Thoughts on America’s Busiest Shopping Week

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a time to meet with family and share a meal. It’s an odd holiday that no longer represents anything much historically, thoughts of relationships between native cultures and the population at large have been substituted for turkeys and shopping (a statement that surely can’t be denied with the ongoing strife happening at Standing Rock – Native Americans and protesters freezing and being sprayed with water cannons and rubber bullets while we all sit down to a hot meal. It’s been on my mind a lot, I couldn’t stay silent on a post about Thanksgiving without bring it up, I hope you couldn’t either.) After the turkey and potatoes have been consumed thoughts quickly jump to the deals the box stores and malls. No, let me correct myself, thoughts of the deals happen much earlier than the day of Thanksgiving as the advertisements flood television, newspapers, and the internet weeks before Black Friday.

Now, I’ll admit it, I like a bargain. As my Mom likes to remind me, I am cheap, and there’s a reason for my cheap behaviors beyond trying to keep my savings account as it is. One of my primary reasons for obtaining my clothing via hand me downs and second hand shops is that I have come to disagree with mass consumption because of the harm it does to people working in factories far away as well as the land that surrounds them. So while I can understand why people get excited for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I try my best to refrain from buying unnecessary items, no matter how good the door buster.

Personally I have primarily acquired my clothing from clothing swaps, friends, and thrift stores for the past 2+ years. The last time I went shopping at a mall for fun was the summer of 2014, which was a major change of habit for me; shopping used to be one of my hobbies of choice. I’d go out, find a deal that I may or may not have needed, and go home to call my sister to tell her about it. It’s how we used to bond. With time and awareness however our phone calls about our recent buys have switched from bragging about a good deal found at the mall to telling one another of a new item that was Made in America, fair trade, bought second hand, or made locally. We’re ethical shoppers now.

The change wasn’t easy and I don’t write this in a self righteous way. My point here is that we as Americans are consuming far more than we need to. The cost of our purchases are low to us monetarily, but high to those who produce them in terms of their health, general well being, and to the degradation of their waters, air, and land. And even though the products are produced and assembled far away, an environmental cost is incurred to us  in terms of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere in production and shipping, and then there’s the wonder of what to do with all of the things that we had purchased in the past, things that no longer give us a shopper’s high, they either take up space in our homes unused or get sent to the landfill –  out of sight out, of mind.

Let me stress again that I am not trying to preach that shopping and consuming is entirely bad, but rather I wish to convey that it is completely possible to limit consumption and in doing so to become a conscious consumer. Seek out companies and products that are made of natural materials that are safe to the earth and to our bodies. Support items made in your country or better yet in your local area (helping out the economy as you shop, not just massive corporations that produce their products in unethical ways.) Learn to live with less, it takes time but is doable. I haven’t conventionally shopped in two years, but I still have a closet full of clothes and never struggle with what to wear, I have given up concerning myself with trends and sales, but I am so much happier for it.

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As you check off your Christmas shopping lists in the coming weeks give consideration as to whether there is a better way (and there always is.) Shop local, shop small. Show your love in other ways than monetarily, I don’t know when Christmas morphed from a time of religious celebration and being with loved ones to showing we care with our credit cards, but it feels as if it has. It will take time and dedication to cut back on consuming and to shop mindfully, but after some time it will become your new norm.

How are you and your family ethically sharing love for one another this holiday season?

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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.

DIY Your Halloween Costume

Halloween’s coming up which means that stores are full of racks of cheap, synthetic costumes (possibly to be worn only once and then disposed of the day after the party.) Holidays have become so commercialized, being more about what can be sold than about the holiday itself. Consumerism creates a lot of waste, not only the costumes & decorations themselves but also all of the plastic packaging that they come in. So this year, consider doing a DIY costume: they’re cheaper, more ethical, friendlier to the earth, and are an outlet for creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween and have dressed up every single year. It’s fun to put on a costume and be someone else for a night, but sadly costumes are generally made of petroleum-based fabrics (think nylon, polyester, and acrylic) because they’re cheaper than natural fibers. After the parties they’re typically just tossed out in the trash, making their ways into landfills (being too poorly made to be handed down – simple stitching on those short-lived fabrics means they’re likely to fall apart before making it to a thrift store.)

Here are some tips for making a DIY Halloween costume.

  • Start early, finding the right things will take longer than just popping into a box store and pulling something off of the shelf. If you’re reading this on the day of your party, don’t panic, think outside of the box and you’re sure to pull something together (stuffing socks into black panty hose and pinning to a black skirt with eyeliner whiskers is an instant and easy cat!)
  • Scope your closet. All you need is one item to begin the creative process. Once you have a defining piece, try to match something else you have with it to build upon the look. If you can’t find it in your own closet then look in your friends’ and family members’; for example overalls and your boyfriends flannel morph into a farmer or scarecrow.diyhalloween
  • If all closets leave you empty handed, or you don’t want to risk staining your clothes with fake blood, then head to the thrift store.  Don’t feel stuck with the way the clothes are, cut them up or alter them if you have the skills.
  • When in doubt, Google search! You’ll find loads of images that you can get inspiration from and might even find a blog or Youtube tutorial to follow.
  • Turn your clothes into a costume by adding face paint or accessories.  Again, seek resources online.Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 6.39.43 PM

Here’s a little gallery of previous DIY costumes friends and I have done.

Have fun with Halloween and be safe! What successful DIY costumes have you come up with and how are you decreasing your impact on our Earth this Halloween?

Third Clothing Swap Success!

This past weekend I hosted my third community clothing swap here in Busan. The idea was exactly the same as the last two that I’ve hosted, all are welcome, donate what you can or come empty handed, walk away with as much as you like. The reasons why I don’t require donations by all are: 1. There’s an excess of clothing left behind by expat teachers whom have moved on from Korea and 2. My hope is that people will find clothing through this sustainable manner rather than by supporting Fast Fashion.

Although this swap was very similar to my past two, there were a few minor differences I made after learning some lessons from the previous ones. Here’s what was different.

  • More Strict Donation Requirements –
    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    At the last swap I got swamped with left over donations. A handful of friends and I took hours to sort through the piles and piles of clothes, placing them in either a massive garbage bag (we filled three,) a bag to be taken to a second hand shop (there were about 10,) or a pile to be sold at a market. This time I asked that people bring only high quality, no stains, no intimates. Initially I had faith that an outline like that wouldn’t be needed, but I turned out to be wrong. At this swap the clothes were in nicer condition and there weren’t as many to sort through in the end.

  • Change of Venue – The cafe where my first two swaps were held has sadly since shut down, so I moved location to a foreign-run bar in Gwangan – HQ. It was fun to have the swap at a bar. When I contacted them I referenced having a girls brunch day and they complied with a mimosa special during the time of the swap. Just like the last two swaps, purchase of a drink was suggested in lieu of an entrance fee.
  • Sneak Attack Ethics Lecture – Ok, so that might be misleading, but I did give a short five minute talk about my reasons for hosting swaps. At the very first swap I incorporated a talk about the fashion industry and sustainability (or rather lack of sustainability) which was scheduled to happen right before the swap began. A few people attended and were interested, but a lot of people didn’t come early for it, so this time I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just requested a mic from the bar and stood on my soap box at the height of the swap. I’m not sure how well received it was, but I hope that I reached a few people.

Swaps are really fun and easy to organize. I received a lot of feedback from attendees that they enjoy them and look forward to the next one. I hope they realize that they don’t have to wait for a large community swap to be organized; it would be super easy to host seasonal swaps with friends in your home. All you need to do is set a date, inform others, dig a bit through your closet, and swap till you drop.

Swap in full Swing

3rd Busan Clothing Swap

Join me in less than two weeks time, on August 29th from 2-4pm, for the third Busan clothing swap. I am excited to host this event, the past two were hugely successful, not only for those who attended, but in my eyes they were a success because they stopped people from buying fast fashion as well as kept some clothes out of landfills.

Below are the details for the upcoming event. See you at the swap!


Start going through your wardrobes! Coming Saturday, August 29th – Busan’s third clothing swap event. I’m excited to move locations to HQ Gwangan after the sad closing of Table Talk.

What’s a Swap? A clothing swap is a fun gathering of people looking to get rid of their gently used, undesired items in exchange for someone else’s gently used, undesired items. There is no requirement to donate clothes (I understand that some people are new and didn’t come with much,) just come and have a search through and hopefully go home with something new. This is also a good opportunity for those leaving us to get their extra pieces to other expats or Koreans.

What to Bring? **Please Read** This event is all volunteer run almost solely by myself, Kara Bemis, thankfully I have been fortunate enough to have some friends volunteer to help me on the day of the swaps to sort through clothes, with that being said- it is hard work. We must go through all the left over clothes and get them to the correct location: garbage or thrift store. Please be very selective of what to donate.

**NOTHING WITH STAINS, HOLES, NO INTIMATES.**

Use this simple rule, if you wouldn’t re-buy it like new, then it doesn’t pass the test. All seasons permitted, summer to winter. Also, by being selective, please limit the amount that you bring, if you have a suitcase full of high quality items – great! If you have two suitcases full of low quality items that saw better days, then please leave those at home (again, due to the fact that it’s hard work to sort through the left overs.)

Moving from a cafe to a bar, HQ and I are happy to announce that there shall be drink specials! Details to follow.

Make an afternoon of it, bring some friends, grab a drink, and swap till you drop. Just as before, this is a free event with a drink purchase your entrance fee, let’s support HQ who is letting us hold the event at their waterfront spot.


Directions to hq gwangan
  • Take the green subway (Line 2) to Gwangan, stop 209.
  • Take Exit 3.
  • U-turn towards Gwangali Beach, walk straight towards the beach until you reach the main road that runs along the beach. You will be in front of Lotteria/Baskin Robins.
  • Turn left at Lotteria and walk a few yards. HQ is on the fourth floor of the building with a chicken restaurant on the first floor and Cross Fit in the basement.
  • If you reached Starbucks then you went too far.