear from the market that this regulation is new to many parties. What does this new directive mean? We ask expert Miriam Geelhoed, Senior Consultant at Modint, the sector organisation for Fashion, Interior Design, Carpets and Textiles.
How come manufacturers and producers are not all aware of the new UPV?
Miriam Geelhoed: ‘We keep our members well informed, and it is regularly in the news. But I am surprised that not all companies read up on the developments that are coming. We see that SMEs do not always have a long-term strategy.’ She continues: ‘Entrepreneurs must realize that corporate responsibility will become a precondition for their continued existence in 10 years’ time. It’s not just about the consumer asking things of you, but there are so many forces around us that want to push us in a different direction from the traditional ‘pull and push’ model.’ She points to large platforms that increasingly opt for drop-shipment, where the responsibility lies not only with the platform but with the brands themselves.
What do you think entrepreneurs struggle with?
Miriam: ‘With the amount of change that is coming to our sector and how they are going to do it. Our step-by-step plan can help. Large companies will consult a specialist, but small business owners need to understand that it is not just about nice, new models and trendy colours, but that the products must also be safe and responsible. In addition to finding the right shade of pink, for example, the risks of the chain in question, such as child labour or environmental pollution, must be considered. Consumers must be able to count on a responsible product. This must become the standard. The Due Diligence Act, based on the OECD guidelines, is going to become important with the aim of combating violations of human rights, labour rights and the environment. These are important steps that you need to know and take as a company.’ And so we come to the fact that purchasers also have to think about the requirements they will place on producers. Why do new models and colours have to be launched so often, putting delivery times and prices under pressure? That is certainly food for thought.
Does the UPV apply only to producers? What about importers?
‘The UPV applies to producers and importers,’ Miriam replies. An example: if I import 10,000 shirts into the Dutch market, I have to pay a levy. If I export 6,000 shirts to Germany for resale, I have to ask for compensation for 6,000 shirts. How this will work out in practice is not yet concrete. The idea is that whoever imports it first should pay. If you sell it to a customer in the Netherlands, who then sells it on to a company in Germany, you cannot apply for compensation.’
When exactly does the UPV come into effect?
Miriam: ‘The government wants the UPV to come into force formally on 1 January 2023. But setting up a good collective system takes time. Therefore, a transition period is agreed upon. As a company, you do have individual responsibility, but you do not have to report on the concrete implementation and results until 2025. Furthermore, a producers’ organisation will be set up that will be responsible for a collection system but also for budgets for innovations that will stimulate reuse. The UPV goes hand in hand with the government’s objective of high-quality recycling and reuse of textiles. By 2030, the use of primary raw materials must be halved, and by 2050 the economy must be fully circular. Think of it this way: a disposal fee is charged, but at the same time, money is freed up for innovations to scale up. This is necessary because we cannot do it now.’
How will compliance with the UPV be monitored?
‘Companies will soon be responsible for reporting. It is a payment that will soon be seen on the receipt, where a registration also takes place. It is similar to the disposal fee you have to pay for mattresses, which by the way, have their own UPV. I assume that it will also be enforced. We also draw attention to the Consumer Imports Directive. You can already see that large platforms such as Amazon and AliExpress are preparing for this with a European or Dutch address. In addition, these parties also lobby heavily, which should not be underestimated,’ according to Miriam.
Consumers also order outside European borders; how do you see that?
‘In our lobby, we emphasize the importance of enforcement of the rules. In practice, this is difficult, but there is also an appeal to the platforms where these products are offered. They must, of course, screen their manufacturers. You can see that Amazon also removes things from the site. And of course, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority [NVWA] checks on product safety.’
We are in a market where many products are already reused and passed on. Are we not a separate player when it comes to baby and children’s textiles?
‘Is that so?’, Miriam asks. I think your market has a lot of potential, but I don’t know any figures on the scale on which that actually happens. Children grow quickly, and therefore the useful life of a product is not very long. I do see good examples in your market of being able to hand in baby and children’s clothes for reuse. I think various baby and children’s products are very suitable for leasing and refurbishing.’
What will this scheme mean in concrete terms for entrepreneurs?
‘There will definitely be some administration. The disposal fee has to be processed, but entrepreneurs keep track of what they buy anyway. Any company with a software system should be able to implement this fairly easily. It becomes more difficult if you are not automated. But there will also be parties who can help companies with this.’
What steps can entrepreneurs take now?
‘There are several possibilities,’ Miriam replies. You can get ahead of it and take care of things yourself, for example, by making contact with textile processors and recycling companies. But you can also wait until it is settled. It also depends on your position in the chain and whether you want to have control over large flows of ‘post-consumer’ textiles. If that is the case, then it is wise to take action yourself.’ She continues: ‘Textiles should be easy to collect and high quality to recycle, but there is a lot involved in this. It should be investigated what material it is made of, how parts are connected, whether there are metals in it…. This means talking to many parties and recycling companies. In any case, it should be made as easy as possible for consumers to return textiles. In the Netherlands, the clothes bins often fill up quickly, and a lot of rubbish is dumped in them. Yes, there are still a lot of problems, and that is also because we do not have the capacity to fiberize. At the international level, it must be agreed that clothing is not seen as waste but as an import for new fibres in terms of import taxes. And there are already companies like Lenzing, which make new materials like Lyocell based on ‘post consumer’ cotton.’
UPV, what is that?
UPV stands for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). In short, this means that producers and importers of textiles will be responsible for the collection, sorting, recycling, reuse and processing of waste from products placed on the Dutch market. For a collective implementation of the responsibility, the companies concerned can join a Producers’ Organisation (PRO). Currently, this responsibility still lies with municipalities; they will relinquish responsibility for separate collection to producers. There will eventually be a levy based on the number of items and weight classes.
Why has a UPV been created?
The clothing industry is one of the most polluting industries. In fact, it releases more CO2 than international air and sea transport combined. The Dutch government and the textile industry want to change this, and they are very ambitious. Former State Secretary Van Veldhoven of Infrastructure & Water Management initiated the introduction of the UPV for textiles in 2023. This UPV will be the flywheel to encourage the reuse and recycling of old clothes. Big polluters have to pay, and consumers get more sustainable clothing. As producers become responsible and bear the costs of waste management, a higher quality of clothing is expected. The UPV for textiles was also created by the trade organisations INretail and Modint.
Carrying baby’s: the latest trends and developments
What are popular baby carriers today? Are all baby carriers now ergonomic? What are the latest developments? We ask one of the most specialized babywearing specialists, Wendy Haisma.
Talking to an expert in carrying baby’s
Wendy is co-owner and trainer of ‘Zorgdragen Opleidingen.’ Since 2015, they have been offering courses on carrying a baby to healthcare professionals working with young children, such as paediatric physiotherapists and nurses. They also offer courses to people who want to become babywearing consultants but do not work in the care sector. She assisted in rewriting the parent-child relationship guideline for the Youth and Family Centre and speaks on carrying at home and abroad. In addition, since 2011, she has been a babywearing consultant in the province of Groningen and North Drenthe and, until recently, the owner of the webshop Ikdraag.nl. A real expert, therefore.
Has baby wearing changed much in the last ten years in terms of babywearing?
Wendy: ‘Certainly, the range of ergonomic carrying systems has grown enormously. Whereas ten years ago, baby carriers were ‘one size fits all,’ almost all can be adjusted nowadays. And the ‘toddler sling’ phenomenon was just emerging ten years ago. Meanwhile, baby carriers in larger sizes are readily available. There are also more options for the very youngest: not every parent is comfortable tying a baby sling, so it is very nice to have baby carriers that fit newborns or even premature babies. Of course, with the guidance of a specialized wearing consultant. In addition, parents find it easier to find information about carrying on Facebook groups and the wearing consultant is well established.’
What do you think of the range of baby carriers these days and the expensive, Instagram-worthy ones?
‘It is very nice that every parent can now find a system that suits their own taste and budget. But the price says nothing about the quality or ergonomics of a baby carrier. Making this product so expensive is not necessary, which is sometimes just a marketing strategy. The important thing is that the baby carrier fits both parent and child well. It is a pity if parents get the idea that they need to buy an expensive baby carrier to be able to carry properly because that is absolutely not the case. After extensive trying out, most parents choose the baby carrier most comfortable for them and their baby, which is usually an inexpensive to medium-priced sling. Some expensive baby carriers are not even of good quality: fabric going bald, buttons coming undone, and even seams coming undone!’
Is babywearing a trend or an established practice?
‘Carrying is quite common in the Netherlands. Or rather ‘reintroduced’, as carrying was the way to transport a child here, too, until a few centuries ago. A baby sling or carrier is now a standard part of a baby’s outfit, and carrying systems are readily available. The interest in carrying from the health care sector also says a lot about this: physiotherapists receive questions about it, and many health care centres employ paediatric nurses who are also babywearing consultants. The increased attention to the attachment relationship between parent and child has also contributed to this. Babywearing is, after all, a straightforward way of offering closeness to your baby.’
Research shows that educated women, in particular, want to carry their babies. Can you explain this?
Wendy: ‘During my consultations, I come across parents with all kinds of training, including practically trained parents. They are in the minority, indeed. I think the cost of a carrier system can be a barrier. This is why parents need to know that a good carrying system does not have to be expensive or new. Also, good information on wearing is not always readily available. To enjoy carrying, the carrying system must be comfortable. Otherwise, the sling or carrier will soon end up in the corner. A few simple tips can usually solve that, but you need to know where to find them. A babywearing consultation, babywearing consulting hours at health centres and midwives, and online babywearing groups can help.’
Can you say something about the ratio of purchase slings or carriers?
‘The baby carrier is still the most popular carrying system, and I think it will remain so. The convenience and speed appeal to many parents. Baby slings find their way to parents who enjoy learning to tie them. It is not difficult, but it takes some time to master. It is often the case that more slings follow once parents get hooked on the (woven) baby sling. Regarding purchase timing, we recommend you buy a carrier when the baby has arrived so you can try it out with the child.’
Do you see changes in the use of materials and designs of slings and carriers?
Wendy: ‘The biggest change is that most baby carriers now have an adjustable back section. Usually in height and width, sometimes in height or width. The nice thing about this is that the baby carrier can be adjusted to fit younger babies, but it also grows with them as they age. However, not every adjustable baby carrier can be used from birth. It is still important to check whether the size is correct. The toddler/preschool and big kid carrier are also real innovations. Ideal for parents who like to go on long walks and for children who are easily overexcited or cannot walk (far) on their own. You can also see that more and more baby carriers are made of woven sling fabric instead of canvas. The fabric of a baby sling is usually a little more supple and soft and therefore moulds itself nicely to the baby’s body. It also feels a bit more luxurious.’
Has there been any change concerning the recommended M posture? Do most carriers already comply with this?
“The M-posture is the optimal position for babies,’ Wendy answers. This involves squatting (knees higher than buttocks), lower legs dangling freely from the knee, and a slightly bent lower back. This position is very natural and supports good hip maturation. It is also a calming posture. Many baby carriers make this position possible. However, there are also baby carriers on the market in which the baby sits with its legs wide apart rather than in a squatting position because the back panel of the carrier is too firm or too rigid. Then the baby can spread its legs but cannot pull itself up properly. As a result, baby carriers in which the legs hang down are becoming increasingly rare. A good M posture involves more than just the legs; it also involves the hips, back and neck. In addition, the spine must have a natural curvature.’
Is carrying on the front still recommended?
‘No, for several reasons, that is a posture I do not recommend. It is more difficult for the baby to hold the M position, and the baby’s centre of gravity is not against the parent. This also makes it harder for parents to carry their babies. The baby easily hollows its back; the posture provokes stretching. In addition, when babies are carried facing away from their parents, they can’t shut themselves off from stimuli. This can lead to overstimulation. If babies want to see more of the world, I recommend hip carrying for younger babies, and older children often love back carrying. There are situations where forward carrying can be a good solution, for example, for children with a visual impairment or parents who use wheelchairs.
Can you tell us about the benefits of babywearing for the child?
‘Babies who are carried a lot cry up to 50% less. This is partly because a physiological reaction occurs when the baby is carried (on the arm or in a carrier system), which calms them down. A positive influence on bonding and parent-child interaction has been demonstrated. This is due to the skin contact and hearing the voice and heartbeat of the parent and the rocking. This leads to less uncertainty for the child. Carrying positively influences language development, as parents talk more to their baby while carrying. On average, mothers who carry breastfeed more often and for longer.’
She continues: ‘And recent research shows that carrying upright in a baby carrier subtly stimulates the neck muscles. Incidentally, I do not recommend breastfeeding while wearing. There is then a high risk of choking and oxygen deficiency. There have been nasty accidents with this, where parents fed their babies in the best possible way while carrying them. After all, it is often promoted as an easy way to feed. That is why I think it is important that parents can get the right information.’
Are there recent studies and research figures available?
‘Certainly: Prof. Lela Rankin Williams has published several studies on carrying and bonding in 2020. Prof. Ann Bigelow has published research on the long-term effects of skin-to-skin contact on the mother-child relationship. The influence on language development was also investigated in 2018 (Mirault 2018). And a wonderful review article by Bernadette Berecz et al. has been published on the evolutionary origins of babywearing. A Japanese study shows that when babies are carried, their heart rate drops and blood pressure drops. You see a baby become calm. This is also seen in mammals and especially in primates. Humans are like primates; the point is that in an emergency, you have to be able to carry a baby in peace when there is danger.’
Are there any disadvantages besides practical advantages?
‘Carrying is often found convenient by parents because you have your hands free and can still offer closeness to your baby, and you can go out more easily (the bus or train, mountain walk, walk on the beach, up/downstairs). On the other hand, parents are sometimes afraid that their baby will not be able to sleep easily outside the baby carrier, and some babies do not sleep if they are not carried. The question is, of course, whether the baby does not sleep easily outside the baby carrier because he/she is used to being carried or whether the baby is carried because sleeping is not easy and when sleeping would not be easy without carrying either. Fortunately, day nurseries staff are usually skilled enough to deal with this. More and more employees of day nurseries also engage in babywearing. For them, having their hands free for once is also useful.’
Responding to changing needs for carrying
According to Wendy, parents need to adjust the time they spend carrying to their child’s development. She says: ‘A newborn usually benefits from being carried a lot, but as a child grows up, its needs change. For example, a 4-month-old baby also needs time and opportunity to learn to roll over and play with their feet and hands; a 6-month-old baby should be given a chance to crawl. I sometimes hear parents say that they think ‘the more we carry, the better it is for bonding’, but it is actually important, also for bonding, to look at the developmental phase and adjust the carrying accordingly.’
Trends in baby carriers
- Adjustable baby carriers, a model that grows with your child.
- Carriers for different target groups: premature babies, newborns, and toddlers.
- Use of new materials: breathable mesh and supple, woven fabrics.
- The reuse of baby carriers by recycling them.
Sustainability and circular economy in the baby market
The term sustainability is now well established among consumers and businesses alike. It is different when we talk about a circular economy in the babymarket. What is circularity, why should you think about it as a company, and why can you only achieve circularity by cooperating with other parties?
Circular economy is one step further
A circular economy assumes a world without waste and goes one step further than the use of organic cotton, recyclable packaging material or ecological rubber wood. What is the difference between sustainability and circular economy? We ask Laura de Jong, social media and content expert for sustainable brands and member of the jury, for the Green category of the Baby Innovation Award competition.
Sustainability and Circular Economy
Laura: ‘Sustainability is too often only considered on the material and labour side. But if organic cotton products that have been produced in a fair trade manner are only used for one baby, this is not really sustainable. If more thought is given to the chain, that is, how a product can be used longer and more often and what can be done with it when it is no longer usable, then you get a circular model and, therefore, sustainability in the long term.’
What do you think of sustainable initiatives in the baby market?
‘There are some very nice examples, such as Tiny Library and Red Orka. But I am surprised that it is still only such a small part of the market. Particularly during baby time, when a lot of things and clothes are used for such a short time, it is perfect to use a circular model.’
Is it clear to businesses what they have to do if they want to do their bit?
‘I think many companies find it a difficult task because it requires more thought than just buying an organic fabric or ensuring responsible production. Don’t get me wrong, that is also important, but in my opinion, the minimum if you want to call yourself sustainable as a company. Circular means that you take responsibility for your product, even if it breaks down or runs out. So what do you do with it? And if you want to reuse it, that means that other choices have to be made in the design phase. That is a challenge but also your responsibility as a brand. If you don’t take it, the problem will be on the shoulders of the earth,’ Laura says.
What do you think is going well and what is not going well?
‘In my opinion, companies need experts who know what possibilities there are with the material after use and what not. Then you know that it is better not to glue a stroller or car seat together because the materials cannot be separated and processed separately after use. Screwing or stitching is an option in this case. Or the choice of a fabric made of 100% of one material, as this is easier to recycle than composite fabrics. It is difficult to see these opportunities for your own business. An expert can help you investigate this.’
Is there much abuse of the notion of sustainability (greenwashing)?
‘Yes, sustainability is a broad and unprotected concept. For example, a product may be vegan, but that does not mean that it consists of natural substances. Such claims evoke a sense of security in consumers, but it is often unclear what you actually get.’
I want to become more circular. Where do I start?
Circularity can be applied in different places in the organisation and in the chain. Shopping Tomorrow formulated 7 pillars aimed at the fashion industry:
Set a strategic course
Choose a clear strategy for the future of your company. To do this, you need to define the brand and the organisation well, make objectives measurable and make choices in the areas of collection, production, distribution and communication.
Design and material choice
The first step in a circular economy is basically already determined in the design phase. If you can properly separate materials from a product for recycling, then reuse is much easier and more profitable. Nike, for example, developed a ‘circular design guide’ for their designers. Nike thinks beyond the ‘shoe-to-shoe process’. The landscaped basketball court in Los Angeles, made from recycled sports shoes, is a good example.
Involve the consumer in the process
More and more consumers check the reputation of organizations and want more online inspiration and information before buying. The latest GfK research shows that 34 per cent of customers prefer to choose a sustainable product, provided the price is the same. But 29 per cent are willing to pay a little more. C&A takes consumers into the process with their mottos ‘Sustainable fashion, our new standard’ and #WearTheChange.
Of all clothing and textiles, 45 per cent are collected via textile containers. Not enough is known about the rest. The fact that fashion brands are focusing on collecting is good for raising consumer awareness. Retailer Arket has a programme for collecting clothes, shoes and textiles. The consumer receives a discount voucher for the next purchase.
Separating and sorting
Besides collection, separation and sorting of textiles are important according to the Extended Producer Responsibility (UPV). The aim is to collect as many reusable clothes and textiles as possible. Soiled and worn clothes still end up in the household waste. Processes of reuse, resale and recycling should be further explored.
The reuse of fibres
Most of the textiles are sold on, some become filling material, and unusable residual material is burned. High-quality reuse applies to only 1 per cent of textiles. This percentage should be increased step by step according to the UPV targets. Research into the production of new fibres from old (cotton) fibres is being carried out in various places, such as SaXcell.
Collaboration in the chain with Digital Product Passport
A Digital Product Passport (DPP) follows the product throughout its lifecycle and is important for cooperation with other parties. The DPP contains information on the origin of a garment and what will be done with it at the end of its life. In the United States, start-up EON New York came up with a global protocol for digital identification. According to experts, more and more products will have a digital passport in the form of a QR code or hardware tag.