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My Kid is Becoming a Brand-Obsessed Hypebeast

Nov 27, 2019

When I first had kids, I made very few hard-and-fast declarations about how, exactly, I would parent.

Don’t get me wrong: I had lots of ideas about how I wanted things to go, but, even back then, I must have had some inkling (since substantiated, big time) that most things would be out of my control.

One of my few carved-in-stone rules was that that I wouldn’t dress my kids in hoodies and onesies emblazoned with logos and name brands. For one, I didn’t see the aesthetic value of splaying the words “BABY GAP” or “OshKosh B’Gosh” across a toddler’s chest. What did that communicate, aside from “this is where I bought this sweatshirt?”

More to the point, why would I offer up my babies as tiny billboards, providing free advertising for heartless, multinational companies?


Find out how one mom helps her kids clothes last longer here.


Sticking to My Goals 

I managed to stick to that resolution for the most part, relying on logo-free hand-me-downs and thrift-store racks for virtually all of the kids’ clothing needs (plus a lot of my own). That strategy served us well: I could outfit the boys in what seemed like an endless supply of free or nearly free stripey shirts and fleece sweatpants, bathing suits, pyjamas, dress-up clothes, princess dresses and outerwear, and then drop off whatever they didn’t completely destroy back at the store once they’d outgrown it.

I loved how little it cost to clothe the kids. I loved that we were reducing our carbon footprint by choosing used clothing, and that it often cycled through at least a few kids before ending up in a landfill — ideally after being cut up into rags or used as painting smocks.

I loved how little it cost to clothe the kids.

Plus, the kids didn’t care. They had their favourite items of clothing and style phases — a particular rugby shirt with stripes in bright blues and greens, only pink shirts, only shirts with collars, only “fuzzy pants” — but they didn’t care which company made their clothes, or where they came from. They’d dress themselves in the morning, coming downstairs for breakfast with their stripey or collared or pink shirts on backwards, or inside out, or both. They’d as soon as wipe their hands (or their noses) on what they were wearing as they would on a napkin, and I would cringe and be thankful that at least I hadn’t dropped $24.99 on a now-ruined T-shirt.

And then, my younger son turned 12. And all of a sudden, he began to notice brands.


How thrifting lost its stigma and became cool. Read it here.


From Snotty Shirted Dude to Hypebeast

It began with the '80s throwback checkered Vans. Lululemon “athleisure” wear. The Kånken bag. Airpods. The fascination with Uggs and Birkenstocks. The single pierced ear. The ongoing, seemingly endless, discussion about which guitar from which famous guitar manufacturer he’ll buy when he’s saved enough money. Now, when I bring home armloads of clothes from the thrift store, I can be less sure of what he’ll accept and reject.

Now, picking out sneakers or a new winter jacket is more often than not an exercise in negotiation, compromise and tween-age (and, frankly, middle-age) frustration and eye rolling. “You don’t need new sneakers right now,” I’ll say, or, “But there are four different backpacks in this house already.” Or, “Well, we agreed upon a budget, so you can use your own money if you want to spend more.” And he will sigh deeply and dramatically, and look pained and remind me that he’s saved up his cash and it’s his choice how to spend it.

It began with the '80s throwback checkered Vans.

And it is, for the most part.

Really, I suppose it was only a matter of time. He’s growing up, taking more interest in his appearance, figuring out who he is in the world and beginning to understand the power of style — both as an expression of his individuality and as a way of marking his membership in a group. That means on the one hand rifling through my closet to borrow a fitted blazer as part of a singular party outfit, and on the other having the exact same shoes and backpack as his peers. And saving up his own money to buy for himself what his parents deem superfluous or too expensive.


CBC Kids News breaks down Sneakerhead culture here


Even I Had a Lust for Labels

And really, I can relate: my first job, besides babysitting, was at Benneton, famous for its iconic rugby shirts. At the age of 14, I got paid four dollars an hour to fold sweaters at their flagship store on Bloor Street West in Toronto, the mecca of Canadian fashion in the 1980s. I loved it, as much for the employee discount and free clothing as for the glamour and camaraderie.

I worked in retail for years, using my wages and my discounts to feed my taste for pretty, expensive clothing — and to fit in with my peers. Then, I had no problem at all with the idea of walking around with a logo emblazoned across my chest: I wanted everyone to know exactly where I bought this sweatshirt, or that handbag, or those shoes — thank you very much. My mom rolled her eyes, and told me to use my own money, and I did.

People Change — Sort Of

And really, I would love to tell you that I’ve outgrown those urges, that it would never occur to me now to care about who makes my clothes or where I buy them. But of course, that’s not true. It’s just that my tastes — and the status symbols, what marks me as a member of a certain group — have shifted.

There are a million great reasons to buy my kids’ and my own stuff secondhand, but in doing so I’m also declaring my values and priorities: I’m an environmentalist, I communicate by thrifting; I value experiences more than things. I’m crafty and artsy, I tell the world whenever I rework someone else’s used T-shirt into a one-of-a-kind tunic.

It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I don’t care about how I look or whether I fit in with my peers — it’s just that now the indicators are a bit more subtle.

And what to make of the glee that comes from finding a pair of designer, hand-crafted leather shoes (twice now!) on a thrift-store shelf?

Or the fact that I recently spent the extra 50 bucks for the real 'Birks' rather than the store-brand knockoff, which I’m sure were also perfectly fine? It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I don’t care about how I look or whether I fit in with my peers — it’s just that now the indicators are a bit more subtle. And I am more confident in my own style; less (or at least less overtly) worried about conforming.


Read one dad's approach to minimalism here


Watching My Kids Repeat My Old Habits

And so I watch my child happily hand over his hundred bucks for a brand-new, brand-name backpack, or pair of shoes that he hardly needs but absolutely wants, and I grumble inwardly (OK, also outwardly), and exhale, and try my best to let it go. We talk about consumerism and the importance of saving (and giving). We talk about peer pressure, targeted marketing and about weighing price against quality, local versus imported, ethically made rather than mass-produced.

We talk, and then we stop talking for a while.

He’ll grow up. And, with any luck, the values and identity he’s beginning to carve out through his external clothing choices will morph into an internal value system rooted in an understanding of the impact of those choices. I hope that he’ll always be able take pleasure in a great deal, in a beautifully made shirt or pair of shoes. And I also hope that he’ll recognize and be mindful of the immense privilege that comes with being able to make those choices.

Article Author Susan Goldberg
Susan Goldberg

Read more from Susan here.

Susan Goldberg is a freelance writer, essayist, editor and blogger. Her articles and essays have been featured in, among others, Ms., the Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Advisor’s Edge, Corporate Knights and Stealing Time magazines, as well as in several anthologies, a variety of parenting and lifestyle websites, and on the CBC. She is co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is one of approximately 30 Jews in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she lives with her sons and a changing cast of cats. Read more at susanlgoldberg.com.

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