Yoga is much more than a physical practice. The mindfulness that is practiced during yoga starts to happen in day-to-day situations such as more healthful eating, calming the mind in times of stress, and even in the way we consume. A few years ago I became more aware of the fashion industry and have since then drastically changed my consuming habits.
We don’t often think that long about a purchase anymore. In terms of clothes, if it’s on sale, fits, and looks cute, then in the cart it goes. It could be useful at some point, right? But often times that $5.00 top gets tossed into an overcroweded closet never to be seen again. This is a common happening for a lot of (especially) women in our culture. Advertisements, Hollywood, and popular culture throw messages at us all over the place to buy more, more, more. But where are all of these clothes coming from?
The line of production of a piece of clothing is a lot longer than we think. First, the fabric starts out as a raw material. Let’s look at that $5.00 top and assume that it’s a T-shirt. If it’s cotton then it would have started out as a seed. According to the research done by Planet Money of NPR, who followed a T-shirt throughout its entire life-cycle, 90% of all cotton seeds are GMO. Then there’s the resources needed to grow that little seed. A lot of water is needed for cotton and that water sprays off the pesticides and fertilizers that are used on the cotton, seeping into the water basin (buying organic cotton is an idea.) So already when we take a closer look at just the cotton that will eventually become a cheap T-shirt, there are quite a lot of negative effects. This is assuming that the T-shirt is 100% cotton, what if it was a blend, say made with 5% spandex to give it to some stretch. Spandex is a synthetic fabric made using more (chemical) resources in production. I attempted to do basic research into this and was scared off by all of the chemical jargon that I couldn’t even pronounce (macroglycol and diisocyanate to name just two.) Test your patience with this read.
After the cotton is harvested it gets shipped to another location, most likely in another country, to be turned into fabric. This process might include such steps as washing the cotton, spinning it into yarn, turning that yarn into fabric and dying it. The dyes are not often natural anymore and run into the local bodies of water. You can google images of rivers running all colors of the rainbow in manufacturing countries. Then the fabric gets cut and sewn into T-shirts. Most of this production no longer happens in the developed world. Thanks to globalization and outsourcing the job gets done by populations in poverty who will do it for much less.
Most clothing tags read: Vietnam, Turkey, China, or Bangladesh, just to name a few. In these countries the laborers can be paid much less and the working and environmental standards are much lower or non-existent. Chemicals and pollutants can be harmful to their health and do damage to the local environment, too. Again, according to the work done by Planet Money, some workers in Bangladesh work six days a week and make about $68/month. Here’s a link to a video series about the process made by the podcast.
Wages may be a low cost to the producers, but the long-term and often unthought-of cost of pollution and dangers to health is often overlooked. In April of 2013 there was a massive and devastating building collapse in a Bangladeshi factory. The multi-story building housed hundreds of employees put to work to produce clothing items for around 30 big names in the industry. The building was not well maintained which probably caused the collapse and took the lives of around 1,000 people. All working to produce cheap fashion for us in developed nations. When given thought, it makes that $5.00 T-shirt seem a little more expensive in terms of hidden costs- some even in human lives.
That tragic incident was the turning point for me. The event was framed by author Elizabeth Cline, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. In the interview the author details the problems in the industry that she discovered through intense field research in countries like Bangladesh.
After listening to the interview I began to realize that there was really no need for me to shop as much anymore. My closet had been full, and bursting, for most of my adult life. Shopping to me was a hobby, a way to spend an afternoon. Yes, I got that rush when I scored a great deal and even bragged about it to my sister, but that little rush and hobby had to be altered out of respect for the negative effects it had in other parts of the world. And really it wasn’t that hard to do.
Escaping from the pull towards trends and fast fashion may not be easy at first, it requires a change of behavior as well as the mindset to be happy with what you have. There are certainly days when I see something in an ad and think to myself, how cute and nice it looks and wouldn’t it be great to have? But I quickly find my way back to the core thought that, on second thought- No, I don’t NEED it, I can happily do without.