I’ve been coughing for a week from somewhere deep in my chest. There’s a feeling of thickness, I suppose you’d call it, just at the bottom of my throat. My chest feels tight and my eyes are watery… the sky today is an opaque grey-orange. I can barely see buildings 3 miles away.
When we made the decision to move to Asia this year, one of the top concerns I heard from others was “what will it be like to live with the pollution?” … “aren’t you concerned about your health? your kids’ health?” … “will you have to wear masks?” It’s no surprise to folks at home when I say the smog here is bad. We live in a city of 10 million people and a booming technology industry. Our district is surrounded by factories, mills, power plants, and more towering cylinders spouting green smoke into the air than many an American can fathom. Today, actually, is one where I refuse to bring my children outside because the AQI is dangerously high.
It would be easy to turn up my nose at the irresponsibility of a nation that lets things get this bad. Don’t they care that they’re poisoning their people? I know I’ve been guilty of asking these questions and thinking these condescending thoughts. But the answer to that is not that simple. In fact, I believe the answer lies –in great part– with me. The environmental atrocities of the East are deeply rooted in the greed and gluttony of the West. That’s not to say that the specific factory near my home is pumping out products that I am using, but it is absolutely true that I have lived most of my life with a consumer mindset. I buy what I want, I use it until I don’t, and then I throw it away. (Note: to say “give it away” is basically synonymous with “throw it away” in many cases. See No one wants your old clothes.) And most of my life, I have not cared where it came from, who made it out of what material, and what it cost those whose lives were impacted by its production. It’s a self-centered cycle of accumulating with very little regard for sourcing, labor, waste-production, or environmental impact.
At the risk of sounding haughty or preachy, I want to clarify that I am talking about no one but myself here. I know that much of our Western world needs to open our eyes to the detrimental impact of our materialism, but that is not the conversation at hand. What I’m confessing here is how seeing (and breathing in) the fruits of my consumption has really opened my eyes to how I have a choice to do things differently.
And so this whole venture into Slow Fashion October is a new way of thinking for me. I already have a deep appreciation for a life made with my own two hands, so how can I extend that mindfulness to include the things I wear? How can I learn to care about the source of my clothes as much as I care about the origin of my vegetables? How can I embrace the things I already have (even if they’ve come from dicey sources) so as not to create more waste in the name of starting from scratch? How do I practice mindful accumulation when it comes to outfitting my kids, who grow like weeds and stain everything, and require new wardrobes with every season? All of these questions are ones I’ll be exploring over the next month. I hope you’ll join me in taking a step towards mindfulness as well.
Join the conversation: @slowfashionoctober
[[I also really want to clarify here that this country is beautiful. It’s people are amazing. There are historical sights so rich that I tear up walking through. The food is dynamic and delicious. The culture is fascinating and beautiful. I am so privileged to be here, to live here, to know these people. Of course I wish they could clean up their skies and waterways, but when I look at this country, I do not see smog, nor do I consider myself or my home country one ounce more significant. May any picture I paint of this nation be one of beauty and life. And may I not leave this place unchanged, living without regard for how my life of Western privilege impacts the rest of this beautiful world.]]