Top 7 Sustainable Fashion Tips Based On Yogic Principles
The fashion industry has seen a huge growth in the early 21st century.
According to the UN, the industry is now valued at more than $2.5 trillion dollars and employs over 75 million people worldwide, a 3rd of whom are women (Cleanclothes.org).
Demand for clothing is soaring, much of this demand is fueled by what has become to be known as ‘fast fashion’. This is where clothes brands churn out new designs on a regular basis, with the fashion industry convincing people what was in fashion last year or even last month is now ‘unfashionable’.
When you think about it it is crazy, but whether we like it or not we are all susceptible to being manipulated by marketing. Fashion is one of the best examples of how marketers pull our strings and open our wallets.
With the demand for clothes increasing, the negative impacts of the industry are becoming all the more obvious.
The impacts of fast fashion and modern clothes production
The production of clothes has wide social and environmental impacts. Mass production and global supply chains have become the norm, making measuring the impacts difficult and lowering accountability and traceability of the clothes we buy.
Two key social impacts:
Underpaid workers with limited employment rights
Numerous reports have shown that working conditions within many factories are far below what would be expected in ‘developed’ countries, with employees being paid extremely low wages, working long hours with virtually no employment rights.
The use of child labour is common in certain countries both in factories and in the production of the raw materials needed to produce fabrics. This means children will not be able to receive a decent education, limiting their future life options.
The environmental impacts of the clothes industry are also huge, with the demand for cheap ‘fast fashion’ items driving a race to the bottom. These impacts include:
Degradation of farmland
Demand for cheap cloth such as cotton has led to the pollution and degradation of farmland across the world. This is not just a ‘developing country’ issue either, as cotton production accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States! Much of these pesticides will find their way into the local waterways and some may even be retained in the fabric produced from the cotton.
Pollution of waterways
The dying of fabrics usually needs huge amounts of water and most use toxic chemicals. These often end up being discharged into local rivers with very little treatment, impacting wildlife and the people who rely on these rivers for water and food.
Reliance on fossil fuels
Polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from oil in an energy-intensive process. This places reliance on oil and leads to a product that does not decompose (see below).
Many man-made fibers such as polyester and nylon are basically non-biodegradable. This is a problem as many unwanted clothes end up going to landfill dumps, where they will sit in the ground for 100s of years, if not longer. Natural fabrics come with their own set of challenges – especially if you are vegan and want to avoid wool but whatever you choose the key is to buy less and buy ethically.
So how does this relate to Yogic Philosophy?
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he mentions the Eightfold Path which is called Ashtanga. “ashta” means ‘eight’ and ‘anga’ means ‘limb’.
These eight limbs or steps act as guidelines for living a life of personal fulfillment that will also benefit society.
The first limb is called Yamas. Yamas are 5 Yogic behavioral principles and values, which are essentially Dharmic principles of right living for both personal and social well-being.
These are 3 of the Yamas that can be applied when thinking about what clothes we buy (and all other parts of our lives too!).
Ahimsa is often translated as ‘non-harming’ or ‘non-violence’. It essentially means choosing to act with kindness, consideration, and respect.
We can practice Ahimsa by choosing fair trade products and avoid purchasing from manufacturers and companies that utilize child labour, have unfair working conditions and cause environmental damage.
Astheya essentially means not taking what doesn’t belong to us and also what we don’t need.
This means reducing our consumption and buying only what’s necessary. In effect, by buying unethically produced clothes we are stealing from the earth via the damage caused by their production and we are also stealing from those who have produced them in poor working conditions for substandard wages.
Aparigraha: Awareness of Abundance & Fulfillment
Aparigraha essentially means acknowledging the abundance that surrounds you by not being attached to materialistic possessions and letting things go.
This principle helps guide us away from the need to buy the most recent fashion acknowledging that at best it will only buy us a temporary fix of ‘happiness’. It helps us appreciate what we have already and also helps us give up what we don’t need (time to donate those unwanted & unworn shoes & clothes!).
So how do we apply these principles?
Here are some actions you might want to take to apply the yogic principles above:
Buy less, buy high quality
This one is super simple! Just ask yourself, “Do I really need it?” If you do, make sure you buy as high quality as you can afford. Generally, cheap mean corners have been cut somewhere.
Go for classics
Try not to get yourself, too caught up in what is ‘in fashion’. Don’t follow the herd. Try and buy clothes that you love and feel yourself in.
Interestingly the resale market has grown 21 x faster in the US than other types of fashion retail over the last 3 years (GlobalData). This means there is no better time to get online or go to your local thrift or charity store and bag yourself a bargain.
Mend it don’t bin it
If one of your favorites has a little rip or tear, why not get crafty and mend it yourself. With a little practice, you can add a couple more years to that favorite coat and have fun doing it.
So that old sweater is too far gone to mend? Have a go at upcycling it into something new. Go online and get some inspiration. My partner turns two of my old tote bags into a clothes peg bag!
Donate or recycle
Unless it is completely trashed don’t throw away any clothes. Make sure they are clean and then either donate them to charity or put them in a clothes bank. However, it is estimated that only approx 10% of these clothes are actually resold in the charity shop with the rest being sold for recycling or even shipped overseas (to developing countries) where they are not always reused but burnt! So whilst you should take your unwatned clothes to the charity shop when you really arn’t going use them at all, the best solution is to not buy so many in the first place.
So you really do need something new, then seek out ethical brands. B Corps are great ones to look out for, but do your own research and find a few key brands that you feel you can rely upon.
This can be a bit of a rabbit hole you fall down as some brands may be strong on the environmental aspects, but not so strong on ethics. Use the old adage – and don’t let perfect be an enemy of the good i.e. don’t spend your life searching for that perfect company as you probably won’t find it.
Find one that ticks enough boxes – buy what you need (remember… not getting too carried away!) and care for it when you get it! If you love what they do then tell your friends.
The True Cost – The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on an untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing? Watch it for free at WaterBear Network. WaterBear Network is a free streaming service around sustainability, climate action, biodiversity and communities.