ethical yoga clothing: soul flower & the politics of eco-friendly apparel

soulflowerSo you practice yoga, try to follow the ethical guidelines of the tradition, and take care of your body and the planet. But do you think about where the clothes you practice in have come from?

According to a recent Salon.com article, an “overwhelming majority” of clothing sold in North America is made in overseas factories (exact numbers are hard to find). The complexities of globalized manufacturing and international trade agreements make it difficult for brands to actually know the working conditions of the facilities that make their clothing. And as the article author notes, finding ethically-made clothing can be challenging. Sports apparel manufacturers (whether or not you think yoga is a sport, stretchy pants fall into this category) are among the worst offenders for unfair and unsafe labour practices.

IAYB sponsor Soul Flower was willing to answer some questions about the conscious choices they make as an apparel company. Soul Flower founders and owners, Mike Shoafstall and Peggy Rossi, took the time to explain why they source most of their clothing from USA-based facilities and how this relates to their worldview. Like the practice of yoga itself, it comes down to relationships and intimacy.

Why do you bother with Fair Trade and USA-made clothing? Isn’t it easier and cheaper to make your clothing overseas?

It’s about doing what is right, not what is cheapest. All of our clothing promotes a peaceful and positive lifestyle, not only in the way it looks and feels but also in how it is sourced and manufactured. Currently, 70% of our line is made in the USA and the rest comes from a Fair Trade manufacturer in Nepal. We know both companies very well and trust their practices in how the garments are made, as well as how the employees are treated.

Where exactly are your clothes made? Do you deal with one facility or have several around the country? What kind of relationship do you have with facilities? Can you ensure that workers receive a living wage and decent work conditions?

We work with two companies in the USA. The primary facility is in Los Angeles and they produce the adult clothing like dresses, skirts, t-shirts, hoodies, tops, etc. The second company is used to source our baby and toddler organic clothing, bibs, hats, etc. Both companies are very reputable and take pride that they can produce organic clothing at fair prices in the USA. The LA-based company is small and has been growing right along with us, so we know almost everyone who works at the company!

I’ve read that many manufacturers choose to make clothing outside of the US because the production facilities and technology are better. Is this true? Does Soul Flower feel that you have to sacrifice quality for domestic manufacturing?

Not at all, in fact, our USA-made Soul Flower clothing has the lowest return rate due to defect than any other vendor we work with. We work in small batches so we’re not making hundreds of thousands of garments all at once. The important factor is having faith in the people we are working with and trusting the process.

Most of the logistics are left to our partner who is procuring, cutting, sewing, and dying the fabric. The bulk of our organic cotton and recycled fibers are sourced right here in the USA so that makes things easier.

As a company that makes clothes for yogis and hippies, why is it important that your clothes are ethical and fair?

It’s about good karma. We promote a positive, peaceful, earth-friendly lifestyle by using organic and recycled fabrics. We share our message of positivity and peace through our hand drawn designs, which are printed with eco-friendly inks. In fact, soon we will be doing all our own screen printing as well!

See their full line at soul-flower.com (every piece is labeled with adorable little icons indicating where they were made, what kind of materials were used, and other important information!).

Other resources for ethical apparel:

  • Good Guide rates and ranks apparel companies according to their labour practices and environmental impact – a handy search function allows you to look up your favourite brands (unfortunately, Lululemon wasn’t on their radar)
  • Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is a leading watchdog and activist organizations
  • Clean Clothes Campaign is a European alliance of organizations committed to improving working conditions in the global garment industry

 

6 Comments

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  1. This question wasn’t really answered: “Can you ensure that workers receive a living wage and decent work conditions?”

    Just because they are in the USA doesn’t mean they aren’t sweatshops. L.A. is well known for its sweatshops: http://www.policymic.com/articles/46443/bangladesh-factory-collapse-sweatshop-labor-can-and-does-happen-here-too

    Would like to have heard a bit more about their working conditions.

    Important issue. Thanks for covering!

    • thanks for the question. Without a doubt, our partner in L.A. treats their employees with nothing but respect; including creating an environment with good working conditions and fair wages. It would negate all the good karma from being eco if we didn’t account for the entire supply chain.
      From a worldview perspective, we cannot be islands, only concerned with what is happening in our little piece of the world. Improving the human and environmental condition of our planet is only going to work if we all team together.
      One way we do that is to work with others who share a like minded philosophy. Soul Flower has a great opportunity to make a positive impact, but that won’t happen unless we take a world view of the supply chain, from start to finish.
      Thanks for caring.

  2. Sounds like Mike is another slickster feeding on the yoga boom. Notice he won’t account for anything. I agree that the question of a living wage had not been answered.

    • I was surprised to see this comment because I know Soul Flower as a company and have bought from them for years – they really do walk the talk in so many ways by giving back and really carrying about how their products are made. Check them out if you don’t believe me! They are definitely not “slicksters”!

  3. It’s great to hear that there are so many companies finally making an effort to make eco-friendly fashionable. Hippy or not, it’s hard to argue that eco-friendly yoga pants aren’t going to be a big hit with everyone.

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