by Mohsina Alam
Sustainability has become a buzzword within the fashion industry in the last several years, with major fashion brands from H&M to Stella McCartney all making a public effort to become more climate-conscious.
It might be easy to write this off as greenwashing, but there has been real progress made in making fashion more sustainable. We’ve seen an increase in eco-friendly sportswear brands, a growth in the high-end rental industry to discourage buying one-use garments, and a rising trend in buying second-hand and vintage apparel.
One area of the fashion industry that has been slow to make sustainable changes is the lingerie sector. Despite the fact that the lingerie sector operates as part of the fast fashion industry, and consequently is responsible for huge amounts of resource and textile waste.
Brands that create underwear rely on unsustainable materials to create their garments; such as synthetic fabrics which are not biodegradable, or cotton which wastes vast amounts of water to produce.
Fashion United suggests that there hasn’t been much interest amongst lingerie brands to stray from using these materials, partly due to how affordable they are, but also because using sustainable materials and practices would mean that it would take longer to create garments. Creating lingerie is a complicated process and it’s estimated that a single bra requires anywhere between 20-40 components.
Since fast fashion is reliant on a constant supply of products, lengthening the production time for products is a no-go.
There is also a popular misconception that we should replace our underwear every six months, which has led to masses of undergarments being dumped prematurely. It’s estimated that in the US, roughly five million kilograms of discarded underwear enter landfill every day.
So not only is underwear being produced with harmful, unsustainable materials, but it’s then also being thrown away after only a few uses to sit in a landfill and further pollute the environment. It’s a worrying reality, but, fortunately, there are things we can do in order to make more environmentally-friendly choices regarding underwear.
The most sustainable option when it comes to underwear is, of course, to make the most out of what you already have. With proper care and cleaning, you can keep a hold of your garments for years. We need to get rid of the notion that keeping underwear for a long period of time is unhygienic - it’s just a way for advertisers to convince you to buy products you don’t need. Why would you want to ditch that perfect bra you spent years searching for just because you've worn it a few times?
But, when you do eventually need new underwear, there is a growing number of brands that sell high-quality lingerie made of sustainable materials. It is important to note that because ethically-made, eco-friendly garments are more expensive to make compared to high-street garments, they are also more expensive to buy. Sustainable fashion brands still have a long way to go before they become accessible to all, but if you have the means to invest in long-lasting underwear, there are certainly a few options:
Since 2015, the Danish brand Organic Basics has made "earth and people friendly" underwear. Their products are ethically produced in Europe, in factories which prioritise using sustainable practices and creating a safe workplace for manufacturers.
Organic Basics are also committed to offsetting their carbon footprint and using sustainable materials for their products, such as eco-certified organic cotton, recycled wool and cashmere, and Tencel.
Their products come in a variety of colours, designs, and sizes - ranging from XXS to XXL. The brand also claims that their products are ‘made to last’, implicitly refuting the idea that we should constantly be replacing our underwear.
BAM is a UK-based clothing brand that specialises in using bamboo to create all of their products. Bamboo is Earth’s fastest growing crop and can be harvested without significant land damage. It also absorbs five times more carbon than hardwood trees, making it an ideal sustainable material.
Perhaps more importantly for consumers, bamboo viscose (which BAM’s underwear is made of) is incredibly soft and breathable, so you can feel good while you do good for the planet.
While Organic Basics and BAM have nailed the everyday pair of pants, Fruity Booty’s lingerie is renowned for its bright colours and eccentric patterns. Over 80% of the brand’s products are made from surplus fabrics and materials, which would otherwise have gone to landfill, sourced from suppliers in the UK. The other 20% of their products are made using materials from ‘conscious suppliers’.
Fruity Booty also produces a limited number of products to avoid overproduction and material waste - one of fast fashion’s biggest problems. For unique, climate-conscious underwear, Fruity Booty is a great option.
These brands are but a few paving the way for the lingerie industry to become better for the planet. With their rise in popularity and attention, perhaps we can expect to see more sustainable underwear options, at all price points, in the near future.