Sequence: Begin by placing with knees and toes together with your hips above your ankles. Place your hands on your thighs palms down. Now, close your eyes and begin to inhale. As you take in your breath, begin to count down from ten.
Sequence: Now, shift your gaze beneath your hands to your yoga pants, shorts or briefs. Inhale. Good. Now, stop for a second and ask yourself this: Where did these come from?
It is a question few dare to. But as the Athleisure trend continues to take hold in the American apparel market, Opening the Asian Market. The answer to this query would undoubtedly be China. Or Bangladesh, India, Turkey or some other country “over there” whose name you have never heard of let alone know how to pronounce. And this is not an accident nor is it entirely your fault.
In the 1970s, the shift in American labor and trade policies changed America’s relationship with clothing apparel forever. In her book “Making Sweatshops: The Globalization of the US Apparel Industry” Ellen Rosen outlines how President Reagan had struck a compromise between the American textile transnational corporations to create the modern clothing apparel paradigm. She writes that while textile manufacturers feared that this new shift would lead to the loss of business, [the transnational apparel corporations]…favored freer access to low-wage, offshore production and the opening of markets abroad.”
Suffice it to say, it worked. Apparel imports increased more during his presidency than at any other time in American history. And by the end of his second term, the value of apparel imports had nearly tripled. This agreement had an effect on the American garment industry.
Now, only about 2% of garments worn by Americans are made in America. Instead, the majority are now imported from China and other countries in Asia and the larger developing world.
While this agreement was great for business, it didn’t necessarily work out well for the laborers. It almost goes without saying that factories are exploitative and dangerous, the sweatshops are well documented. wages are generally low. Working conditions are deplorable and laborers are vulnerable, often abused by supervisors and factory owners.
One example of this is the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in April of 2013. The factory, originally a four-story building, it was expanded to increase business and productivity. Built without permits or permission, the added weight of the new floors created a level of instability as the original building had been built on unstable swampy land.
The result was nothing short of catastrophic. The building eventually gave way killing 1,135 people and injuring another 2,515. To make matters worse, this disaster had been the second factory disaster to occur in Bangladesh in a matter of months. The previous November, there had been a fire at another Dhaka factory that killed 112 people.
Sequence: Let’s continue with our practice. Lift your eyes look forward to keeping your gaze parallel to the floor. Bring your hands together in a prayer position and place them in the center of your chest.
Sequence: Keep your fingers together as you spread them wide. Your thumb should make contact with your chest. Feel the fabric of your shirt next to your thumbs and take a deep breath. As you exhale ask yourself, who made this shirt?
Unless you attend nude yoga classes, you probably own leggings, tops, or bodysuits that were imported. Yoga wear is a huge component of the Athleisure trend in America. That is important because, while the general apparel sales have only grown 3% from the previous year, Athleisure has grown 11%. And now Athleisure now comprises 17% of the apparel retail market. And it is a market the retailers are looking towards for extended growth.
The CEO of Lululemon laughs at critiques of global labor practices and argues that Chinese workers want to work more than Westerners.
Sequence: Take a deep breath. Inhale.
So how much responsibility do yogis have to ensure that their leggings and tops are ethically made? Or do they bear any responsibility at all? Well, as many seasoned yogis know, yoga is a part of the Hindu tradition. And within Hinduism, there is the concept of Dharma or cosmetic law.
As is such, one of the biggest vices or Adharma is to visit harm upon others. And it should go without saying that factory fires and collapses are more than a little harmful to both the individuals that are lost and the communities who will mourn their absence for years to come.
Sequence: Now, exhale.
So, what should the conscious yogi do? Well, luckily many yoga apparel brands are committed to ethical manufacturing and labor practices. A quick online search will bring them within reach. For others who perhaps cannot afford these brands, there is always the option of second-hand shops. A good soak and launder will leave those leggings as good as a new pair.
Sequence: Now, inhale as you lean forward, placing your hands underneath your shoulders, your hips directly above your knee. Exhale as you go into your chaturanga, or go straight into the downward-facing dog. Gaze towards your navel and gently shake your head yes and no.
Continue breathing as you consider, your mat, strap, blocks, pillows, and blankets. Where were the made? And by whom? Are these people safe, well paid, and generally content? There is no way to know for sure, but you can take steps, little by little to find out.
Sequence: Reach your right leg up towards the ceiling. As you exhale, place your right foot between your hands and lift your torso and arms up. Place your hands over your heart and twist your torso to the right. Place your left elbow above your knee. Breathe deep and promise yourself and those who are living “over there” that when you get home you will check the label, email the company and ask them: are your yoga pants ethically made?