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Begin by placing yours 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 10.
At one begin to exhale, and you stretch your arms high overhead, reaching your fingers to the sky. Let your head lift up towards your hands and gaze upwards. On the exhale, float your arms down return your hands to your lap. Let your head gently return to center, then gently take a look at your hands. Inhale, exhale.
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 consider, let alone ask themselves. But as the Athleisure trend continues to take hold in the American apparel market, it's one that should be on the mind of any Western Yogi.
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 and 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 manufactures transnational corporations to create the modern clothing apparel paradigm. She writes that "while textile manufactures 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 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 a long-lasting effect on the American garment industry.
Now, only about two percent of garments worn by American are made in America. Instead, the majority are now imported from China, among other countries in Asia and the larger developing world.
While this agreement was great for business, it didn’t necessarily workout well for the laborers. It almost goes without saying that factories are exploitative and dangerous as the abuses of sweatshops are well documented. Pay is generally low. Working conditions are deplorable and laborers are vulnerable to a host of abuses 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, was expanded by four floors in order 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 to occur in Bangladesh in a matter of months. The previous November, there had been a fire in at another Dhaka factory that killed 112 people.
Let’s continue with our practice. Lift your eyes look forward keeping your gaze parallel to the floor. Bring your hands together in a prayer position, and place them in the center of your chest.
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 three percent from the previous year, Athleisure has grown by 11 percent. And now Athleisure now comprises 17 percent of the apparel retail market. And it is a market the retailers are looking towards for extended growth.
And if all the facts and figures are too much for you, you can just take a look at this article about Lululemon by Canadian magazine Tyee. In which, the CEO of Lululemon reasons away child labor, laughs at critiques of global labor practices and argues that Chinese workers want to work more than Westerners.
Take a deep breath. Inhale.
With whom does the responsibility lie?
So how much responsibility do yogis bear in ensuring 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.
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.
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 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 from the place you never heard of, who name you probably cannot pronounce 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.
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?