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If You Care About Wellness, You Should Also Care Where Your Clothes Come From

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

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The past few years have seen a major uptick in the wellness movement, with constant discussions around health, exercise and what we’re putting in our bodies. What there is decidedly 
less chatter about, though, is what we’re putting on our bodies. Unless you’re talking about the beauty business of course, which is today worth billions of dollars. If we are so concerned with eating organic this and vegetarian that though, why aren’t we also concerned about the formaldehyde and other known carcinogens regularly found in common azo dyes, which are used to achieve this season’s hottest hue?

Why are we also not too concerned about the fact that the fashion industry wastes copious amounts of water and is the second biggest polluter of clean water? Or, for that matter, the fact that countries where some of our favourite wellness practices like yoga first originated, are also those in which workers (the majority of whom are women) are today exploited in ways we could hardly fathom? The fact of the matter is that the ethical clothing movement, like the wellness movement before it, is now slowly starting to gain traction. But many of us are still not doing everything we can to put an end to these injustices. And ultimately, if you care about wellness, then you should also care about where your clothes come from.

This issue is two-fold. The first reason that we should care about the origins of our clothes is a social one. On the whole, what wellness practices like yoga are all about is not just personal development, but also creating positive relationships with those around us as well. Meditation in particular, teaches that, through mindfulness, we are able to have a positive flow-on effect for all those around us. But all too often, we seem to get caught up in our immediate surrounds and forget to look beyond this, as far as those in other countries, who are responsible for making the cheap fashion that we now take for granted. But when wearing that same clothing on our backs, it’s clear that we’re really not so removed from those exploited workers after all.

Much has already been said about the problematic lack of inclusivity underpinning some of the wellness movement’s very foundations. For instance, although the practice originally hailed from India, it has long been associated with white, thin and affluent women. In fact, according to a 2008 NIH study, 85% of U.S. yoga practitioners were white and 79% were women. This can tend to obscure the true origins of what is a very important and meaningful practice — in much the same way that glitzy fast fashion stores can tend to obscure the real faces and struggles behind our $10 t-shirts. Like the fact that a 2015 study showed 71% of leading UK brands believed there was a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some point in their supply chains, for example. Or that Uniqlo —  a company that prides itself on social responsibility and ‘making the world a better place’ — has recently been exposed for its own human rights violations. At the end of the day, we now have enough information at our fingertips, with which to educate ourselves about these issues. So no form of glitzy obstruction should be a viable excuse.

On the other side of things, though, we should care about where our clothes are made for environmental reasons too. Committing to making our bodies ‘well’ by buying organic produce, or not eating meat should, in theory, follow a care for the environment more broadly. Again though, too many people fail to look beyond their very immediate environment, choosing not to consider the broader environmental implications of mass production in fashion. At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, it is difficult to ignore the fact that conventional cotton crops are still the dirtiest on the planet, using 24% of the world’s pesticides, but only 2.4% of the world’s land.

Not only is fast fashion one of the world’s most polluting industries, then, but its post-consumer effects are also among the most devastating. This is because Australians alone send $500 million worth of clothing and textiles to landfill each year — an average of 30 kilograms per person. And not only do we now buy 400% more clothing now than we did 20 years ago though, but we also keep it for half as long as well. Unfortunately, many of the fabrics we are throwing out today are also far less natural than they used to be, which means they can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. In other words then, we are slowly clogging up the very thing that gives us life. So it’s no wonder that 85% of the human-made material found in the ocean is fabric such as nylon and acrylic.

By definition, ‘wellness’ represents an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Today, we associate that with going to yoga regularly and eating organic produce. But I would argue that caring about wellness means we also need to care about the kind of clothes we are buying and how they have been made. There is something inherently problematic about doing yoga in activewear that uses harmful dyes and has resulted in the exploitation of people from whom the practice originally developed. But we can change all of that by making those ‘healthy’ choices when it comes to our wardrobes — there is really no excuse not to. According to EcoWatch, fast fashion is now the second most polluting industry in the world, next to big oil. It is also amongst the most exploitative, rife with countless human rights violations. Now I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds very 'Zen' to me. 

We are proud to stock a selection of activewear labels that look good and are good, including Patagonia, Yogiic, ALAS, and Filippa K, and you can shop some of our favourite styles below:

This article was originally published in 2016.

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