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?

The Magic at Re-Green, Greece

This has been a summer of travel for me. After leaving Korea back in February I started travelling, meeting people, and learning through experiences in countries such as India, Greece, Poland, Czechia, and now Canada. I’ve been able to do so through a network called Help-X which you can read more about right here. One of my favorite stops in all of my travels and all of my Help-X past experiences has, by far, been at Re-Green in Greece.

Now before I get started and carried away, typing out hundreds of words on the wonders that I found at Re-Green, I’d better reign in my thoughts right here and right now. To make things easy on both of us, I’ll narrow down my thoughts to just four simple bullet points. And before I do so, let me also explain that I hope that this write-up can stand as a review for those considering trying to volunteer through a work exchange network there, or those who may attend one of their many workshops (including yoga and PDC.) More than a review, maybe it will open your eyes and mind to some cool new ideas that they’re doing over there. If nothing else, may Re-Green inspire you on your path to sustainability, whichever route it is you are taking to get there.

Why Re-Green is Magical

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  • Their View on Life – The people over at Re-Green have called their homestead-retreat center/little-piece-of-paradise Re-Green for a reason. The name stands for a conscious lifestyle that is about living a sustainably by doing more than recycling and buying energy-efficient light bulbs. To Re-Green is to work with each other and nature in order to live harmoniously with the surrounding environment, which is exactly what they strive to do at their home.  You can read  more on their website about what Re-Green stands for. A real life example of Re-greening that they have there is turning an old trunk into a solar oven to bake your potatoes in for dinner. It was so cool.

 

  • The People – From the first time that Ben and I were picked up on a cold cloudy day  in April by a big white, windowless van (I know that sounds more scary than magical, but it turned out just fine in the end – don’t let the media scare you out of having adventures!) The friendly people in the van were of course the owners and stewards of  Re-Green. It’s not always that you meet new people and instantly click, but that’s what happened. During the weeks that we stayed there were a handful of other volunteers from all over Europe and they too we jived with straight away. Lots of late nights sharing stories and laughing. It was easy and obvious why so many new friends were made there, it was because people were drawn there who believe in a philosophy of bettering the world by enhancing nature.

 

  • Surrounded by Beauty – Stunning mountain peeks surround the valley that the retreat center nestles in and almost every day I found myself wondering how I’d ended up at such a majestic place on earth. Looking closer to the ground you’ll see wildflowers and abundant gardens blossoming all around. Cuteness overload with puppies, ducklings, and little baby chicks added to the happiness.  On clear days you can see down to the Gulf of Corinth; the view of the sea from the middle compost toilet is especially lovely. At night-time the stars take over and during rain or cold, it’s the natural buildings that inspire.

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  • Experiences Not Things – Going to a retreat center that hosts events from yoga, to learning about detoxing herbs, to preserving the gardens gifts, means that you are bound to learn loads. Sharing ideas and ways with other volunteers and guest teachers will also translate to learning and as a volunteer the learning will be hands on and practical. If working on your vacation sounds like torture then check out their events on Facebook and visit as a guest. The rooms alone are reason enough to spend a weekend there, they are housed in an old, stone farm house with so much attention to detail in the remodel (they’ve been Re-Greened you might say!) While I was there I was in heaven doing yoga, teaching yoga, learning about vegetation, hiking, natural building, cuddling dogs, reading books, pulling weeds, and the list could go on.

 

This post is not so much a review as it is a gush of a place that I absolutely fell in love with. They had me at their description of their purpose and I hoped, and prayed, and crossed my fingers back in January 2016 when I applied for my boyfriend and I to volunteer there that they would take us, and then I jumped for joy when I got an email that they would. Our six weeks there were so absolutely astounding that we never wanted to leave. Maybe one day we’ll do as so many others who have visited there have done – move our lives there. Previous volunteers have fallen in love with the place and the people so much so that they bought land to become part of the Re-Green community. Moving to the mountains of Greece may just be a day dream of mine for now, but I can still day dream. If you likewise find yourself daydreaming about living life in a  real-life-sustainable-fantasy-land, then make it a reality and get yourself to Re-Green.

Plastic Free France in Plastic Free July!

Plastic Free July is an initiative that challenges us to say no and refuse single-use plastics for the entire month of July (and hopefully the newly strengthened habit will carry over into August, September, and every other month.) You can read more about the campaign on the official website here.

Examples of plastics to say no to for the rest of the month are plastic forks/knives/spoons, red solo cups, plastic bags at the check out, and straws. Shop smart by choosing items packaged as lightly as possible, and go to a farmer’s market and buy your produce there, have them place your fruit and veg straight into your reusable bag instead of using those pointless produce bags at the grocery store. Bonus! – you support local farms and eat healthier, local foods!

What’s the big deal about single-use plastic anyway? Well quite frankly, it sucks. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. These items of “convenience” are produced with oil (polyethylene) and other chemicals at very high temperatures (500 F), packaged and shipped out to stores, where they’re freely given out or are charged at a very low price, carry your items where you are going and then likely get tossed in the garbage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows thinking, “But wait, I recycle!” well then I am grateful that you take that extra step, and everyone should be recycling by now, it’s 2016 after all, but I’d argue that the energy used in transporting, cleaning, and processing the recycled plastic is unnecessary. Consider if instead we all used real knives and forks (or any other real, multi-use item instead of a single-use plastic one) and then washed them after use to be used again, and again, and again. Recycling is energy intensive, and although yes, it is better than tossing plastic into the trash or on the street; I don’t think that it’s the answer to all of our problems.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. This is not a post about why we should refuse plastic, no that can be found here  and here, and tips on how to cut back on plastics in your life are written here. No, this post is actually a celebration of an entire country banning plastic bags – an entire country! That country my friends, is France.

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This is what happened: starting on July 1, 2016 all shops and super markets no longer carry thin, single-use plastic bags at their check out. Instead shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, or buy heavy-duty bags that cost more than the typical 10 cents. Bags that yes, _DSC4495are plastic, but that are meant for multiple uses. Plastic bags generally have a life span of carrying your groceries from the store check out line to your car and then from the car to your kitchen where they likely get tossed in the trash, recycle bin, or in a designated area where they’ll sit with all of the other useless plastic bags that have come home with the shopping and that have no other purpose. It is a beautiful thing that France realized the waste and inefficiency and made laws to get rid of them all together.

What’s more, is that starting on January 1, 2017 in France plastic produce bags found next to the fruit and vegetables will go from being plastic (the norm) to being paper or a compostable corn-starch plastic. A lot of waste is going to be saved in France not just in the shops and super markets but also in the weekly markets and night markets that are still alive and thriving in  almost every small town and village.

Thank you, France! What an inspiration for all other cities and countries to aspire to. In my most optimistic dreams the U.S. will follow suit one day, and I will anxiously be awaiting that day.


*Note on Photography: All photos were taken on the ground near Bordeaux, France by my accommodating partner, Ben Lear.

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!