By Malika Baruah
Yoga has been practiced for more than 3,000 years and is rooted in the aim to bring its practitioners’ bodies and minds into harmony with the universe. In this fast-paced modern world, more and more people are turning to this ancient practice. However, the explosion in popularity and commercialization has pulled yoga away from its roots -- particularly with the yoga workout wear you see both inside and outside of yoga class. Yoga pants are part of the growing $13 billion athleisure market thanks to brands like Lululemon, Athleta and Fabletica.
In reality, these yoga-wear makers also have a little known secret they don’t want consumers to know – many of their products are toxic. Proyog research estimates that 9 out of 10 yoga pants are made from plastic, which is in direct conflict with yoga’s philosophy of “do no harm” – not only to oneself by placing toxic chemicals next to the skin, but also to the environment.
This trend shows no sign of slowing down. This booming athleisure apparel market is expected to quintuple in the next five years, making up to $83 billion in sales by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley estimates. And while the majority of designer and commercial brands have openly promoted synthetic, plastic or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) yoga-wear, it’s now more important than ever that consumers are aware that plastic is toxic.
A 2015 Greenpeace report found that sportswear from most major brands contained known hazardous chemicals, like Phthalates, PFCs, Dimethylformamide (DMF), Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and Nonylphenols (NPs). Nylon and polyester garments are essentially made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the same plastic use to make disposable water bottles.
So, why the push for synthetic fabrics in yoga-wear? Ancient yogis used to wear their comfortable, everyday cotton clothing during practice, allowing them the free flow of movement and energy. However, today’s popular yoga clothes are tight and constricting, and more suited to showing off the physical form.
The physical exertion of yoga opens the body to the elements, and if those elements come in the form of synthetic fibers, the skin absorbs toxins that are detrimental to the practitioner. When you combine constricting designs and synthetic fabric, naturally-occurring bacteria and unnatural chemicals can get trapped close to the skin, potentially causing acne and rashes. Wearing organic clothing made from natural materials such as cotton, bamboo and hemp provide huge benefits to the body by letting air in and out and harboring fewer bacteria.
Also, every time a pair of synthetic yoga pants go into the washing machine, tiny plastic fibers known as "microfibers" drop off and are washed away in the drain only to join other microplastics that make up the majority of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that pollute the world’s oceans. Microplastics are easily ingested by marine life. A 2014 study by the Marine and Environmental Research Institute found a large number of these fragments in oysters and mussels with oysters having the highest number – an average of 177 pieces of plastic per animal. Numerous studies and reports have been published about how these fibers have negatively affected bodies of water and their surrounding environments.
This year the U.S. imposed a federal ban on microbeads, plastic beads smaller than 5 millimeters in personal care products, and cities have worked to ban disposable plastic water bottles and bags to reduce their waste and carbon footprint. But not much has been done about microfibers. Consider this: If you could count all the yoga pants worn in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is the top city for yoga in the U.S. according to marketing firm GfK MRI, with its residents 59 percent more likely to practice yoga than the general population, it would equal about 500 tons of plastic annually.
I simply urge all yoga practitioners to think about how their choice of yoga-wear can impact them and the world around them. Check product labels to ensure that the fabric is organically grown and ethically produced. Say “no” to recycled plastic garments for yoga because both the cost and eco-foot print of recycling these plastic fibers are immense. Remember that yoga isn’t just a way to fine-tune the body, but to embrace becoming absolutely one with the universe.
Image credit: Pixabay
Malika Baruah is Product Head and Co-founder of Proyog. From her early days of pattern-making under Pierre Cardin, to heading design at Levi Strauss India, Malika Baruah has been in the fashion retail business for over 20 years. As a design head, Malika has conceptualized and successfully launched nine brands in the India. Her experience is nothing if not remarkably diverse. Drawn toward natural and sustainable design, her Indian roots seem to find a quiet expression in everything she does. She believes that design in the fashion realm unites beauty with form and comfort, eventually reflecting one’s personality.
Over the last few years, Malika has had her sights set on the online world. She runs Binary Bulb, her own a digital design agency in Bangalore. She is also a partner at Fisheye Creative Solutions, a specialized marketing communications company. Her love for yoga began in 2001, and she has been practicing ever since. Proyog is the inevitable realization of her personal and professional passions.