Capitalism Offers Solutions For Imaginary Problems: Baby Clothes Edition

This morning, when I observed my morning ritual of trying to drink the coffee faster while checking social media (I know, I know) I saw a video being shared about baby clothes. The video documents Vigga, a Danish company that rents out baby clothes in order to reduce waste. The owner of the company (also named Vigga) explains that when parents have a child, they are forced to participate in the “buy and throw away society” because babies grow so very quickly and constantly need new clothes. Renting out the clothes seems like a positive solution, and is presented as both eco-friendly and money saving. Notably, while I saw it shared by a handful of people on my personal feed, none of the people who I saw sharing it happen to be parents themselves.

I mean, obviously some parents do like it, because parents do use this company. If they didn’t, it would have already folded.

(FOLDED, clothes, get it????)

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But most of the parents I know would have no use for such a service, and it certainly wouldn’t save them any money. The reason is that while we’re all aware that our kids (especially the really young babies) only use clothing a handful of times, we’re not throwing them away when they’ve outgrown them, and most of us aren’t stashing them in the attic forever either. Instead, we pass them around our communities. In a weird coincidence, I learned about this company on the same morning that a piece I wrote on the joys of handed-down kids’ clothes went up. In that piece, I took for granted that swapping baby clothes was a practical solution that parents would engage in, and focused on the less obvious emotional elements of taking part in that kind of community.

But let’s please talk about the practical aspect for a quick minute.

Reusing baby clothes isn’t new. Once upon a time, mothers made most of their babies’ outfits by hand, and you can best believe that with successive children they weren’t about to sew new ones if the old ones would do. To my knowledge, this has always been the norm. In my own experience, I’ve spent very little on clothing for my kid. When I was pregnant, we received a mix of used clothes from folks with older babies, and new things from family members who went out and bought stuff because they really wanted to. During my pregnancy, we had very little money, and we purchased one onesie, which we found on clearance, because we happened to have three dollars and it was very cute. That’s it. The next time we bought clothes for him, it was because we wanted to, and it was at a thrift store. I believe he was three months old, and we spent about fifteen bucks on a bag of baby essentials in his current size.

15+3= $18 over a three month time period.

In contrast, after watching a more detailed BBC video, I learned that Vigga charges $55 per month for their service.

55×3= $165 over a three month period.

I don’t bring this up to shame anyone who finds a service like this attractive. I don’t bring it up to shame people who saw the video and thought “what a cool idea!” and his share. I bring it up because this is a perfect example of a thing that global capitalism does that ties into everything this blog is about. Because here is a place where communities have — and have always had — a perfectly good way of addressing the issue that babies, in fact, grow out of everything too damn fast. Communities are so good at addressing it that it in fact is functionally not really a problem. As long as parents are connected with other parents, as long as we’re willing to talk to each other and share resources, we’ve got the baby clothes issue pretty well handled. But of course, that isn’t profitable.

Capitalism is about placing profits over people, always. Capitalism pushes us to buy new clothes for our children when used ones will do just fine, and then it turns around and markets used clothing to us as “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” as long as we are willing to pay for it. It presents this as a solution to the problem of our constant purchasing and tossing of baby clothes, as though it were a new innovation to reuse things that aren’t worn out. In fact, what this is actually doing is attempting to replace the community with yet another monetary exchange.

Which both benefits from, and feeds into, nuclear isolation. It is saying “you don’t want to buy brand new clothes, because that would be wasteful. Don’t reach out to other parents though, instead pay $55 and this company will clothe your infant.” There is nothing innovative about that, it’s just a shift. The same way that childcare has been shifted out of our communities and packaged and sold to us (and no, I’m not shaming anyone who puts their kids in dare care, we all have to live in this world, you do what you have to) they are now trying to sell us the very idea of sharing.

I can hear the objections now. “Well, what if you don’t have any friends or family with older children from which to get clothes?” First of all, if that is the case for you, I’m extremely sorry. This level of isolation is, I believe, dangerous. It’s also constructed in order to keep you in a nuclear family unit that makes it easier to sell you shit, which is basically the thesis of my entire blog. Building communities is hard work, but it’s our only defense. But even if a hypothetical parent just logistically couldn’t find community to lean on for clothing in that way (let’s say you are the very first of your friend group to have a child, and you’re a stay-at-home-parent, and you don’t have the energy to try to meet anyone new right now, and you’re estranged from your family of origin) there would still be other, practical, “sustainable,” solutions. Buying the kid’s clothes at a thrift store and then donating them would probably be cheaper, and they could be donated at a shelter, thus helping a family in an even tighter spot. There are also mom2mom sales, which literally exist for this purpose.

If people are buying all of their infant’s clothes brand new, and then throwing them away, it is because they chose to do so. Maybe they chose to do so because they were comfortable enough financially to do so, and felt it gave them some sort of status. Maybe they chose to do so because they’d be too embarrassed to ask their friends and family for used clothing and no one in their circle has offered anything. Maybe they chose to do so because they enjoy hand picking each and every item of clothing. But ultimately, this is a choice that some people are making, and it’s a choice that is made because capitalism has sold us the idea that new is best, used is shameful.

A few points that are important to mention: Vigga is a clothing company, they make the clothes. Apparently they’re committed to using more eco-friendly methods of garment production, and so for them this is them shifting to a more eco-friendly distribution method as well. From that perspective (the perspective of the company trying to make a profit) it is a solution, and it’s a little bit better than the alternative. It is also possible that by highly systematizing clothes sharing, they’re getting more total wears out of a particular garment before it is discarded… but I feel like we can’t know that for sure (I’ve received hand-me-down clothing for my child that were literally older than I am). Also, because they make the clothes (and they’re cute as heck) what they’re selling isn’t just the idea of sharing clothing, it’s a particular aesthetic. This is high end, luxury baby wear, presented in a subscription box system that also implements reusing (which allows them to really use those buzzwords! SUSTAINABLE!). At it’s core, Vigga is a luxury product being sold to privileged parents who have chosen to opt out of community based clothing sharing because they are financially able to do so.

This is exactly the kind of “solution” capitalism loves.

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