SMK Warm Up Sweat Pants

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Maya Colehower
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For a dancer, warm ups such as these sweat pants are essential. Whether they are for commuting to and from dance or for those first five minutes of class when you are just not ready to be in only a leotard and tights, having comfortable and reliable warm ups are a must. Everyone has a little different take on what works best for them, but the style seen here, known in the dance world as a trash bag pant, is quite popular. They are the perfect combination of lightweight and stretchy, but still keep your legs warm. On the other hand, the materials used to make these kinds of pants are far from perfect. They use a serious amount of resources and are not biodegradable. The main material for these pants - recycled polyester - has a much smaller environmental impact. It still comes with its own problems, but is certainly a better alternative. Given SMK’s practice of using many fabric alternatives, it is good to see that they chose to do that with these pants. It is disappointing, though, that regular as opposed to organic cotton is used for the bottom of the pants. There are also many ethical claims that are made but not backed up by any certifications. Finally, the price is at least double that of pants like these sold by other companies, making them less financially accessible for many people. If these factors were improved upon, the customer could feel more confident in making a switch from the big-brand trash bag pants to these warm up sweat pants.

What it's made of:


Almost the entirety of these pants are made of recycled polyester, with the exception of the small section at the ankle, which is made of cotton. Traditionally, pants such as this are made of nylon, polyester, or microfiber. All of these materials have issues in terms of energy use and inability to biodegrade, so it is good to see that recycled polyester is used instead in this product. Polyester has become increasingly popular because of its wrinkle-free properties, quick drying, and very low price compared to other natural fibers. This cheapness means that it is not meant to last long once it reaches the consumer. Polyester is petroleum-based, so it is an extremely carbon intensive manufacturing process. Beyond the need for petroleum in order to produce the fiber, more is used as energy to create the material. Although it has a short life span for the consumer, it is not biodegradable and persists in the environment for a long time. Polyester will spend most of its life doing more harm than good. As it is essentially made of plastic, polyester releases microplastics into the water system when it is washed, which runs into our oceans. This only adds to the ever growing issue of microplastic pollution, which puts ocean life in great danger. The production of polyester requires the use of harmful chemicals, which can pollute the air and water and pose a risk to people handling this material. For these reasons, recycled polyester is a good alternative. 
This material is made of 100% post-consumer plastic bottles, which decreases waste, saves energy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to note that recycled polyester still releases microplastics. The small portion at the very bottom of the pant is made of cotton. SMK replaces what would normally be conventional cotton in many of their products with organic cotton, but that specification is not made for this product. Due to this, I am assuming it is not organic cotton that is used here. The production of cotton has various negative environmental impacts. Both the growing and processing of cotton uses immense amounts of water, often requiring water to be diverted from other areas. Cotton cultivation also results in soil erosion and degradation, pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, and water contamination from runoff. This harms the entire ecosystem from the land to animals to humans. Many of these effects could be minimized through the use of organic cotton. Especially because the company uses organic cotton in so many of their products, it is surprising that they would choose to not use it here, even if it is a relatively small part of the product. This replacement would be a simple action to make these pants more sustainable. 

How it's made:


To make recycled polyester that is ready to be made into products, plastic bottles are crushed and depolymerized to remove any impurities. This material is re-polymerized and turned into polyester chips. These chips are spun into recycled polyester filaments, cut into short fibers, and then can be made into the actual fabric. In terms of the production of the pants themselves, they are manufactured ethically in Seoul, South Korea. They are produced by a woman named Kim Song-Hee, the owner of a seamstress studio in Seoul. The company also describes selecting the materials they use based on whether they are human-friendly and/or eco-friendly. This value holds true for the recycled polyester, but the use of conventional cotton seems to violate this. As with the rest of the company, these pants are vegan. This simply means that no animal products are used to make them, but SMK does not have a vegan certification to prove this. The only certification discussed on the website is ECOCERT, which only certifies that the organic cotton they use is actually organic. Also, the only information available on where the materials are sourced from is for their organic cotton. The idea of local and ethical production that is also vegan sounds great, but the customer could be much more confident in this if there was a certification to verify that this is happening. There are numerous certifications available for these standards, so this should not be a difficult task.

Who makes it:


These warm up sweat pants are made by SMK. The company launched in 2014 in Seoul, Korea by a woman named Sandra Meynier Kang. Sustainable development is certainly a priority of the brand, with a focus on eco-friendly textiles and zero waste production. They use around 12 different alternative fabrics ranging from leather made from pineapple leaves to to fabric made from wood cellulose. The key values of the company are animal protection, donation, local and transparent production, eco-friendly manufacture, zero waste, and circularity. SMK is 100% vegan and donates a percentage of their profits to KARA, a Korean animal protection association. There are other non-governmental associations and animal activist groups they donate to as well, but this is the one they are focusing on currently. Regarding their zero waste goal, they use leftover materials from previous products and collections to create the lining of new items and plastic-free packaging. In 2016, they were able to create an entire collection without buying any new materials. One exciting feature of SMK is their Eco Coupons program. When people have purchased and used a certain piece and no longer have a need for it, they can return it to the company. The customer then receives a 20% off coupon for their next purchase. The returned product will either be made into a new one, turned into packaging, or donated. This is a much better option than it just sitting in the landfill, and it gives the customer an incentive to engage in this circular economy.