Where Did All of Your Stuff Come From?

This post is part two of a response to the nationwide, nay, worldwide, sudden motivation to declutter brought about by one powerful force – Marie Kondo.

Do you ever get overwhelmed looking in your closet feeling that you have too many clothes but nothing to wear? That is a common anxiety, especially for women, because shopping has become incredibly easy and cheap, meaning that it is guiltless and painless to buy, buy, buy. Purchasing a new top for $3 often feels like a reward, a treat, that gives the mind and body a rush of good feelings which is how all closet spaces, wardrobes, and drawers in our homes got so full of clothes on top of clothes. Did you ever wonder how you ended up with so much in the first place and where they came from?

Well, to answer where they came from and in a roundabout way, how you ended up with so many – all of those clothes came from lands far away. Places where industries are free to do as they please, to pollute waterways with dyes and chemicals and to pay labor as they wish. A much longer answer could be dug into, which will be done here, but not so much a big dive as a scratch on the surface. The thread from which your overflowing closets and drawers’ items came from is a long and winding one. There is a great telling of that story, where clothes come from, by NPR’s Planet Money from 2013 where the program followed a T-shirt that they created from seed to owner. If you have 30 minutes, sit down and watch all of the videos, it really is fascinating where our clothes come from.

In two words it is known as fast fashion, which is to say that is how the way clothes are produced today, in an industry that is forever producing in developing nations at low costs to producers and consumers, but at very high costs to the human beings doing the actual work. Most are women that are paid less than a living wage. Many of our clothes today are made in Bangladesh where workers were just granted a minimum wage raise for the industry of around $3.16/day, up from the previous $2.10/day. This rise in wages only just took place in December 2018.

Cheap products behave like cheap products. Shirts made from poor material with low quality stitching tend to come undone more quickly than durable, natural fiber materials, sewn with the purpose of a lasting product. Have you ever noticed that a cheap, fast fashion top doesn’t last too many washes before it pills or has a seam come out?

In a nutshell, the way that we consume now was changed by international trade laws, free trade, and outsourcing. Sending American jobs across borders to laborers who are paid less, although not always enough, as outlined above, and where lax environmental regulations equate to cheaper means of production, but with long term costs. This is not only true of clothing that stockpile up in closets, but of almost everything found around our homes. Cheaper, in all meanings, decor, utensils, furniture, etc.

A good sale feels like a win, but if the item bought quickly breaks or deteriorates then the value is lost, and honestly, how much value can be put on a cheap $3 top? Probably not much, which is why it got lost at the bottom of the drawer in the first place, it had no value. Plus, it cannot be ignored that, in terms of clothes, Fast Fashion items are not actually cheap, they have those, high costs that are felt by the laborers (mostly women in developing countries) who work long hours for little pay and have health risks from chemicals, dyes, and unsafe working conditions.

Learning the negatives of where things come from is not generally fun, but it might change consumer habits, so you’re not back to asking if this or that sparks joy in another 12 months. If you walked into the kitchen of your favorite kitchen and saw rats all over, you’d probably stop eating there, the same goes for the clothing industry and others. There are alternatives to modern shopping – clothing swaps, thrifting, and getting by with what you have. Those same principles can cross over to other home items and you get to keep your money in your wallet.

community clothing swap

This site has many more resources on fast fashion, just type fast fashion into the search bar to read more on the topic and how to shop in a more ethical, sustainable way.

Thank You for Your Labors

This weekend is a long, holiday weekend in the U.S. Monday marks Labor Day, generally a weekend in which everyone gets together with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that they don’t have to go to work on Monday. Labor Day was started in the late 19th century by union workers  and laborers as a way to recognize those that work day by day. It has been an official American holiday since 1894, always falling on the first Monday of September. This year I decided to get back to the roots of the holiday and celebrate some of my favorite activists, commending them for their dedicated work – on top of the typical barbecues and bonfires.


 

Jamie Oliver

You might just think of Jamie Oliver as a chef with a funny accent, but he’s much more than that. Jamie digs into our modern industrialized food system and delivers displeasing knowledge. (Pink slime is a prominent example.) His primary work was with school lunches in both his home U.K. and also here in the U.S. That’s noteworthy, a famous chef who champions for quite literally the little guys.

Food these days has transformed into chemically-laden, pesticide-pumped, GMO, never-rotting, highly processed science of convenience. Now, do I eat processed food now and again? Yes, but I try to keep it out of my kitchen and my body as much as possible and to educate myself on nutrition and health. Do I think that America’s and the world’s children should be protected from being fed it daily in their homes and public school cafeterias? Definitely.

Jamie had a reality show back in 2009 in which he embedded himself in America’s most unhealthy city, Huntington, West Virginia. He investigated what the children were in eating in their schools and it wasn’t appetizing. The rest of the series Jamie worked with schools and the community to educate them about eating fresh and healthy foods as opposed to quick and easy processed food, attempting to alter the way that food was prepared in the schools and homes in the area.

Since then Jamie has spearheaded a Food Revolution, click on the link and read articles about how to be healthy and current write-ups on the food industry.

 

Safia Minney of People Tree

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“slow fashion” fair laobr

Another Brit is my notable hero – Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People TreePeople Tree clothing, a U.K. based, slow fashion company. I first heard of Safia in a great documentary, The True Cost which is about the horrendous industry that is Fast Fashion. In the documentary Safia is not only inspiring because she is a female CEO, but also because she displays her fluent Japanese, which she uses when working with craftsmen and women in Japan who make pieces of art for People Tree’s clothing. Having a second language has always been inspiring to me. If you get a chance to watch the documentary I highly suggest it as it outlines the problems with the fashion industry today while at the same time giving alternatives such as People Tree.

But back to Safia, she is a woman of power who promotes fair trade in an industry that generally treats it’s labor extremely poorly. People Tree not only pays attention to the way that the people creating the clothing is treated, but they also source traditionally made, artisanal materials that help keep traditional crafts alive. The company also uses organic cottons and other sustainable materials that are better for our bodies and the earth.

Leo & Jin of BAPS

BAPS stands for Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary and is a dog rescue organization in Busan, South Korea. Although BAPS has grown in the years with many expat and some Korean volunteers helping the organization, donating time and money, and fostering and adopting furry best friends; the vast majority of the work done for the completely privately run dog rescue organization is done by two people alone. They are Leo and Jin and what they do inspires me completely. Leo and Jin are a married couple, one expat one Korean, who started BAPS in 2008 and have saved the lives of hundreds of Korean street dogs and abandoned pets.

They not only run the shelter, but they also have a dog kenneling business, and have recently started an international pet travel company although they have been assisting with international travel of countless dogs to their new forever homes for years (including my very own Freddie.)

The Day We Fostered Fred

We instantly fell in love with that little face with big ears the first time we walked him and he kept looking back to make sure that we were still with him.

The kindest, most from-the-heart work that these two do is run a related organization called Wendy’s Last Meals. This is heartbreaking work that I am certain I would not be strong enough emotionally to do. As the name suggests, the work involved is providing a final meal to dogs at a pound in Busan whom have not been claimed or adopted and therefore face certain euthanasia. You can read more about the process and how you can help by donating by clicking here. Before the meals are given, Jin takes pics of the dogs in a last hope effort of getting them rescued, so if you’re looking to find your new partner in crime, then have a look at the beauties that are waiting for you.


 

There is great work being done around the globe to help fight for those dis-empowered to do so for themselves such as school children, laborers working in developing nations to produce our clothing, and dogs left on mountain sides by families unwilling to continue raising them.  I am so grateful for all that they do and am motivated to do my own positive work to make a difference in my community.

Who are you tipping your hat to on this Labor Day weekend that works hard and inspires you?

Fast Fashion 101

The most recent post over here at karabemisyoga.com was a short, introductory, factual write up about the often overlooked dark truth of how our clothing is produced in our modern, globalized world. A remembrance of a day in April when over a thousand people lost their lives stitching together pieces of fabric to be shipped all over the developed world and sold with no mention of the countless people whose hands assembled the clothing, other than a tag that is rarely checked labeled “Made in Bangladesh.”

The anti-industry name associated with this type of fashion is “Fast Fashion,” and it’s become the norm these days. I say anti-industry for lack of a better descriptor, and what I mean by this is that once you learn the ins-and-outs (that often go un-publicized) of the Fast Fashion industry – the labor conditions, pollution, waste, product quality, etc. – you’ll quickly turn against it and search for alternatives.

To understand the term Fast Fashion a little better,  think of Fast Fashion the same way you probably think of fast food – yes, eating at McDonalds is quick and easy, tastes “good,” and gives an instant satisfaction, but after you go home your belly might hurt and after you read up on what those “chicken” nuggets are really made of, you probably won’t go back for a while. Similar to walking into the golden arches, you may at first have a feeling of satisfaction, the pastel-floral-pink racerback is cute enough and at that price how could you resist? But when you get home and try it on again the fit turns out to be just a little bit off and the feel of the polyester on your skin isn’t that nice, so you might wear it out once or twice, but it quickly makes it’s way to the bottom of the drawer, so undervalued that you don’t even bother to fold it, it’s just wadded up lost to the world forever.

Or lets say that you love this top and wear it multiple times in one season, that’s great – to give a product a full life instead of losing it in your wardrobe or dumping it in the trash, but the cheap material (polyester/acrylic/etc.) doesn’t last through many wash cycles. Soon enough the seams start to come out, but it’s not worth any upkeep or care, no one would ever bother to have a low quality item dry cleaned for example (and the skill of mending has no value when you can just go out and buy a replacement for a few bucks.) Instead the falling-apart top gets taken to the thrift store where it won’t even get put on the over-crowded racks because it has no value, it winds up in the trash in the end after only a few months.

Look into the pink top’s production and you’ll find environmental pollution and lax labor laws in developing nations where the industry has been outsourced for the past few decades. Rivers run rainbow colors in China, synthetic material is often oil based, using up non-renewable resources, and all of the international shipping from seed to fabric to T-shirt damage the environment. Of course the reason why production has been shifted to other countries is cheap labor, low taxes, and nearly nonexistent environmental protection laws.

A shirt made in Bangladesh is made for a fraction of the costs it could be made in the U.S. or other developed nations, but that cheap price tag has hidden costs, i.e. Rana Plaza. These extremely low wages paid abroad are often not even at a living wage standard; meaning workers might make their country’s minimum wage, but still they struggle to get by day to day.

As if remembering the human toll and struggle that goes into the production of our cheap clothing wasn’t enough to sway you to shop differently and more ethically when possible, then consider as well the price that the environment pays (which was only skimmed here.) And ask yourself if that $5 pink-pastel top is really worth it.

There are alternatives to Fast Fashion, some you can read about on this site and some that maybe you can share with me. May you happily shift into well informed, ethical, well made shopping and away from Fast Fashion.

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Rana Plaza Remembered

Rana Plaza, located just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh was an eight story building that collapsed due to poor construction and lack of maintenance on April 24, 2013. Thousands of workers were housed within the walls of Rana Plaza and were forced to go to work although there was knowledge of a large crack in a column of the structure that eventually led to the collapse. One thousand-three hundred-thirty four people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand people were injured.

One thousand-three hundred- thirty four (1,134) people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand (2,000) people were injured.

 

The thousands of laborers worked for very low wages for big-name western companies such as Joe Fresh (Canada,) Carrefour (France,) Primark (UK,) J.C. Penney (U.S.,) and Zara (Spain.) As of this 2014 Forbes article some companies had paid  financial compensation to the families of the deceased, and some had not. Other large companies like Walmart and the Children’s Place (both U.S.) had paid compensation even though they did not house workers in the building at the time of the collapse, but had  at some point in the past. On top of financial compensation, those found responsible for the collapse were charged with murder back in 2015.

Even though such large North American and European clothing manufacturers are overdressedassociated with the collapse at Rana Plaza (and countless other collapses and tragedies,) consumers often fall deaf to such news. Personally, I first learned of Rana Plaza a few months after the tragedy via an NPR interview by Terry Gross with author Elizabeth Cline speaking about her highly recommended book on the Fast Fashion industry, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.”

My shopping habits have changed drastically since hearing that interview and reading the book (I haven’t shopped at or even entered a large clothing chain since summer 2014.) You can read about my lifestyle changes in previous blog posts which outline hosting clothing swaps, a great alternative to supporting Fast Fashion.

Swap in full Swing

 

I don’t write this post to be self-righteous or to encourage readers to shift their shopping habits as drastically as I have, but rather to inform consumers, because we are all consumers, of a tragedy that they may not be aware of. The collapse at Rana Plaza happened just three years ago,but I’d bet that many shoppers have never heard of it. You can dig and dig and dig and find many other similar stories of ill-treated, cheaply hired labor in developing countries. Laborers whose stories are not shared enough and who may even sacrifice their lives in poor working conditions for a cheap price tag in a department store. Bangladeshi workers work for a fraction of the cost of other laborers elsewhere and are often forced to work 12 hour days in unsafe conditions. The lives of laborers are the hidden costs of cheap clothing that we blindly consume.

It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, and I often feel that I’m a “Debbie Downer” because I share tragic news with friends and readers, but if we never know the truth then we’ll never change our ways, and if we, the consumers never change our spending habits then we’ll never shift the way of production. Whether you decide to go to a second hand shop this weekend instead of a mall or department store, or share this link or story with a friend, every little bit helps and adds up eventually. But we have a lot of sharing and changing to do to defeat the Fast Fashion industry.