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The Importance of Recycling Your Clothes

Margaret Davidson + Danny White are the founders of Bokk Baby, a brand that brings the world sustainable (and adorable!) baby clothes and a donation program to recycle baby clothes to new mothers in Senegal, West Africa.
For this Clary profile, we talked all things Bokk Baby, sustainability, and the importance of recycling your clothes.
What prompted you to start Bokk Baby? 
The idea for Bokk Baby started with the idea for our donation program. We had just moved back to the U.S. after living in Senegal, where we both served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. That same year, Margaret’s sister had her first baby. He was born in the hospital, and right away he was wrapped in a striped, flannel receiving blanket. If you’ve had a baby in a hospital or clinic here in the U.S., you probably know the blankets—usually striped or with footprints, provided standard for every baby after delivery.
This simple practice made Margaret think about the under-funded and mostly empty community health clinic in the rural village in Senegal where she had lived during her Peace Corps service. One of her close friends and work partners, a midwife named Diakhou Ndiaye, used to buy fabric with her own money to cut into squares, so women who delivered in the village clinic would be able to safely wrap their newborns.
When Margaret’s nephew went home from the hospital, he had a nursery full of baby clothes, blankets, diapers, and more waiting for him. As he grew, so did the pile of his outgrown baby clothes. Seeing first-hand how quickly outgrown clothing and other items accumulate after the arrival of a new baby here in the U.S., we knew there had to be a way to get these items to those who need them most. 
From there, the concept for Bokk Baby started to come together. We loved the idea of giving busy parents an easy (and free!) way to donate their outgrown baby clothes from home. We also loved the idea of creating a circular business model for baby apparel, where new clothes are made sustainably and purposefully, and where what is outgrown can be responsibly donated for reuse, whenever possible. So, we spent the next year turning that idea into a reality.
How important is sustainability and environmentalism to Bokk Baby?

create a truly circular business model in an industry that we felt was missing one. The average lifespan of baby garments is only 3 months, and even though most outgrown baby clothing is in great condition for re-wear, low price tags and fast fashion culture encourage us to dispose of what we no longer need, instead of looking for alternatives that keep used clothing out of landfills. So, we determined to build a new kind of baby brand committed to full-circle sustainability, and deeply consider the impact of every step of the process. This includes using all-natural organic fibers in our fabrics, a transparent and ethical supply chain, and an innovative solution to post-consumer textile waste with our mail-in donation program. All clothing is reusable, and we always want to be a company that encourages (and facilitates) recycling and second-hand use, because we don’t want to perpetuate a fashion culture where clothing is marketed as disposable, to the detriment of our environment for years to come.

What is the biggest myth about recycling clothes?

The biggest myth about recycling clothes is that it’s not worth your time, because no one actually needs (or wants) your old clothes. Another big myth is that you should only donate clothing in good enough condition to be re-sold or re-worn.To the first point, the market for recycled clothing reaches around the globe, employs millions of people all over the world, and provides affordable clothing options in places where alternatives either don’t exist or are too expensive for most consumers. Of course, there are negative impacts of the recycled clothing trade that must be considered; flooding overseas markets with cheap, used goods that undermine local textile and garment industries is the criticism that most often comes up. Oxfam International has published a list of recommendations for NGOs involved in exporting second-hand clothing to developing nations, which we also followed when setting up the foundation for how our Bokk Bundle Donation Program in Senegal would work. It’s worth mentioning, too, that our Bokk Bundle Donation Program does not make us an exporter of used baby clothing, as the donations are not received on the other end to be re-sold, and are instead pre-packaged into newborn gift bundles for distribution by health workers at our partnering rural birthing clinics. To the second point, only 14% of post-consumer textile waste is reused or recycled, the other 86% is thrown away in the trash. From an environmental perspective, this is a huge problem. Textiles that wind up in landfill, specifically those made from synthetic fibers, can take hundreds of years to decompose and can leech microplastics into our oceans and our water supply. For these reasons, textile waste and used clothing should never be thrown away with other garbage. Donation centers like Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. will accept used clothing and textile donations in any condition, as sorting is always the first step of the process. Used clothing and textiles in poor condition will be sorted out and re-sold to textile recyclers, who turn them into industrial rags and insulation for homes. So, next time you are wondering whether or not to include old underwear in with your clothing donations…Go for it!

What has been your biggest success with Bokk Baby?

Our biggest success so far has been getting support for our Bokk Bundle Donation Program from Senegal’s Ministry of Health. Originally, we developed the concept for our Bokk Bundle Donation Program with our local partners: midwives who staff and manage rural community health clinics in five villages in Northern Senegal. We had already established relationships during our Peace Corps service with health workers in all five villages where we are piloting the program, and had full support from them and their communities from the start of the process. We knew, however, that in order to grow the program eventually, and to add an increased level of security and credibility, getting buy-in from Senegal’s Ministry of Health—the governmental public health institution which funds and oversees all urban and rural public health clinics—was crucial. Last year we traveled back to Senegal to set up the groundwork for our Bokk Bundle Donation Program and to meet with all of our partners at the rural clinics where the bundles will be distributed. We set up meetings with officials at the Ministry of Health in Dakar, the capital city, to inform them of our program, and were surprised by how enthusiastic they were to lend their support. One of the Ministry’s top priorities is reducing maternal and infant mortality, for which Senegal ranks 40 out of 184 nations studied (maternal mortality) and 32 out of 225 nations studied (infant mortality) (World Factbook, 2017). Our Bokk Bundle Donation Program was developed not only to bring comfort and joy to new moms who deliver in resource-lacking settings, but also to incentivize women in rural Senegal to deliver under the care of trained midwives at their local health posts, instead of at home where many rural births still occur. This goal is right in line with Ministry of Health priorities, where reducing home births in rural areas correlates to improved reproductive health outcomes. Turns out, Senegal’s Ministry of Health was not only supportive of our Bokk Bundle Donation Program, but also offered to supply the culturally-appropriate health information packets that will go in each bundle AND to provide transportation assistance to get the Bokk Bundles from Dakar, Senegal’s shipping port to the rural clinics in Northern Senegal where they will be distributed. Knowing that we have full support and backing from the Ministry of Health at the administrative level, and from our midwife partners at the local level, has been our most important achievement, and has motivated us to keep going, to keep building our brand, to keep making amazing baby products that our customers will love, all in service to building up a donation program that will positively impact families and communities in Senegal for years to come.

How do you incorporate sustainability and natural products into your everyday life?

We love this question! We wouldn’t be doing as much as we are to incorporate sustainability into our business if protecting the environment wasn’t something that mattered to us personally. We are all about finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint in our everyday lives, and we use natural products as much as possible so we can keep harmful chemicals out of our bodies and out of our ecosystem. We’re very conscious of the products we use in our home, especially those that end up in the water system. It’s great that there are now many consumer options for things like detergents, soap and shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. But, it’s important for us to continue to do our homework so that we can feel confident about our product choices. We also LOVE second-hand markets for clothing, furniture, kitchenware, or just about anything really. You’ll constantly find us looking through antique/thrift stores for something unique and new (to us). Most of our favorite outfits are second-hand garments, and we basically furnished our whole house between Craigslist and thrift/antique stores. Of course, some things need to be purchased new, so we like to look for brands with an environmental or social mission. From sunglasses that fund eye surgeries in developing countries, to peanut butter that provides nutritional protein packs for underweight children in the developing world, to the Clary Collection products that we use all the time, there are more and more brands that are making commitments to using better ingredients and choosing to sacrifice some profit to do some good in the world. We love finding brands like that, and we are building our brand in tune with the same mindset.


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