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Global Cosmetic Industry: Ugly Face of Beauty

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Global Cosmetic Industry: Ugly Face of Beauty

The global cosmetic industry is a multi-billion dollar sector, valued approximately at 523 billion dollars, and is expected to reach 805 dollars billion by 2022. In the current scenario of capitalism, makeup is portrayed as an empowering product, an essential item for every individual in their daily life. The industry spends millions of dollars in advertising its products and secure royalty, life-long customers with the promise of reprising their whole appearance by adding flair to flaw. But behind all the glitter, lies a very dark side of the cosmetic world.

Child Labour:

Global Cosmetic Industry: Ugly Face of Beauty

The amount of Child labour in the cosmetic industry is huge. (Image Source: Wikipedia)

The origin of all the glitter and shimmer of eyeshadows, highlighters, blush, nail polish, mascara, and glosses, is Mica–a flat, elastic and heat-resistant mineral–a primary ingredient used in makeup products. Sixty per cent of the global high-quality mica supply comes from India, mainly Bihar and Jharkhand, via scrap mining. Renowned brands like L’Oreal, and Maybelline source mica from India. These mica mines employ about 20,000 children who are victims of illegal child labour.

The children, as young as five years old, have to dig up pits, extract mica and finally sort them according to their types. This classified mica is then bought by local buyers who then export it to China, from where the manufactured products ultimately reach the European market.

Young children are preferred for the mining as they can easily fit into narrow mica pits, and their nimble fingers act as an added advantage to sort small pieces and shards of mica. After all the hard toil, they earn only 20-30 rupees per day, but are forced to work due to extreme poverty. They remain unaware of the destination or use of their hard-found glitter–it is their daily struggle for survival.

Accidents and deaths in mineral mines are common occurrences. These young lives are no exception to that fact. Many lives are cut short when a mine collapses, and they get trapped beneath the walls.

Investigations have revealed a vast number of deaths that have been covered up in illegal mines. An amalgam of health risks accompany mining–exposure to mica dust is harmful to the respiratory system and may cause the lung disease Pneumoconiosis.

Counterfeit Beauty Products:

Over the years, the demand for cosmetics has skyrocketed. This has also led to the rapid expansion of counterfeit cosmetics internationally. With the large-scale growth of e-commerce, buyers are often connected to third-party vendors who sell fake products at an unprecedented level.

In January 2020, the Los Angeles police confiscated counterfeit cosmetics worth 300,000 dollars. In 2018, the Local Government Association of London seized counterfeit beauty products of famous brands like Channel, MAC and Benefit, which allegedly contained highly toxic chemicals like Mercury, causing skin rashes and burns.

Other harmful substances found in fraudulent cosmetics include carcinogens like arsenic, beryllium and cadmium, and toxic heavy metals such as lead. These products bring down the reputation of genuine brands in the market.

However, many established genuine brands also use traces of formaldehyde in their products, which is a carcinogen. These products can result in watery eyes, skin irritation, coughing, and burning sensation in nose and throat. Thus, it is crucial to check the authenticity as well as the components of beauty products before buying.

Objectification of Women:

When cosmetic brands market their products in the garb of empowering women to make them confident, beautiful and free, they often tend to create inappropriate content which objectifies women.

The promises of fair, glowing skin, slim body etc objectify the naturally dark skin tone individuals and the various body types. The cosmetic industry practically thrives by marginalizing the different skin tones, skin types, and body types by promising beauty standards established by a patriarchal society.

The question arises that who is it empowering–the consumer or the sellers who are pocketing massive profits? De-radicalization of feminism and its co-option into the market in a cunning manner is an unfortunate victory of the big brands of the cosmetic industry. They often instigate gender-based violence, body shaming, reduce confidence or make one insecure about their looks by highlighting and feeding off the so-called flaws.

Harm to Environment:

Global Cosmetic Industry: Ugly Face of Beauty

Shampoo, deodorants, hair care products and other grooming items also come swathed in plastic. (Image Source: Pickpik)

The cosmetic industry produces a significantly large amount of plastic waste. Disposable plastic razors, toothbrushes, synthetic makeup sponges, plastic tubs of creams, cleansers and moisturizers, almost every makeup item is associated with plastic.

Shampoo, deodorants, hair care products and other grooming items also come swathed in plastic. Billions of these used products and their packaging are thrown away without proper disposal techniques, and they keep accumulating in the environment, causing pollution and severe damage to nature.

Several companies are now engaged in finding alternative ways to make their products and packaging eco-friendly and can be easily recycled. If all the companies try to redesign their products to tackle the plastic problem, it will benefit the environment considerably.

Therefore, like every other industry, the darkness of the cosmetic industry lies hidden beneath a curtain of shine, glitter and glamour. If not appropriately addressed, it can lead to another chain of disaster.

An ardent literature lover with my mind constantly travelling through far-off unexplored worlds. A lover of languages and cultures--the sweetest language in the world being my mother-tongue. Chasing the Northern Lights...taking one step closer. My pen is my sword. #BongAtHeart

Fashion

Genetically Modified Cotton: A Guide

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Genetically Modified Cotton: A Guide

Cotton has a history of about 7000 years. The moisture-absorbent fabric is known for its light texture and long durability, and you would often find a few cotton clothes in your wardrobe to appease the summer heat.

Cotton is one of the most important cash crops in India and attributes to around 25 per cent of the total global fibre production. India is the largest producer of cotton in the world, followed by the United States and China. Gujarat is the largest producer of this Kharif crop providing black soil for its growth. In 2019, cotton production in India amounted to around 5.77 million metric tons.

However, human civilization is incessantly hungry for more, and this perpetual curiosity has resulted both in rising and devastation. This curiosity led the cotton industry in India to attempt to revolutionize by introducing Genetically modified BT cotton in the year 2002. It is the sole GM crop currently grown in India and was introduced by Monsanto, under the trade name Bollgard, in a joint venture with the Indian seed company the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco).

Today it accounts for 90 per cent of all cotton planting in the country. The small farms in the developing countries today have acquainted well to BT cotton and are the most widely planted genetically modified plants. The United States approved GM cotton for commercial use in the year 1995.

So, what is genetically modified BT cotton? Genetically modified BT cotton is produced by adding genes obtained from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which has over 200 different toxins. These toxins are harmful to various insects, and when an insect attacks the BT cotton plant, it gets killed.

The introduction of GM cotton promised to reduce the amount of pesticides used by the farmers, a significant expense incurred by them to control pests; increase the existing harvest and the flow of income by minimizing crop loss due to pest attacks. The minimum use of pesticides also promises to limit agricultural run-off polluting rivers and the food chain. This led to the first few years of massive commercialization of BT cotton in India. Some farmers heeded pesticides reductions and crop losses. However, the future since then has been grim.

The question which rises instantly is why is GM cotton doing more harm than good? Well, the cotton which grows naturally can be grown in a diverse variety. If one type gets infected by the pests, the farmers can resort to another variety. In contrast, with GM cotton the lack of variety leaves the farmers with only one option and hence when insects get resistance to the GM cotton, the farmers have nowhere to go which makes the situation problematic.

Campaigners have touted that BT cotton has exceedingly improved cotton productivity in India over the last ten years. Since the BT cotton was first introduced in India, 70 per cent of the 73 per cent yield increase reported between 2002 and 2005. However, then, less than 5 per cent of the area was allocated to growing BT hybrids of the total area under cotton production. Furthermore, the yield saw only marginal development of 2 per cent from 2005 to 2012, when up to 90 per cent of Indian cotton fields were cultivated with Bt cotton.

Farmers of cotton growing areas have raised concerns about the ill- effects of BT cotton on their livestock as they either feel sick or die grazing the plant debris from cleared BT cotton fields and farmworkers who pick BT cotton have lamented respiratory allergic reactions.

As promised by the champions of the BT cotton of the reduced usage of pesticides remained unchallenged even though Government data reveal that pesticide usage has stayed the same or increased across the cotton belt as the insects have developed resistance to BT cotton. BT plants were profoundly defenceless to other insect pests that propagated as more and more farmers adopted the crop. The grim situation led to farmers spending more money on insecticides than before.

Furthermore, BT seeds are 3 to 8 times costlier than conventional hybrid seeds and more expensive than the local seeds farmers bought from local markets before. The BT seeds cost between 700 (13 dollars) to 2,000 rupees (38 dollars) per packet.

The promises made while introducing the GM seeds to the farmers seem nonviable and hollow. Farmers today are spending more on fertilizers and insecticides, and on seeds and are stuck in an inexorable situation regarding their livestock and health as well. It has yielded less agronomic benefits and ensued farming as capital concentrated business which has benefitted the conglomerates more and the farmers less.

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Greenwashing In Fashion Industry: An Eyewash

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Greenwashing In Fashion Industry: An Eyewash

The world of fashion is always intriguing with its emerging trends and fads. One cannot help but get maneuvered with the industry’s intricacy and functionality and how efficiently ephemeral trends can persuade the whole world to its league. However, as buyers of these transient trends, we are bestowed with much more responsibilities of not only expediting the fashion conglomerate to discover the horizons but also apprehend the practices behind it. Being on the receiving end, a customer also becomes a crusader for change. Likewise, the trend of sustainable fashion assuaged in response to the woke customers demand is being beleaguered with — Greenwashing. 

Greenwashing is a disparaging terminology employed to define a marketing strategy steered at selling a business, company, or brand, with an ethical or environment-friendly image. The term “greenwashing” was neologised in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveldto describe companies which grossly overstate the environmental or ethical benefits of their products and services.”

Moreover, when observed closely to its motivation — the aim appears to be hypocritical. However, one cannot accuse businesses of Greenwashing as the consumer’s conceptualisation of sustainability and their ideal social self-image could also be a determinant. We often overlook the role we play in ascertaining any trend that takes over our wardrobe.

Greenwashing as much as it is an ethical paint to make the industry impersonate greenery and sustainable in its approach, it is equally our understanding, involvement and commitment to examine the ethical practices undertaken by the global fashion supply chain. As the words such as “sustainability” “environment-friendly“social justice” are much in vogue, the brand often professes to abide by the aforementioned ethical practices as a PR strategy. It might overwhelm you, but we usually buy such arrangements and fall for such schemes. The compassion which outpours while coming handy of environmentally inclined brands is a successful business-savvy tactic to entice our thoughtfulness.

More often than not, we tend to forgo any further inquiry to establish a check and balance for companies or brands proclaiming to be adhering to sustainable norms. One of the many reasons for brands going around labelling themselves as environmentally and socially conscious is because of the shortage of nuance and proper awareness of environmental terms such as “ethical” and “sustainable“.

Greenwashing, hence, is a ‘mask’ of sustainability to cover corporate agendas and policies. Nevertheless, such unsustainable practices can be checked by dedicating the entire production chain in minimising environmental impacts and its carbon footprint. 

There are also many instances of campaigns being run by companies or brands envisioning sustainable change in the fashion industry. One such campaign ran by the crusaders of sustainability in the 1980s and 1990s on anti-fur movement. However, it was only recently that brands, namely Gucci, Michael Kors, and Giorgio Armani entered the Fur Free Alliance (Fur Free Alliance 2019) and restricted the use of any fur in their collections. Furthermore, the latest joiner of the Fur Free Alliance is Chanel which banned the use of furs and exotic leathers. Yet, the legitimacy of such campaigns and alliances should often be enquired. 

Though Greenwashing is not new, the term has gained relevance only in recent years to meet consumer demand for environmentally friendly goods and services. There are regulatory agencies such as the Competition Bureau in Canada, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, and the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice in the United Kingdom to keep a check on the “green” agenda run by the corporate world. As much as we need campaigns and crusades for sustainable change in the world of fashion, we also need to specify our role in this change, for only then we will be able to distinguish the real from the reel. 

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History of Bras in India: Origins and Discourse

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History of Bras

A feeling which all women can relate to is— an incredible sensation of unhooking your bra and slowly sliding it off your arms and lounging back on the chair. As much as the bras give a sensuous appeal to the breasts, they add their share of discomfort to them and have seen several protests and demonstrations – be it the burning the bra or freeing the nipple movement over the years. But today, let us delve upon the history of this significant and scrutinized undergarment and reflect the journey of this piece of cloth and how it forged such an essential space in our wardrobe.

In India, bras exist in numerous other forms and styles and have evolved over the years into the various designs and patterns we prize in our wardrobe today. However, the case was not the same back in ancient times. We, Indian women, preferred to keep our chests uncovered and free, at least what we can infer from various ancient paintings and artefacts. You, yourself, would have come across many ancient visualizations of women sculptures with strapless bandeaus and metal breastplates, while many figurines are topless.

But as we moved ahead with time, ‘choli,’ a short piece of cloth covered tightly around the breasts, was the foremost garment that closely resembled the bra. It was popular in the Chola Kingdom (3rd Century to 13th Century), and however, choli itself was styled in different ways in different parts of the country. The kanchuka, a tight-fitted bodice, also featured in the Literature of the Vijayanagara empire of the 1300s.

Interestingly, there is also a mention of specialized tailors for bras and blouses popularly called chippiga. Talking about Literature, it is also essential to mention the early references of bras in Indian Literature which dates back to the times of King Harshavardhana in the 7th century AD — more than a thousand years ago, according to Breakout Bras.

Further, the dawn of the British brought in the culture of — the Corset. From the 14th Century onwards, the Corset governed women’s undergarments. Corset tightly fitted around women’s bodies and uplifted their breasts. The arrival of the British introduced the idea of bras to the Indians. It is believed that the invasion of Britishers instilled the concept of a “civilized society” in the native Indian minds and compelled them to obey their values and their views of “behaviour.” And one of the many things we imitated from the British behaviour is wearing bras to cover our bosom.

Much like the debate around bras today, women back then heeded the Corset as a symbol of subjugation. The extremely tight piece of cloth which pushed the breasts upwards was uncomfortable and made women sick, both metaphorically and literally.

Bras even today are perceived as an uncomfortable piece of cloth worn by women and apparently, an essential piece of undergarment. I often wonder whether or not bras are indispensable in women’s wardrobe because of women’s willingness or need to wear them or society’s way of subjugating women’s sexuality. Unless and until a woman wants to wear it out of her desire and comfort, no one should dictate her to own or wear one.

The history of bras in India cannot be concluded without the mention of the tales of the social status of women in India and how wearing a bra for women has always been interlinked with her dignity. The style and fashion around bras are intertwined with the shifting views of the female body. And one cannot forgo the struggle of women of lower-caste for their right to cover their chest without paying the breast tax in the Travancore of the 19th Century.

In the 19 century Travancore, women of the upper caste were allowed to cover their bosom. In contrast, an Avarna woman, colloquially known as Dalit women were not allowed to cover their bosom in public unless they paid ‘breast tax’ or mulakkaram. Well, yes, you heard it right — it took Nangeli, an Avarna woman sacrifice — for the then King of Travancore to issue a royal proclamation that allowed all women to cover their breasts without taxes.

So it would not be wrong to say that the garment that sits comfortably or rather uncomfortably on your chest has had a momentous journey of its own. We have vouched from being topless and letting our breasts hang carefree, to fighting for our right to cover our chests, to burning the bras, and freeing the nipple.

From two pieces of cloth stitched together, to corsets to the world of Victoria Secrets angels and spending thousands to buy various colours, styles, laces, and fabrics, we have come a long way. Some of us have eventually found peace with them, and some of us are still hustling in this love-hate relationship but, in the end, it should be your choice to wear or not to wear a bra.

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