Mindful Fashion Matters (Just Ask The Buddha)


I have loved (adored, idolized, obsessed over) fashion from my very earliest memories, so, I can’t believe I’m saying this but: my interest in fashion has waned a bit lately, eclipsed by an intense internal journey I’ve been on through yoga, meditation, and all sorts of various (sometimes wacky... okay, probably mostly wacky) spiritual explorations.

I mean I'm still very active in all my various projects and companies, but I definitely feel a tension between my hours of devotion - asanas and stillness and chanting - against my hours spent working in the business of consumption. I do feel the disconnect between my very clean, very careful lifestyle (no caffeine, alcohol, garlic, onion, meat, dairy, eggs, leather, wool, silk, bone, animal testing, slave labor... or even, sadly, kimchi!) contrasted with the very dirty, very careless industry of fashion (which is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, and a major contributor to the exploitation of people and animals). And it's left me with this question: how do you balance your deep internal work with the deep needs of the external world?

And if you do find a balance, does fashion even matter anymore?

Love, compassion, and peace — these words are at the heart of spiritual endeavors. Although we intuitively resonate with their meaning and value, for most of us, the challenge is how to embody what we know: how to transform these words into a vibrant, life practice.
— Joseph Goldstein

One of the topics we’ve been covering in one of my meditations groups has been mindfulness. And I know, it’s such a cliché, buzzy word these days, but it’s actually a very old concept, and a very important one. And as I’ve delved into it both in discussion and more importantly in silence, it's become clear to me that mindfulness encompasses every moment, every thought, every choice. And so yes, fashion actually does play a role in mindfulness (whew, I can keep my career!).

And since fashion is something we participate in daily (almost all of us wear clothing at one point or another, at least in the circle I run in) and we had to acquire it somehow, it offers us an interesting, frequent opportunity to practice choosing something with intention, to practice choosing with mindfulness. If we want to get all metta about it, it’s an opportunity to practice choosing and then wearing examples of loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, and equanimity. Or in other words: fashion is a way to literally clothe yourself in your deepest hopes, and your deepest values.

I mean, even the Buddha understood this. Of the 227 rules required of Buddhist monks, a surprisingly high percentage of them involve rules about what a monk can and can’t wear, and how much clothing a monk should own (#originalcapsulewardrobe), and how their robes should be cared for and used and when they should be replaced.

(I mean I always did suspect that fashion was an important road to enlightenment... )


The significance of what we wear is a big, complicated, deep topic of exploration, and it’s really what I created Bead & Reel and the Impact Fashion Show to help navigate. Because I really do believe that ideas like vegan and fair trade and organic and small batch and second hand and homemade and zero waste are extremely important, to mindfulness and beyond. I believe that we must get very honest with ourselves about our fashion choices, and what they mean for our selves and for the world around us. But, once we do, once our closet is a Pinterest-worthy photo of sustainability, is our work done? Are we mindful yet?

As I see more and more people and brands moving towards more and more mindful fashion I think it's fantastic, truly, but I actually don’t think this will ultimately change anything on a large scale, systemic level. And that’s because it ultimately doesn’t matter if we treat our closets mindfully if we aren’t yet treating each other mindfully.

It’s simply, unfortunately, not enough to wear faux leather or fair trade cotton if we remain angry and resentful and righteous and divisive to those who aren’t – aren’t wearing what we wear, or aren’t doing what we do, or aren’t living like we live. And even though these are very normal, very human emotions, and are often even felt on behalf of very good causes, our mindfulness must be woven not only into the fabric or process of fashion but also into ourselves.


In my yoga classes one of the things I often ask my students to pay attention to is the transference of tension. So, if you’re in a really deep forward fold and feeling really pleased that your hamstrings are starting to soften but you’re unaware that in this focused concentration you’re totally clenching your jaw or neck or shoulders or hips (or, if you’re me, probably all of them), you’re just moving the tightness from one area of the body to another. And since I think yoga is basically always just an analogy for life, if we’re promoting the ethics of sustainable fashion (maybe things like kindness, community, consideration, connection) in one area but are our actions are creating the antithesis in other areas (which I see happening alllllll the time), that’s just moving the issue somewhere else instead of allowing it to release - dissolve - all together.  

And so I think the next evolution of sustainable fashion – of mindful fashion – is the even harder work of how we treat others, no matter where they are in their own sustainable fashion journey (or life journey, which, is kind of the same thing).  

I think the next level of mindful fashion is asking of us is to be willing to love people who don’t do exactly what we want them to do, or think exactly the way we want them to think. It’s asking us is to be able to forgive – not necessarily condone – but, forgive people who don’t shop the way we do, or eat the way we do, or even believe the way we do. It’s asking us to – and I’m paraphrasing this from someone much wiser than me – be in awe of the load others carry instead of judging how they carry it.

It's asking us to just basically be nice to each other, and not just our clothes.

Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.
— Adam Micknik

As best as I can tell (and feel free to take everything I say with a grain of salt, which is one of the few foods I haven’t yet found a Vedic text prohibiting), if we want to truly create mindful fashion, we have to create a safe space for others to be a vulnerable, messy, growing, changing (or maybe even stuck) human being who is absolutely going to be imperfect and to make mistakes and to go through their own processes and growth, even if it’s not on our own path or our own timeline – and we have to be willing to offer this space, this grace, because we’re each all equally all of these things, too.

If we want a kinder world, we must start within ourselves, and be kind to others. If we want a more compassionate world, we must start within ourselves, and be compassionate to others. If we want a more just world, we must start within ourselves, and be more just towards others.

And trust me, I know, this can be really difficult work. It would be so much easier if we could just buy an organic cotton t-shirt and call it a day. But I think this is the real work of sustainable fashion, the deep work of sustainable fashion. The work that will truly lead to not only a more fair fashion industry, but a more fair world.

Photo: Lillian Bradley for Bead & Reel