What Do Sustainable Fashion And Yoga Have In Common?
As you may or may not know, this is my last week of an amazing and challenging and transformative 10 week, 200 hour yoga teacher training course at True Self Yoga in Olympia, WA before jumping into an advanced teacher training with Ana Forrest.
(This means very soon, I can officially boss people around)
A lot of people have asked why I’m doing this training and what it will mean for Bead & Reel so I want to assure you that I’m not quite ready to renunciate everything and live in a cave in pursuit of enlightenment (though the thought did cross my mind a few times….). Instead, I see this journey as yet another tool to expand my own personal growth and knowledge, and bring new ideas to Bead & Reel as it continues to become a more complete resource for mindful living.
I actually think ethical fashion could learn a lot from yoga. While ethical fashion in its current form is relatively new with relatively little guidance, yoga has been around for thousands of years and has come up with some pretty good ideas, including guides for ethical living called the yamas and niyamas.
The yamas and niyamas were originally documented over 1500 years ago by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, which is sort of like the definitive book on yoga. It contains 196 sutras – or “rules” – for yoga (interestingly enough – only two of the sutras address asanas, or physical postures. The rest are all about the mind. Basically, I’m not the only one who totally recommends meditation).
One of the struggles I see in ethical fashion is that there is a lot of confusion about what different terms mean, what is “sustainable,” what is “ethical,” and what brands and consumers “should” be doing. Basically, no one yet has created the Sustainable Fashion Sutras to help guide us (though, I’m hoping Bead & Reel can help a little).
What I find intriguing about the yamas and niyamas is that they are self-regulated and self-defined – they are asking you to discover your own answers instead of offering a neat and tidy one-size-fits-all approach (one-size-fits all doesn’t work for fashion, so, it doesn’t surprise me that it doesn’t work for enlightenment either). Different lineages and people and traditions may offer different translations for these ideas, but in the end, it is up to each person to determine what they mean and how to implement them.
So, this week I’m going to share some ways we can use the yamas and niyamas to further our inquiry into ethical fashion, but I invite you to think about what they might mean to you and seek your own answers to the questions of sustainable fashion, and life.
THE FIVE YAMAS
guides on our relationship to the world
I view this as really the foundation of ethical fashion.
This is something we can look for throughout the supply chain: are the growers, weavers, cutters, and sewers free from violent toxins and forced labor? Are animals harmed, caged, or killed for our fashion? Are our rivers, oceans, air, and ecosystems safe?
And we can even take this one step further: am I hurt by the chemicals, fit, feel, or even the energy of what I’m wearing?
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: Ahimsa is something I take very seriously, and why everything I promote is vegan (which I consider non-violence towards animals), fair trade (which I consider non-violence towards people), and makes the best available choices to honor our environment.
I think this could easily translate to transparency. Are brands honest about where and how they are manufacturing? About how they are paying everyone from their garment workers to their interns?
And: are customers transparent to themselves? A lot of people claim to value equality, justice, or small businesses, but are their purchases supporting these?
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: I strive to always offer clear information about where something was made, what it was made from, and why I consider it “ethical.” Beyond that, I am committed to being honest about difficult topics in this very complex industry and world, even when it’s unpopular.
This idea has a lot of layers. In the literal sense, it would mean not taking things that aren’t yours. This could be applied to ensuring brands pay their workers, and pay them a living wage. This could also mean not stealing ideas, which is a real issue across all fashion. And it can also apply to customers who steal products, or abuse loop holes to get a deeper discount, or keep items they haven’t paid for (which all happen... even in ethical fashion).
On a more subtle layer, this could mean not holding onto things you don’t need when others do need them. Is your closet full of things someone else could use? Are you spending money on things you don't need when you could put that money towards something more meaningful?
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: As a business, I work really hard to always pay my vendors in a timely manner - and ensure they are doing the same down their supply chain. As a blog, I work really hard to make sure that I respect the investments that other brands make into me and my company. I also put pretty strict boundaries on my time to help others not “steal” it!
Brahmacharya: non-excess, or energy conservation
This has traditionally been interpreted by many as “celibacy” however it can definitely be thought of as non-excess in any parts of our lives, like not buying more than we need, or not spending more than we have.
It could also be seen as energy conservation, and we could literally view it as conserving energy – using renewable energy sources, using fewer resources, shopping locally, and participating in carbon offset programs (whether we’re a brand or someone who does a lot of online shopping).
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: I work exclusively with independent designers who do small batch productions in order to combat the excess of the fashion industry.
Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed
I think in ethical fashion we call this minimalism. It’s about not being too attached to your things, not having a lot of unnecessary things, and not hoarding things you don’t need. An aparigraha closet is also totally Pinterest-worthy!
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: I really try to stick with less. I don’t work with every possible brand, I don’t carry every possible style, and I don’t accept every offer presented to me.
THE FIVE NIYAMAS
guides on our relationship with ourselves
Literally, this could be caring for the garments we do have. Or wearing organic fibers. But this could also be approaching fashion with an intention of purity – can we spend our money with people we know, and businesses we believe in?
How I apply this at Bead & Reel:. I am very careful who I work with in all capacities of my business and projects. I only work with vendors and contractors who I truly respect in order maintain energetic cleanliness in my company.
This means not feeling the constant need for more. I think one way to practice this could be with alterations, mending, and repairs, whenever possible.
I could also see this as being content with our bodies. Can we love and accept our bodies, just as they are today?
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: As someone with a blog I get offered a lot of products to try, but I make sure to only accept pieces I genuinely will use and brands I genuinely want to support. Having enough is often enough.
Another way to phrase this could be self control. In ethical fashion I could see this being used in choosing not to purchase fast fashion, or choosing not to purchase new clothing, or choosing not to purchase anything at all for a specific period of time. It could mean using mindfulness instead of impulsiveness to decide when to buy things.
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: This is one I have been working on very hard lately when it comes to investing in ethical fashion projects. There are so many things I care about, so many great opportunities, so many areas of the world that need time and attention and money, and I’ve ultimately realized I can’t do it all. So, my self-discipline is to focus on a few things that I can do and do well, instead of spreading myself so thin that I can’t be impactful in anything.
Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
In a personal sense, this could be a quest to find out what you truly believe in – and why. To find your own ethics, to identify your own values – and how you are or aren’t honoring them. This can be challenging, and confrontational, and you may not always like what you discover, but it’s extremely important work (perhaps some of the most important work).
I think in a broader sense, this could be applied as remaining an educated consumer and maker. Doing your research. Understanding the issues. Asking questions. Being curious!
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: The longer I spend in ethical fashion, the more I realize how little I know (about this.... and everything). I apply Syadhyaya by keeping an open mind and taking time every day to learn and grow both personally and professionally.
Ishvara Pranidhana: dedicate or surrender
This is typically interpreted as surrendering to God or a higher power, but I think it could also be seen as surrendering to your conscience, to your higher self, or even to a greater good.
For ethical fashion, I think this could be seen as dedicating our thoughts, actions, and resources to creating the world we want to live in.
How I apply this at Bead & Reel: Bead & Reel is my dedication to ethical fashion. It is the manifestation of almost five years of my time, money, heart, and work to build a kinder, more compassionate world through our fashion, and I surrender to it daily.
What guiding principles do you think should be a part of ethical fashion?
A NOTE ON ETHICS IN WRITING:
I was generously gifted many of the items in this story, however I only work with brands who I genuinely believe in and all opinions are my own. I may sometimes (but not always) use affiliate links in my blog when talking about products or services that I truly suggest, which means that I may get a small commission if you end up buying or trying something through a link I share. This is one of the ways that I continue to fund the stories and programs that Bead & Reel creates and supports.