Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
How can you tell if an underwear brand is sustainable? | Fabio Formaggio / EyeEm - Getty Images

Looking to make more sustainable choices in your life? You might eat more plant-based foods, curtail travel that requires fossil fuels, and purchase clothing that is sustainably made. And one more area where you can have a big impact might be the least obvious: your underwear drawer.

As sustainable fashion lines become increasingly popular, consumers are looking for ways to make all of their wardrobe choices more eco-friendly, including lingerie. Companies making these undergarments rely primarily on organic fabrics, eschew dyes and chemicals, and aim to send zero textile waste to landfills. And since everyone — well, pretty much everyone — wears underwear, sustainable underwear can potentially have a big impact towards a cleaner, greener world.

But first, let’s examine how we got here.

Is the Fashion Industry Bad for the Environment?

Our great-grandparents and grandparents likely had few items of clothing and repaired the ones that they had. But the rise of mass-produced clothing, as well as the existence of shopping malls and then online shopping, changed everything. As a result, the fashion industry as it stands today has a pretty hazardous impact on the environment.

Fast fashion brands pump out new products as they cycle through new trends every week. What is fast fashion? For example, when you suddenly notice belly shirts are everywhere and then they’re gone a month later: That’s fast fashion. Fast fashion manufacturers often employ low-paid workers, including sweatshop labor, and use low-quality materials in order to churn out products quickly. Fast fashion leaves a negative environmental footprint because it is producing an excess of products, and also shipping those products far distances, using trucks, trains, planes, and ships that use fossil fuels.

The low cost of manufacturing is passed on to shoppers. We’ll grab five pairs of underwear for $25 because it seems like such a good deal. But then those underwear fall apart after half a dozen washes and we’re back to the store buying more. This is how the fast-fashion cycle continues.

This method of production has an enormous cost to our environment and our lives. Clothing production approximately doubled from 2000 to 2015, according to a report on the textiles industry from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Unless those clothes are upcycled or are given a second life as hand-me-downs, they end up in landfills. Discarded clothing is the number-one textile that ends up in municipal solid waste (aka landfills), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sixty percent of fabric textiles are synthetic and derived from fossil fuels, according to Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, by Dana Thomas. The World Bank reports that fabric dyeing and treatment are responsible for 20 percent of wastewater worldwide, and the fashion industry as a whole contributes to 10 percent of global carbon emissions annually. Perhaps it is not a surprise that the fashion industry is the second-largest industrial polluter, second only to the oil industry.

In response to these troubling statistics, the fashion industry is making strides towards sustainability.

What Is Sustainable Underwear?

Sustainable underwear follows the same principles as sustainable fashion in general. Simply put, sustainable fashion is the opposite of “fast fashion.” Sustainable fashion is sometimes also called slow fashion. (Sometimes,  however, slow fashion refers specifically to a movement to return to traditional craftsmanship.)

When shopping for sustainable underwear, here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Sustainable materials. From the textiles to elastics to eyelets, sustainable underwear uses responsibly-sourced materials.
  • Organic textiles. These textiles are certified organic by an organization such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Organic cotton, for example, should have a low impact on the environment and not have been grown using toxic pesticides or fertilizers. Brands will often list their textile certifications alongside their product.
  • Zero waste. Fast fashion manufacturing produces what’s called textile waste—the fabric that ends up on the cutting room floor. Typically that textile waste will go to a landfill. Sustainable underwear brands may use this leftover material, as well as repurposed deadstock (inventory that didn’t sell).
  • No polluting chemicals and dyes. Sustainable fashion aims not to treat clothing items with chemicals or use toxic dyes that end up in the wastewater. Brands will often list their certifications for eco-friendly dyes and printing alongside their product.
  • Vegan. Not all sustainable clothing is vegan, but brands will say when they are. Vegan clothing uses no animal-based products like silk, leather, or wool. Instead, vegan clothing relies on cruelty-free fabrics, like vegan silk (made from citrus fruit!), vegan wool, and vegan leather.
  • Fair labor practices/no sweatshop labor. Sustainable fashion aims to employ workers who are paid fairly and who labor in safe working conditions. Often brands will list their supply chain on their website, as well as reveal how frequently they visit production facilities.

What Fashion Brands Make Sustainable Underwear?

Want to do your part for the environment (and your wardrobe) and buy some sustainable underwear? Here are six places to shop — and you can find many, many more online:

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Everlane’s ReNew range features recycled nylon. | Everlane

1. Everlane

Everlane is a hugely popular brand on account of its dedication to using almost 100 percent post-consumer materials. The company vows to eliminate all virgin plastic from its products, bags, stores, and offices by 2021, and use all organic cotton by 2023. Sustainable underwear is just one of the many items Everlane offers. Their ReNew bra and ReNew hipster panties feature 87 percent recycled nylon and use sustainably sourced, bluesign-certified dyes. Their men’s underwear offers nearly a dozen options for sustainable boxer briefs.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Lara Intimates turns deadstock into new underwear. | Lara Intimates

2. Lara Intimates

Lara Intimates constructs its bras and briefs from deadstock, which means inventory that has not sold. The brand shares on its website that their UK-based supplier provides “perfect, unused surplus luxury lingerie fabrics that would have otherwise gone to a landfill.” They responsibly source items like hooks, eye closures, and elastic. And if that’s not enough to love, Lara Intimates employs an all-female staff in their London factory.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Bare Reverie designs and produces its products in Miami. | Bare Reverie

3. Bare Reverie

Founder Jackie Michel uses organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo viscose for her sustainable lingerie and loungewear, including bralets, culottes, and bodysuits. This Black woman-owned business designs and produces its products in Miami. This helps to eliminate the ecological footprint of shipping.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Knickey’s undergarments are free from bleach and chlorine. | Knickey

4. Knickey

Knickey offers four beautiful but simple styles of undies and delivers a lot of sustainability credentials. The brand uses only certified organic cotton and does not use toxic dyes in production. The brand makes the packaging from recycled content and post-consumer waste. Knickey is one of the most transparent sustainable lingerie companies out there. It shares its supply chain on its website and submits itself to third-party auditors to guarantee safe and healthy working conditions for employees.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
This brand is transparent about its supply chain. | Slow Nature

5. Slow Nature

Slow Nature provides sustainable underwear, including thongs, panties, and bras, as well as sustainable loungewear. (They also sell other sustainable fashions for men, women, and children.) The company is transparent about its supply chain on their website. They note their clothes feature GOTS certified cotton supplied by 160 families in Peru. Additionally, all clothing items on Slow Nature are vegan.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Find multiple sustainable brands on Project CeCe. | Project CeCe

6. Project CeCe

Calling itself a “fair fashion search engine,” Project CeCe collates over 150 ethical clothing brands in one place. This makes it easy for you to shop for sustainable lingerie. The brand labels each clothing item as eco-friendly, vegan, fair trade, locally produced, or for a good cause. Lingerie brands include Nightire and Slow Nature.

Check it out here.

Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Underwear
Huha makes undies from biodegradable fibers. | Huha

7. Huha

Huha is a Canadian brand that makes eco-friendly underwear from natural, biodegradable fibers derived from beech and eucalyptus trees. The company infuses the liner with zinc. The natural antibacterial can help reduce the risk of vaginal infection by reducing bacteria. It also protects against odor-causing bacteria. Huha’s makes its fabrics for its Mineral Undies using a closed-loop setting. This way, they capture and reuse solvents instead of dumping them. Plus, they use biodegradable packing and avoid plastic wherever possible.

Check it out here.


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