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.

Flea Market Fun

Like Kara Bemis, I’m a teacher of young Korean children in Busan, South Korea. Unlike Kara, who spends her days teaching the world’s most adorable 3- to 7-year-olds, I teach elementary school students in a private after-school academy.

Kara students

Kara’s most adorable students

Each age group comes with its own set of positives and negatives, but one plus of teaching slightly older kids is their level of communication and greater understanding of the world around them.

Most of my elementary students are still excited to play and have fun as they’re learning to express themselves in English. The foreign teachers at my academy wanted to build on their enthusiasm while helping them practice English vocabulary and conversation in a real-world scenario, so we teamed up to plan a Halloween flea market – a day when the students could have fun together, invite friends and walk away with a few new goodies.

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students shopping at the Halloween flea market, held at my academy last month

It’s a common practice for academies to have market days, but they can typically involve nothing more than cheap, Made-in-China crap from Daiso, the Korean equivalent of a dollar store. A good alternative to buying single-use items or tiny plastic toys, which would only create more waste among young citizens, is to turn the familiar student market into a flea market.

For a couple months leading up to it, students at my academy earned points for good behavior, high test scores, completing puzzles and bringing in slightly used items to sell at the market.IMG_4472

Students and their families donated a wide range of goods they no longer needed. As the teachers sorted through boxes and bags of the goodies brought in, we were delighted to find high-quality stuff: stickers, notebooks, pencils, purses, costumes, jewelry, posters, clothing and snacks. Without an outlet for these nonessentials, they could have easily been tossed in the trash or left in an impromptu pile of discarded materials on the side of the street.

On the day of our Halloween celebration, the kids were finally able to cash in their points and spend their hard-earned money. They loved seeing a room full of potential toys, stationery and candy, and they had a blast shopping with their friends. It was great to see students excited about doing something that didn’t involve their cell phones.

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The event turned out to be a playful way to reuse old things instead of throwing them out. The remaining items will be donated to other schools, used as school supplies or given away to students as prizes in the future.

Interested in planning a flea market at your school or academy? Here’s how.

  1. Set a date. Coordinate with other teachers to figure out the best date to host a flea market. Do you want to plan a one-time event around a holiday, or would it be best to have annual or semi-annual markets?
  2. Find a space. A classroom in your school will probably work for the market because it keeps the amount of kids in the space under control, and you can cycle them through, group by group.  
  3. Create a points system. Make sure teachers are on the same page with the amount of points (dollars) given for certain things. On the day of the market, we had students trade in their points for $1 and $5 bills.
  4. Get donations. Ask students and their parents to bring in new or gently used home goods, school supplies, books, etc. that they no longer want or need. You can reward students by giving them points based on the quality and value of the donation.
  5. Assign roles. Plot out which teachers will be with the majority of the students, watching a movie or playing games, and which teachers will work the market, collecting money and supervising shoppers.
  6. Set up and sell. On the day of the market, set up the room with goodies, pass out dollar bills and let the kids browse. We had about 10 shoppers at a time, and most of them stayed in the room for about 10 minutes.

This type of event works on so many levels. For older, more advanced or native English students, it could be an opportunity to learn about conscious consumerism, using less and reducing waste.

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Use Less Plastic

It’s April. This month we celebrate Earth Day, a day to recognize the beauty of nature, maybe plant a tree, spend some time outdoors, or attend a community planned event. That’s all good and great and brings nothing but smiles to my face, but ultimately, we need to spend every day as if it is Earth Day, because every day we live on and take from this planet and rarely do we take a step back and contemplate our day-to-day choices and their effects on the environment.

It has been on my mind a great deal these past few months to use less plastic. One of my resolutions for the New Year was to decrease my plastics use this year and forever more. Here are some tips of how I have been cutting back.

  • DON’T USE PLASTIC BAGS!!! These nuisances are almost unavoidable. Purchase anything and they automatically toss it in a plastic bag. This is exceptionally true here in Korea at markets and convenience stores. At least at grocery stores they charge you for the bags (here in Korea.) Give it a think, what use does that bag have to you after you bring it home and take out whatever you carried in it? Maybe you could use it as a garbage can liner, but that’s about it. I’m sure you have a larger collection of plastic bags than you do garbage cans. Replace them with reusable bags that fold up and clip onto your purse, or take an empty backpack with you to the grocery store. I’ve made it a recent habit to even take empty Tupperware with me to fill with shrimp or wet items sold fresh from the market. It works great!
  • PURCHASE WITH LESS PACKAGING Marketers wrap their products in so much unnecessary paper and plastic to make it look appealing on the shelves. Again, this is an example of a one time use by-product that has absolutely no value to you in the future. There’s no doubt that it makes its way into the garbage or recycling bin. While choosing a product at the grocery store or any other shop, compare which item has less packaging and go for that. Give preference to post consumer recycled paper board or soy printed labels. If something comes in a glass jar, then wash it out and add it to your Tupperware cupboard, or use it to store sugar or other dry goods in as opposed to in the plastic bags that they come in.
Wash and reuse glass jars after use. This way, you can store dry goods like coffee and sugar in glass rather than the original plastic.

Wash and reuse glass jars after use. This way, you can store dry goods like coffee and sugar in glass rather than the original plastic.

  • ASK FOR NO STRAW If you get an iced coffee or smoothie or even a soft drink with your meal out at a restaurant, then be sure to tell the server or barista that you do not need a straw. They are absolutely pointless utensils and cause a lot of waste. When I collect litter off of the beach a lot of the garbage is straws from drinks from the nearby cafes. Of course, be sure to bring your tumbler  along with you in your purse or bag to avoid using plastic cups and lids with that straw.
It doesn't take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

  • NO PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES This is an obvious one, especially with my previous post on the usefulness of tumblers, which is hyperlinked just above, but I’ll say something quick as a reminder. Plastic bottled water is as unnecessary as a straw, you don’t need ’em. They have become modern-day conveniences and the norm for most, but change your habit by buying a home use water filter, purchasing a metal water bottle or tumbler to be filled with the filter or even straight out of the tap if it’s safe to do where you live.
    • Side note: Isn’t it sad that it is unsafe to drink from the tap! I was warned when I moved to Korea that it’s a big no-no. Most people create a lot of waste by buying large, plastic bottles of water.
  • CHANGE YOUR PLASTIC USE HABITS This is incorporated into all of the tips above in a way, yet deserves more explanation. In order for me to cut back on my plastics use, I have to make small decisions every day. For example, there is a bakery around the corner from me that I enjoy, but I will not allow myself to go in there unless I have a container on me to carry the bread away with. At first they looked at me funny, but after about the fourth time, they gave me a day old bread free of charge (or service as they say here) because they may have thought it was cute that I brought my own Tupperware.

Changing habits, whether it be stopping bad ones or starting good ones, takes time and effort and won’t happen overnight. It might seem, at first, like a big pain to have to cart around a metal water bottle with you everywhere you go and you might find yourself grimacing at the checkout line when you realize that you’ve left your reusable bags at home – AGAIN! If you keep at it and make little notes, place the bags near your car keys or always in your purse, then it will begin to be the way things are for you and you’ll be cutting your plastics use down bit by bit.

Sustainably Fill Your Closet – 6 Tips

In my last post I outlined the many negative effects of the fashion industry and how learning of them altered my shopping habits. In the past I used to shop somewhat regularly. It wasn’t often a matter of desperately needing an item, instead it was just something to do in my down time. I would check out sales and feel really excited and happy when I found what I thought was a good deal. Sometimes I would even buy something without even having any need for it, and maybe not even liking it much, therefore it might have found its way to the back of the closet, and then much later, to the thrift store.

Now I give so much more consideration to my shopping, and here’s how.

  1. Just get by: If you saw me out and about and paid attention to what I was wearing, then you would notice that my clothes are on heavy rotation. I have a relatively small amount of clothing that gets worn again and again. Specific to me, being a kindergarten ESL teacher and a yoga teacher, I am able to get away with going very casual, for example jeans and a baggy sweater. You might not have this sort of lifestyle and may find yourself requiring more variety in your wardrobe, if that’s the case, then there are ways to obtain them sustainably.
  2. Second-hand shopping: There’s still a way to have a shopping hobby, but without supporting the fashion industry, and that is to shop second-hand. Of course, second-hand shopping is more like finding a needle in a haystack at times, but when you do find that needle it feels like it’s the shiniest needle in all of the world since it probably took some time and luck to come across it. Here in Korea there are second-hand shops in most neighborhoods. This is my favorite one- The Beautiful Store. Another option would be consignment stores, which are costlier but guarantee less digging.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

  3. Swap clothes with friends (and strangers): It’s common to lose interest in things that were bought long ago or that were not quite right but got purchased anyway. Instead of tossing thes things in a landfill, host or attend a clothing swap. That way you can feel satisfied with a cleaned out closet and then quickly fill it up with some fun new things.
  4. Read labels: Imagine if people read clothing tags the same way that they read nutrition labels and avoided toxic fabrics as much as they avoid GMO foods. It’s become a new habit of mine to check out where things are made and what they’re made of. Shop around and choose the more sustainable option of what you’re buying. Recently I have done this when shopping for headphones and yoga pants and feel prouder of my things even if nobody knows that they’re a bit more sustainable. Choosing something that’s better for you and for the environment can give a small sense of pride.
  5. Shop locally: If possible buy items made in your area, or at least country. That’s not very common
    in the US anymore, but can be done, American Apparel comes to mind. You could also shop on Etsy for up-cycled clothes. Here in Korea it’s much easier to do, a lot of small shops sell Made in Korea.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

  6. Buy Natural Materials: Choosing a wool knit over acrylic will definitely cost more, unless found at a thrift store, but you get what you pay for. Spending more on high quality will mean that it will actually feel nicer to the touch (and you will be wearing it on your skin,) it will look nicer, and last longer. Other natural materials to keep an eye out for are organic cottons, silk, hemp, leather and suede.

Conscious consumerism takes more time and effort, but after practice it will develop into unconscious-concious consumerism, if that makes any sense. You will begin to be more aware of the things that you bring home with you and where and how they came to be. It really is similar to watching the breath in yoga, at first it’s not easy to give the breath full attention, but after hours and years of practice, it just begins to be the new normal. Likewise, choosing to shop more sustainably can soon become your new normal, too.
A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

Yoga off the Mat – A Mindful Closet

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.

Possibly made in a similar factory as that which collapsed.

Possibly made in a similar factory as that which collapsed.

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.

Best of luck to you on this journey of lifestyle change for the better. More blog posts in the future on specific tips and experiences.

Don’t Shop, Swap!

Clothing swaps are great alternatives to shopping, and make for excuses to have a social gathering with old friends or new. They’re very easy to put together and require very little planning. Plus, everyone will hopefully go home with something new (to them) and exciting!

I first attended a clothing swap with my boyfriend’s mom where she lives in the south of France. On a fall afternoon a large group of women gathered in a friend’s home and laid out items that no longer got much use from them, to be shared and swapped with all in attendance. It was a lot of fun and a few years later I found myself hosting a swap in my expat community of Busan, South Korea. Here’s a quick how-to on hosting a clothing swap. Details are specific to an expat community, but a swap can be held anywhere.

Browsing items :)

Browsing items 🙂

  • Invites: Social media makes planning a breeze, with a few clicks and a nice photo you’re done! For my events I made the events public, open all in the community. For your friends you could make it more intimate by inviting them by phone or even send out some nice stationary, but doing things electronically saves paper and time.
  • Choose a Time: I have had a lot of success hosting swaps when the seasons are changing. People tend to pack up their shorts and tanks and pull out the sweaters in the fall, so that’s a great time to host an event, likewise spring is another great time. I encourage people to bring summer and winter clothes as people might be vacationing to warmer places, or can store the items for later.
  • Inform Your Guests:  Some people may not know what a clothing swap is, so let them know that it’s a chance to hand in unwanted clothes for others’ lightly used items. You can have your event be for ladies only, or extend it out to men or even make it a family event for children as well, as I’m sure a lot of families may have clothes that are getting too small and equally would be in need for someone else’s larger sizes! Be sure to plan the event a few weeks in the future to give people time to go through their closets. Decide if you want to include accessories and footwear and let everyone know. Be sure to tell guests that only lightly used items are appreciated.
  • People at Table Talk English Cafe, swapping away!Chose a Venue: As a very casual event you could host a swap in your living room, or on the porch in warmer months. You could make it more fun by incorporating a potluck. For a more public event, seek out a local cafe and encourage your guests to support the cafe by purchasing a drink or food. The chosen location might not even charge you rent if you let them know guests will be buying their fare.
  • Arrange Drop Off Times: Expat communities see people come and go routinely. Plan your swap to coincide with the waves of expats coming in and out. For example, here in Korea the school year begins in March, so people leave in February and newbies arrive in March- a great time to host a swap. In order to collect off of the people who are flying out, ask the cafe if you can collect a few weeks early and store there, if that’s not an option, consider storing and collecting at your place.
  • Donate the Extras: Storing all of the left overs might not be reasonable, so search your local area for a charity shop, orphanage, or women’s shelter to take the clothes that remain. Call ahead to make sure that they’ll accept what you’ll have to bring.

Hosting a swap does not require much at all and can be such a fun event. For my first swap, I held a talk at the beginning for those interested about the sustainable aspect of the swap, which might be a good idea if you want to give your event a deeper meaning.

Here is the Facebook Event link to my upcoming Swap in Busan on March 14th. The swap is open to the public. As the host I encourage anyone to come have a look through the clothes, whether you have anything to contribute or not. The reason for this is that by taking an item off of someone rather than buying it new in the shop, you save the item from the landfill and also don’t contribute to mass consumption… but that’s a whole other blog post!


 

Update, here a few photos from the Swap that was held in Busan on the 14th of March. It was a success I believe, with people walking away with mounds of clothes. I learned from this event and am hopeful that next season’s will be even more successful and run more smoothly. This past event I happened to become ill during the swap and was running a fever for most of it, thankfully some good friends stepped in and helped me out so much. Thanks ladies!

DIY Natural Dying

I learned about using compost to make natural dyes via a podcast that my boyfriend was listening to one night, and it caught my attention. On the podcast, the woman was talking about collecting onion skins from restaurants to turn them into dye and I thought, well we go through a lot of onions, so might as well start collecting. I also asked some girlfriends to save their onion skins for me and had quite a collection. This past weekend I finally put the skins to use and the results were surprisingly nice. They will be sewn into eye pillows and cases.

How To

The Collection: I’m not sure on an amount, but if I had to guess I’d say that I used about 20 onions worth of skins. Initially I froze the skins, but I found that that’s not necessary. The skins keep well at room temperature as long as none of the flesh is on them. It’s winter now, so that might not be the case during the humid summer.

The Process: I followed this blog. Outlined below are the stepsSoaking the skins I took to dye my fabric.

  1. After collecting and storing the skins until I was ready to dye, the first step I took was to soak the onion skins. I covered the skins in water until they were all covered, but of course some were not submerged because they floated to the top. I had read that soaking over night gets the best results, so that’s what I did.
  2. The next day I boiled the skins in the water. They didn’t remain
    boiling for long. After they reached boiling, I lowered the heat to simmer. They simmered for about an hour. When I went to turn off the gas completely, I noticed that a lot of the water had boiled off and the water was colored an orange-brown. I removed the skins as much as I could.
  3. The next step is soaking the fabric in thedye. Using different types of metal creates different colors, so I used two different pots and experimented a bit. One piece of fabric was completely submerged in a cheap camping pot (I’m not sure what type of metal it is, but it’s cheap) while the other fabrics I played around with and explain how below. For the best results the blog said to soak the fabric in thedye while it is heated on the stove for about an hour.
    1. Two fabrics I tie-dyed. The first fabric I planned to use for eye pillows. The second was a shirt that I altered when I first bought my sewing machine (it has very rough hems from learning how to sew!)
    2. The other effect I daydreamed about making was an ombre effect, or fading from dark to light. I theorized that if I strategically hung the fabric above the dye only submerging the end and then lowered more into the dye every hour, then I’d end up with the part that was soaking the longest would be darker in color and that which was soaked for the least amount of time would be lighter in color. The end of the fabric wasn’t submerged at all and stayed the original cream color (minus some staining from the steam of the dye.
  1. After the fabrics were in the heated dye, I turned off the heat and let them cool in as they were. For better results it was recommended to have them sit in the dye overnight which is what I did. The following day (3 days into the process now) I took them out of the dye and rinsed them in cold water until they stopped running.

The results of this process came out great, I thought. I hope to play around with other natural dyes in the future. A student recommended dying with turmeric and fruit skins. Have you had any success with natural dyes?

The Humble Tumbler

I’m assuming that tumbler is not just a Konglish word used over here in South Korea, but is also a term used in the wider world, but just in case that that isn’t the case, I’d better clarify. A tumbler is a mobile, reusable, totally sealed thermos for your coffee or tea. I was gifted mine back in 2010 and it still makes the daily rounds with me pretty much wherever I go. I prefer it to a water bottle because it holds both hot and cold, and it insulates. So my ice water on the beach in July is nice and chilly and my green tea in December fogs up my glasses on the subway. Here is some more info on this wonderfully useful device.

The fact that it has a vaccuum seal lid raises it far above it’s cousin the travel mug, and this is because it can be tossed in any bag and carted along without getting your precious belongings splattered or drenched in a sticky chai tea latte. Recently in the past year I have been biking to and from lessons more often than I used to, and I have had absolutely no hesitation throwing my full tumbler in my backpack. I can’t say that this would be the case if I had a lesser quality tumbler, so if you’re looking to purchase maybe read reviews.

It’s also cost efficient. If I compare the cost of a tumbler, which is about $20-$30, to buying a plastic bottle of water at a convenience store at about $1, it would of course take only 20-30 times to equal the cost of the tumbler. That’s only about one month of yoga classes, so in one month my tumbler has earned her keep. That time frame is decreased if I get a to-go coffee at a chain, as they usually give a discount if you ask them to put the coffee in your tumbler.

A minuscule sample (I didn't see anyone else drinking out of a mug or reusable tumbler besides myself in this busy cafe) of single use paper and plastic containers. A drink of choice was purchased and poured in, then said drink was drunk, and then they were tossed.

A minuscule sample (I didn’t see anyone else drinking out of a mug or reusable tumbler besides myself in this busy cafe) of single use paper and plastic containers. A drink of choice was purchased and poured in, then said drink was drunk, and then they were tossed.

Another reason why I prefer using a metal tumbler to using plastic water bottles is of course sustainability. I’m trying more and more to cut back on using single use, disposable items (think plastic forks, water bottles, straws, etc.) with the hopes of one day quitting use totally. Litter is an unfortunate, daily problem here in South Korea. I’m not going to try to explain this problem here, because I don’t want to judge the culture of the country that I have been calling my home for 3+ years, but I will say that I don’t condone the littering. Cafe culture is HUGE here, I live one block from a main tourist beach in Busan and there are innumerable cafes (ok, realistically about 50ish on a 1.4km/.87mi long beach) and the majority of patrons of those cafes get single use to-go cups. Employees don’t even ask preferrence, they just give the to go cup, plastic or paper, regardless of whether you’re about to stroll the beach or sit down and study for an hour. That’s a lot of waste each and every day; waste that is usually just littered on the beach or street since the city doesn’t provide many waste receptacles. There are recycling areas sporadically on the beach, but the cups and other waste items don’t always make it there.

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Fred disapproving of litter outside of our apartment building. There are at least five single use containers for hot liquid here. The coffee would have been drunk in minutes and then littered.

And if the cups do make their way to the recycle bins then all is fine and well, right? Well not totally, ok yes, they can be recycled, but recycling uses a lot of energy, so it’s better to reuse. That plastic bottle has to be taken to a processing plant (shipping fuel,) where it is sorted, cleaned (water/energy waste,) processed into pellets (more energy waste,) and then the pellets start their journey to be turned into more plastic bottles or plastic bags. But imagine if we just stopped using those plastic bottles/bags, then there’d be no demand for them. Instead we could use metal tumblers and cotton reusable bags. In the description I use the word waste purposefully because if we change our perception of plastic use to waste, then maybe we’ll stop using (wasting!!!) so much plastic.

The final reason why I’m antiplastic bottle is the negative effects of leaking chemicals into the food or drink that we consume, especially with a heated food or liquid. The research has been out on BPA (bisphenol A) for a while. I’ve heard and read some pretty scary stuff about the chemical which is used to make plastics more durable. You can read up on the stuff yourself here, and at breastcancer.org, and with this PDF, and lastly if you’re more of an auditory learner then this is a very informative interview with a scientist who wrote a book about testing her own breast milk for toxins.

DIY Yoga Eye Pillow

A yoga prop that I love to utilize in Savasana (corpse pose) is an eye pillow. I started to use one regularly years ago after being introduced to them at a yoga studio. What an eye pillow is, is what it sounds like; a tiny little pillow to rest on top of your eyes. Usually they are made of a soft fabric like silk or cotton that feels comfortable on your face. The filling is made up of flax seeds coated in an essential oil- lavender being my favorite. Not only does the soft scent of the lavender calm you as you inhale in your Savasana, but the flax seeds make it impossible not to close the eyes and also block out any light in the environment.

Unfortunately, I lost my eye pillow months back while travelling and never replaced it. Instead I had a goal to teach myself how to make them and it turned out to be much easier than I might have imagined. I acquired a sewing machine, found a tutorial online, and cut apart an old pillow case to upcycle* into the eye pillow, and while I was at it I created half a dozen for the students of my classes to use. These lovelies were a long time in the making and even include hand-picked, dried lavender kindly sent from England, upon request, from my boyfriends mother.

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The How To

What You’ll Need:

  • Sewing Machine
  • Cotton or silk upcycled fabric
  • Flax Seeds 1-1 ½ C
  • Lavender (to relax) or Mint (to revitalize) essential oil
  • Measuring cup
  • Funnel
  1. Cut your fabric to 25x25cm.
  2. Fold the fabric inside out (print on the inside) in half and sew to close two sides leaving an opening to fill the pillow.
  3. Scent the flax seeds to as strong as you like (careful not too much, I once re-scented mine more than I should have and the lavender oil burned my eyes!)
  4. Turn the pillow right side out. Fill the pillow with about 1 ½ C of the scented flax seeds depending on how dense you want your pillow.
  5. Sew the opening to close the pillow.

Follow this link to a blog where I found these directions as well as easy to follow directions to make the pillow cases.

*A note on upcyclying and why it’s great; this is when you give new life to an old, no longer used, soon to be discarded object. As this is a blog dedicated to both yoga and sustainability, I am glad to write this post about creating (DIY) rather than consuming with the added benefit of keeping some pillow cases out of a landfill.