After an unexpected illness, yoga instructor Leah Emmott found a way to pursue a new calling, make money, and care for the environment simultaneously. She spoke with SCOPE and filled us in on the birth of her Vancouver, B.C.-based company, Inner Fire.
SCOPE: How did Inner Fire start?
LEAH EMMOTT: Back in 2011, I was working as a yoga teacher when I suddenly had to be rushed to the hospital for the removal of a giant ovarian cyst, which left me in recovery for six weeks. I had a lot of friends who were yoga teachers, so I decided to make some gifts for them while I was off during the holiday season. The first items I made were yoga props and meditation cushions. After giving some as gifts, I had some people from my yoga studio ask if I could sell them some. After selling a fair amount, I decided it was time to call the company something. I called it Inner Fire because the area of my belly where I had the cyst was the same area where the third chakra resides. It is an area with fiery qualities that is responsible for passion, creativity and drive. I really felt like this fire got lit during those six weeks off.
When I was back teaching, I started to brainstorm some cool shirt design ideas that had been mulling around in my brain for a while. I took a screen printing workshop and started to print my own shirts at home. It grew very organically from there.
You make leggings and other yoga apparel out of recycled plastic bottles. What gave you that idea?
Once my company evolved to the point where I was able to offer my own cut-and-sew pieces, I really wanted to make sure that the product I created was in line with my environmental values. I can’t take credit for being the first apparel company to offer clothing made from recycled bottles, but I wanted to join in on the movement. I felt that it was important to make a choice to offer a product that helped repurpose components of our waste stream.
How does your process benefit the environment?
Any effort to remove plastic waste from our environment is a good step towards cleaning up the mess that we’ve left over the past century. Being conscious of fast fashion and its impact on the social and environmental landscape is really important. All of our garments are made locally and ethically in Vancouver, B.C. Our products are intended to last a long time. We don’t want to feed into a “wear-once-and-throw-away” mentality, which ultimately hurts us all in the long run.
So how exactly do bottles morph into tights?
The bottles are cut down into flakes and then melted down into pellets. The pellets are then purified into a polyester raw material. That raw material is turned into filaments, which can then be woven into fibers and combined with other materials, such as spandex to create stretch. Our leggings are 88% recycled polyester and 12% spandex. The fabric is also BPA free. Our printing process is also very eco-friendly as it doesn’t use any water (aside from the inks) and does not waste any inks, as each panel is printed separately.
People have been roundly critiquing the marriage between Western yoga and capitalism. What are your thoughts on that?
Living in a capitalist society ultimately means that we are inevitably going to have to subscribe to the rules that govern our system. Yes, there is a business side to yoga, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be out of alignment with the philosophy of yoga, which is about unity and connection. Yoga allows us to awaken from harmful patterns and cycles of behaviour that lead us astray. We can’t completely avoid our capitalist system, but at least we can start to make wise choices with consumption patterns and start voting with our dollars. Yoga helps to bring about that change in consciousness.