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The Ethics of Yoga Pants

Written by: Karen Lilleyman

OK, not really just pants, more the whole yoga apparel get up, but since yoga pants have truly crossed over into the average woman’s every day wardrobe – even on non practicing days – let’s start there.

We all know yoga pants are super comfortable and, if you get the right brand and fit for you, very flattering. But would you be as comfortable wearing them if you truly knew where they had come from and how those involved in making them were treated and remunerated?

I confess, many times I have turned a blind eye to this when purchasing a colourful, sculpting pair of pants that fitted by budget as well as my butt. For many of us, price is the key factor. In a world where you can pay $120 for the latest designs, $30 from the lower end stores can look very appealing. But can we in good conscience get away with this?

Without wishing to name and shame people or stores who are obviously catering to market needs, I did want to educate myself and you as to what certain key brands do to produce their pants, so here goes.

Let me start by saying this is based upon my best research and I’m happy to be proved wrong or corrected by those who know better. This also goes to an important issue in this debate: transparency. I wish brands would be clearer about the provenance of their products and the policies they adhere to.

Lululemon: Their environmental impact needs work, but their Supplier Code of Conduct is highly rated to ensure their labor force is treated well and sub contracting to unethical providers does not occur. However, they do still manufacture in Asian countries where such things are much harder to keep tabs on. Notably there is little clarity on their website or elsewhere about where exactly their clothes are made. This begs the question for me – why don’t they manufacture in Canada (where the company was founded)? With the average cost of a pair of Lulu pants hovering around $100, they could surely afford to.

Prana: this company has a way better track record – Fair Trade clothing, use of lots of recycled materials, reducing environmental impact (eg: not plastic-wrapping clothes bought online), introducing up to 3X plus sizes in certain lines to be more inclusive, and many other initiatives. Thumbs up! And note that the average pair of pants is around $70 – not cheap but reasonable given the efforts they put in to sustainability.

Onzie: 99% of Onzie’s manufacturing takes place in Los Angeles, CA. That’s about all I could glean, but it bodes well and obviously means they are subject to stricter regulations than they might be if they manufactured in the developing world.

Old Navy & Athleta (Gap Inc): I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts Gap Inc states it is making on its website, for instance complying with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, addressing global water stress, improving cotton production practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. No doubt it still has a long way to go, but this is encouraging.

Target: Although it jumped on the sustainability train somewhat late, Target has made some impressive commitments to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2020, to switch to 100% renewable energy in the coming years and to reduce its carbon footprint through various initiatives. Ensuring suppliers operate safely and ethically seems to be a work in progress, but one which the company is taking seriously.

Clearly, this just scratches the surface of the myriad brands out there selling yoga wear. There are many more niche brands which place this issue front and center. And of course, all the brands stocked at Hello Yoga are ethically produced and aim to make minimal environmental impact (for instance Teeki, made from recycled plastic bottles) and without exploiting the work force which crafts them.

Please share your thoughts on this issue in the comments section and let us know what your favorite, ethical brands are.

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