What do jeans have to do with periods?
Did you know that today, February 26th is Levi Strauss day?
Yes, the inventor of the famous jeans! On this day in 1829, Levi Strauss was born.
Now you might be thinking, oh dear we’re only two posts into the new-look blog and Lauren has already lost her way. What ON EARTH has Levi Strauss got to do with periods?
Well my friends, the link may be a tenuous one but let me explain. I’ve been thinking about periods and clothing, and the fact that when my period comes, the last thing I want to wear is jeans. I don’t have a pair of Levi’s but I do have various pairs from highstreet brands. Whether Levi’s or Next, I avoid them at all costs. Give me slack bottoms, pjs -on a nice day I’ll take a skirt- but never ever a pair of jeans. Nothing is more uncomfortable and more restrictive than a pair of jeans on a bloated period belly. Nothing is as hard to clean as blood-stained jeans. I’ve tried the ones with elastane in, but they don’t improve things either… Let me know in the comments if you’re the same!
Now we all know that when you’re not menstruating, jeans are great because they’re so versatile, they go with absolutely everything and can be dressed up or down. I’ve recently discovered however that not only are they unkind to period bellies, they are also hugely damaging to the environment. Here at Gift Wellness, it’s not just menstrual health we care about, but we care for the planet too. Since learning that the denim manufacture process requires a staggering amount of water, I’ve been trying to get as much wear out of mine as humanly possible just to try and offset this, and honestly, to make myself feel a bit better. But I’ve been thinking more and more about this issue. It’s not just that jeans don’t work for me during my period, and don’t work for the benefit of the environment either, they also don’t work for the people who make them. In many cases the garment workers endure poor working conditions and inadequate pay, among a whole host of other subpar and inhumane circumstances. It seems that not only are jeans uncomfortable during menstruation but they represent some wider uncomfortable truths…
Like a lot of people, I’m interested in how my own actions affect the people and environment around me. I’m trying to be more intentional and ethical with my decision making, and the biggest part of that is what others have called ‘putting your money where your morals’ are (a good message but not quite as catchy as the original idiom!) In terms of clothing that means my aim is to consume less, and to achieve that I’m re-wearing what’s already in my wardrobe first, borrowing second, buying second-hand third. I only buy new when I really need to. Crucially I’ve realised that while it’s all well and good for me to be more intentional with my decision making, there is a lot of privilege that allows me to be that way. I already have a wardrobe full of clothes to choose from, I have friends who are a similar size to me who I can borrow from, I can afford to buy second hand clothes. When it comes to menstrual products, I can choose to buy products made from organic and non-toxic cotton, I can choose to try a menstrual cup instead of a plastic sanitary pad, because those alternatives are available, accessible and relatively affordable for me.
A friend of mine said, when I talked to her about this periods and jeans discussion I’ve been having with myself, ‘if you stop buying new jeans, new clothing, new anything- won’t it be the workers who suffer?’ After some head scratching I realised she had a point, but that doesn’t mean I’m saying we should all go back to buying new and overconsuming. Instead what I’m saying is that garment workers should be able to rely on a regular and fair paying wage whether I buy the jeans or not. Within that wage there should be enough to cover basic essentials and more, there should be money to choose whichever period product works best for them, to choose the non-toxic option even if it’s twice the price. Even if I buy the jeans, the workers often don’t get these things. Working with Gift Wellness and their charity The Gift Wellness Foundation which aims to support those in need of period products, has opened my eyes to the reality that in practice many aren’t able to access period products at all, let alone non-toxic ones, let alone reusable and eco-friendly options.
I recently learnt of one project which focused on worker productivity in the Bangladeshi garment sector. It identified that ‘Due to lack of knowledge, taboos, and high costs of products for hygienic menstrual health management (MHM), many women still use old cloths or paper during their period, with potentially severe consequences: infections, infertility, disability, school and work absenteeism and related human capital loss.’* A short research trip through Google reveals further shocking stories of workers who don’t have access to clean running water at work, let alone adequate sanitary facilities to dispose of menstrual products hygienically, and some women who say they are made to feel ashamed when asking male colleagues for a toilet break.
To finish, let’s go back to that phrase ‘putting your money where your morals are’. As I’ve said, there are a lot of reasons to stop buying new clothes and overconsuming products that we don’t really need, but there are even more reasons to put that money towards helping real people instead of corporations. One really easy way you can do that, whether you have some money to spare or just your time, is by joining The Gift Wellness Foundation’s period poverty fundraising campaign #RedRebelDay. You can DONATE any amount or you can support the campaign by becoming an ambassador. In the run up to Red Rebel Day on the 21st and 22nd March, we’re hosting a range of fun events too, everything from a cooking challenge to a Thrifty Night In, so there’s plenty to look forward whilst helping others. Keep up to date with Period Poverty.UK on social media for more details, and I hope to see you there!
*For more information on the PEDL’s project, please click here.
Image: Avelino Calvar Martinez